Mount Korab (Кораб)
Mount Korab is the highest mountain in Macedonia (12th highest in Europe) and is located on the border with Albania. It has a number of peaks, the highest being Golem (Great) Korab at 2764 meters. The name “Korab” refers to the ancient Slavic god of the sea. The Macedonian government opens Mount Korab for climbing once a year, on 8 September, to celebrate Macedonian Independence Day. Part of Korab is covered with mines and the only way to safely climb the mountain is from the Macedonian side. Other than the Independence Day climb, one needs a special permit from the Ministry of Interior just to gain access to the area.
I met up with my hiking guide & great friend Djoko at our meeting point in Skopje at 5:55 a.m. and we started on our journey to Mount Korab. We stopped in Mavrovo for breakfast where we enjoyed a nice cold beer (Skopsko) and Burek (a breakfast pastry made from phyllo dough, one of the gifts from the Ottoman Empire) with a beautiful view of Lake Mavrovo.
Official start time of our climb: 9:10. Djoko and I started out and we had barely gotten into the trek when the gravel road ended at the border station. From here on out it was no longer a gradual stroll. I would soon learn how deep into the range we would have to climb as we turned the bend I could see Golem Korab on the horizon.
Many hours later above the tree line I noticed that goat droppings were no longer to be found and I determined that the goats had more sense than I. Quite fatigued, I plopped down on some tall grass but I didn’t see the thorny plants nestled in between. I didn’t care, I was too tired to move and I just laid there laughing. Exhausted, I got up and pushed myself further. After about another 40 minutes of climbing I came to a ridge. The view was spectacular. I sat there on the ridge looking down at hawks soaring. I was mesmerized watching them waft to and fro. A very spiritual experience to be looking down on these creatures instead of looking up at them.
I continued on trails preparing me for competition on the balance beam and arrived on top of yet another peak with charley horses (cramps) the size of Clydesdales. I had a conversation with a Macedonian soldier who had just come down from the top and I asked him, how much further until I see Golem Korab. He stated that if I proceeded another 300 meters, 20 to 30 minutes time, around the peak we were sitting on, that I would be able to see Golem Korab.
During this final part of my uphill climb, it would have been very helpful if one leg was shorter than the other one. Then of course, I realized that I would need to switch legs on the way down. As I rounded the bend, I could see Golem Korab and I could see what seemed to be ants on top. Victory! Golem Korab before me!
When we reached the bottom of the mountain, Djoko, I & some of his hiking buddies pooled our goodies and dined on bread, tomatoes, cheese, peppers, kulen (a Macedonian type of salami like pepperoni) and afterwards I drove everyone home. Official end time: 18:05, nearly nine hours of hiking and climbing. Yes, Rakija is a great energy drink, but I seemed to prefer it more on the way down the mountain than on the way up.