Quite often we receive questions like “Can we visit the Seven Rila Lakes in November?” or “Is Musala accessible in October?”. Hopefully this article will put some clearance on what weather and terrain conditions to expect in the mountains of Bulgaria during the Autumn months of September, October and November.
The general answer to the question “Is Autumn suitable for walking in Bulgaria?” is: “Yes, its a great period to visit, BUT you should be well prepared”. Here is what you need to consider:
- While September is mainly considered as a summer month, the weather could suddenly get quite severe in the high mountain ranges of Rila, Pirin and the Stara Planina Mountains. Temperatures below freezing during the night, rain, some snow, morning frosts and strong winds might be expected. Of course, you may also have a great sunny and warm week up the mountains, with mild temperatures, fewer people on the trails and crisp air. The temperatures during the day may vary between 5 to 25 degrees.
- In October the broad-leaf forests start to change their colors to yellow-red-brown and the views of that are spectacular. The temperatures generally drop down a bit, so cold nights (below zero) above 2000 m are common. Somewhere during October or early November we get our Gipsy, or Indian Summer – a great row of sunny, calm days with constant high pressure of the atmosphere – a great time to be up the mountains. There are occasional snowfalls, followed by warm days that melt the snow. The temperatures vary between 0 to 20 C during the day and your water bottle will probably freeze at night if you leave it outside your tent.
- November is the actual beginning of the winter in the high mountain ranges of Rila, Pirin and the Balkan. The snow is already permanent at altitude and the days and nights are generally cold at altitude. The days are getting shorter and shorter. The weather could be also nice – sunny and clear skies, but it also might be very changeable. You may expect below zero even during the day at altitude, freezing nights for sure. Of course, nobody could tell when the big snow is really coming, sometimes we`ve got snow in October and than a dry November…
The terrain conditions – with the increasing of the rainy and snowy days, the terrain is getting more slippery generally and you should avoid trails that are dangerous in such conditions. A pair of crampons may get handy in certain cases if the snow is constantly present (usually in November). This is mainly valid for the higher mountain ranges of Rila, Pirin and the Balkan, in the Rhodopes you shouldn’t be worried about such conditions.
The facilities – most huts are still open, for sure constantly in September, but in October/November its always advisable to contact in advance if you visit during the weekdays, as they receive visitors (mainly Bulgarians) during the weekends, but the weekdays are very calm and the hut keeper might decide to visit the nearby town or village. Most lifts are still in operation until the end of October – including the Rila Lakes lift, the Bezbog lift and the Musala lift – but with limited opening hours.
The equipment – unless you plan to approach some of the more exposed (in showy conditions) routes and there is permanent snow up the mountains already, ordinary summer hiking boots are fine in this period, assuming they are warm, waterproof and cover your ankle. Take it seriously with your wind and water protection – a good jacket with hood, rain cover and possibly a pair of gaiters are important. Get enough warm clothes – a light down jacket is always useful, at least for the evenings in the huts. Warm hat and warm gloves are a must.
What are the main risks, associated with this period:
- Slipping – some trails, especially the rocky and steeper ones, get dangerous if covered by snow, icy or wet;
- Freezing – quite often temperatures drop significantly after a sudden change of the weather and, no matter you can still walk in a t-shirt down the valley, your can easily get hypothermia up the mountains;
- To get lost – navigation is more difficult if the terrain is covered by snow, or if there is a mist, which is very possible to happen in Autumn. You wouldn’t meet so many people on your way to ask for directions as well. Also, the days are getting shorter and shorter, so you’ll need to consider that when planning your route and include enough spare daylight time for any possible navigation issues.
Tips for planning:
- Get very well prepared with the equipment and don`t underestimate the weather conditions;
- Check carefully the weather forecasts and have a plan B in mind;
- Connect to all the accommodations you plan to use and check if open;
- Take into consideration the shorter daylight period, get a torch;
- Avoid trails which might be dangerous if wet, icy or snowy;
- Be sure you have enough navigation skills and tools to cope with a situation when you don`t see the trail because covered by snow or it is dark.
- Visit some of the broad-leaf forests of the Rhodopes, Central Balkan, Rila and Pirin to enjoy the best Autumn views:)
If you are still wondering how to organize your trip and which mountain and route are suitable for you, contact us.
Author: Lyuben Grancharov
“The World is a book and those who do not travel read only a page” (Augustine of Hippo). I enjoy filling up the page, called “Bulgaria”, both working as a guide and writing about the mountains of Bulgaria on this blog.