Albania 2007, Trip Report September 29. to October 7.

This summary provides a quick overview and easy access to information on the peaks climbed on my trip to Albania in October 2007.

Copyright Petter Bjørstad, June 2004-2008

DateHeightNamePrimary factorLocationGPS elevation
October 1.2694 m Jezerce 2169 m N42:26.524, E019:48.7702697 m
October 2.2764 m Korab 2036 m N41:47.416, E020:32.803 2767 m
October 4.2373 m Valamara 1526 m N40:47:646, E020:27.911 2377 m
October 5.2121 m Kendervices 1666 m N40:17.186, E019:51.014 2118 m
October 7.2076 m Schneeberg (in Austria) 1326 m N47:46.019, E015:48.266 2078 m
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Albania, general observations 2007

Albania is a small country with an area of 28.750 square kilometer. The country is 70 percent mountains, many areas are very rugged and inaccessible. Albania has 6 ultra prominent mountains and they are all highpoints in each of 6 major administrative units, called a quark, (a county) of which Albania has 12. The population is about 3.6 million.
The people of Albania are quite homogeneous, with only small minorities. They are mostly Muslim, but with Christian communities in the north (Roman Catholics) and in the south (Greek Orthodox). The people of Albania are quite pragmatic and tolerant wrt. religion, there has been little friction. It should be noted that they protected Jewish people in a very successful way during the Second World War. Albania was ruled by Enver Hoxha, an ultra-fundamental communist, for almost 40 years. This rule brought development to a halt and the country to financial ruin. Hoxha kept his nation busy by the construction of about 700.000 reinforced, concrete bunkers spread across the country in anticipation of a foreign attack. These bunkers, most very small "family style", are very noticable for anybody travelling in Albania. Albania returned to democracy in 1991, and despite severe problems the country has made substantial progress in the last fifteen years. Albania is now a candidate for membership in the European Union and its path forward seems quite promising.
How to get there.
The main airport is located just north of the capital Tirane. We flew from Vienna, Austrian airline had two daily departures each way. One may also enter the country by car from Greece (south), Macedonia (east) or Montenegro (north). Finally, one may get to Albania by ferry from Italy (west).
Roads and Driving.
The general infrastructure in Albania is likely the least developed in all of Europe. One can only imagine what the roads might have been like if the country had built roads instead of bunkers for 40 years under Hoxha. If mountaineering is your purpose, then invest in renting a robust 4WD vehicle. We had a Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, expensive (Euro 800/week from Sixt), but worth every cent.
Our roadmaps purchased just weeks earlier were highly inaccurate. The maps show roads that definitely do not exist, they show villages that are only a few houses while ignoring much larger places. Furthermore, the road classifications (typically red, yellow and white roads) may be totally wrong. We drove several hours along a true "4WD class road" that our map showed as a "yellow road" (meaning quite a major road). On top of this, there are of course many smaller roads that exist, but are not on the map.
There are very few signs, many critically important intersections are without a single sign or hint about which way to go. Villages typically do not have a sign giving their name. Thus, often a driver has few or no clues whatsoever about where he has arrived or about which road to take.
Watch for sheep, goats, donkeys and cows everywhere. We met a shepherd with about 100 sheep in the middle of a main (two-way) paved highway around a corner well after dark (at 2000). Pitch dark, not a single reflector. On our way to Kukes around 2130 we ran into a recent rockslide that had hit the highway, rocks scattered everywhere across the pavement, some several rocks being hundreds of kilo each.
You will quickly notice that at least 95 percent of all cars outside of the main cities, are vintage (20-30 years old) Mercedes Benz. Several Albanians explained this consistently. Mercedes is the only car that survives the (terrible) roads for any length of time. This is indeed an example of Darwin's selection principle in practice, after some years the only cars left on the roads were Mercedes. This was observed and people wisely continued to only buy Mercedes ever since. We soon adopted the rule that if a Mercedes passenger car could go there, then we should be able to drive our Pajero Sport 4WD truck as well (and a little bit beyond). Paved roads that have disintegrated into deep holes and lots of messy patchwork are often worse to drive than a genuine dirt road. Several villages cannot be said to have road access in any normal definition of this word anno 2007.
Food, Lodging and prices.
There are quite a few restaurants and hotels scattered all over, that is, most towns will have some. There are even more in the bar and cafe category. Lunch and dinner for two would generally cost about 1000 to 1500 lek. (The local currency is lek, one lek is about the same as one (Euro) cent. ATMs are available at most banks and a town with a hotel typically also has a bank. Lodging for two in standard hotels ran from 2000 to 3000 lek. Fuel (diesel or gasoline) cost about 130 lek per liter. In Albania, they have two qualities of diesel, just "Diesel" or "Eurodiesel", the latter cost a bit more and is supposed to be of better quality.
People and Language.
People are generally very helpful and friendly, however language is often a problem. Many local people speak Albanian only, however there is often somebody around that speaks English, the trick is to run into such people when you really need them.
The Albania Ultras.
In many ways, the main challenge for us was to travel to the mountains and identify good trailheads that would make these climbs possible. It is hoped that the information provided here will make these mountains more accessible and turn them into attractive hiking goals for more people. They all provide very fine viewpoints and more tourists will create new opportunities for the local communities. It is my hope to add similar information on the two peaks that have not yet been visited.
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