Maja e Gjarpërit
Gjarpër (Snake Mountain), with its “Ape screaming at the sky” profile (though you can find other, kinder faces in it too) defines the eastern end of Valbona Valley. The Çerem River which cuts through the Çerem Valley to the west leads to the small village of (you guessed it –) Çerem.
While the rest of Albania thinks of Valbona as crazy stubborn mountain people living in impossible-to-survive conditions, this is how the people of Valbona view Çerem, which is a good 900 m higher, and unlimitedly more impossible to survive. Catherine’s favorite story is how the Çeremi people used to build their mullars (haystacks) on the top of the mountains – where the grass is. Alfred says that in winter, after slodging up through the snow, the Çeremi people built huge piles of hay, several 100 kilos, and then rode them back down the mountains as sort of gastronomic toboggans. Of course the reason that there were ever people living up there is because there is such a richness of grassland, as well as that blue-est of richnesses — boronice (wild blueberries!). These resources remain today, and the stans of Markofshe above Çerem are still full of maybe 200 people in summer, raising sheep and other animals and harvesting the blueberries, and on the slopes of Gjarpër itself the Metalliaj, Doçi and Mulosmanli family stans thrive.
On the one hand, all this human traffic makes it not the best mountain for getting away from it all (you’re going to end up meeting people up there), but if you are nervous about exploring the Accursed Mountains solo, this is probably a good thing! If you’re interested to see how people here have lived for hundreds of years (and how all Europeans probably did live, before they forgot), this is definitely the mountain to explore.
In terms of nature, Gjarpër is notable for the brown bears that migrate there to eat plums in late summer (and whose tracks you can definitely spot in the dust of the car’s road), and for the “wild chickens” (some sort of grouse) which nest in the grasslands. Other than that, it’s a glorious, sunny mountain without the clutter of forest that often slows you down in other parts of the valley.
If you aren’t into hiking solo, we are happy to arrange day trips by car or on foot with guides, either to Çerem, or to the stans, where the shepherds will welcome you into their homes and prepare treats for you, like “borë me sheqër” (snow with sugar) or fresh blueberries, which can be bought by the kilo.
Things to Do on Gjarpëri:
Stanet e Gjarpërit (Stans of Gjarpëri): 10+ hours, unmarked, challenging, camping recommended.
Rruga e Çeremit (Çerem Path): 3 hours, marked (soon), challenging.
Visit the Stans