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A guide to reaching the summit of every country in Europe - driving, walking and climbing routes to the tops of 50 countries in Europe. Detailed route descriptions, sketch maps - advice on transport, seasons, grading and gear. From afternoon strolls in Malta to three-day mountaineering ascents on classic Alpine routes such as Mont Blanc.
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Heading to the highest point of any European country is an experience not to be missed. Europe offers the hiker a wealth of adventure and a huge variety of dazzling scenery and each of our 50 countries celebrates its national high point in a different way. Now this unique guide brings together clear and detailed route descriptions of how to reach the summits of countries from Liechtenstein to Latvia, across the continent.
Whether you are attempting to climb a selection of individual high points or collect the set, you will find these routes lead you to some of the most striking landscapes and exciting terrain that Europe has to offer, with all the information you need about each country to get there – along with interesting but incidental information that you don’t!
Stretching from the frozen tundra of the Arctic Circle to the arid plains of the Sierra Nevada, this book contains something for everyone – from afternoon strolls in Malta and Moldova to three-day mountaineering ascents on classic Alpine routes such as Mont Blanc and Dufourspitze.
Don’t cross the Channel without it!
Since publication in 2009, the situation has vastly improved for those climbing Korab from Macedonia. The restrictions on climbing the mountain have been lifted as political tensions have eased in the area. It is now possible to climb the mountain at any time of year, although the mass ascent at the beginning of September is still popular.
The military and police presence in the area is now more low key and the guard dogs and razor wire at the Pobeda watchtower in Strezimir are thankfully long gone. It is still advisable to stop at the police checkpoint on the bumpy road up the Radika valley and report your presence and your plans if hiking without a guide.
Since publication a small tourist office has opened in Mavrovi Hanovi. Guides for the ascent can be arranged from here (firstname.lastname@example.org). There is still no decent map of the area. The old Soviet maps available to download on the internet are just as vague as the 1:70,000 map available at the tourist office. The route described in the guide is the 'normal' route shown in blue on this map: www.makpetrol.com.mk/planinari/Maps/GolemKorab.jpg
Route notes: The border town of ‘Durbar’ is more commonly ‘Debar’. After climbing the grassy slopes of Nistrovski Korab, the path traverses westwards across the south flanks of the Kepi Bard ridge, overlooking the large grassy area of Kobilino Pole (Mare's Field). There is some confusion about Mal Korab. The 2344m height attributed to this on the map should not be referred to as Mal Korab. Mal Korab (2683m) is a sizeable upthrust of limestone cliff at the head of the valley and is not visited on the walk, although it is in view ahead of you as you traverse under Kepi Bard. (Confusingly, Mal Korab also used to be known as Kepi Bard. This is not the same as the Kepi Bard under which the main path traverses!)
In spite of these access improvements, the Mavrovo area is still a truly adventurous destination. In addition to our comments about bears, we have also heard reports of wolves in the region.
There is no change in our advice to not attempt to summit from the Albanian side of the mountain.
It has also been suggested that while in the area, a great site is the Jovan Bigorski or John the Baptist monastery near Rotushe (www.bigorski.org.mk).
The Belarus high point seems to have seen an increase in visitor numbers (possibly in part due to Europe's High Points). It is now clearly signposted from the road and the area around the carved stone is now a landscaped garden. It is possible to reach the high point quite easily by bus from Minsk. This leaves 2-4 times a day to Volma/Волма, times available from http://ticketbus.by/ allowing 40 minutes to visit the high point before returning back by the same bus. Departure is from Southwestern (юго-западный) bus station or Krasnaya Gorka metro. After leaving Minsk, the bus takes the P65 towards Dzerzhinsk, then turns off right to Skirmantovo/Скирмантово. Get off at stop Скирмантово-1, which is located 3.5 km after a turn. You should request a stop when you see three poles next to a house on your right hand side. Alternatively get off at the next stop in Скирмантово village and walk back along the road until you see the sign for the high point.
The large red tower at Gaizinkalns was demolished in 2012. It was built to rival the white tower at Suur Munamagi in Estonia but was never completed. It was knocked down due to safety concerns (it was definitely in an unsafe dilapidated state when one of the authors climbed it in 2005!). The commemorative stone at the summit still remains.
Due to safety concerns, instability and previous terrorist attacks perpetrated in the Elbrus area it is essential to check with the FCO www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice before making plans to travel to the region. The mountain was the scene of the high profile shooting of three tourists and bombing of a ski lift in 2011 which led to Russian forces carrying out air strikes in the area in the hunt for Islamic militants.
The cable car is now known as the Yastrebetz gondola.
A Norwegian campaign to give Finland a new highest point is gathering momentum. The Halti massif straddles the border between the two nations: Finland’s current highest point is a 1,324m subsidiary summit of a spur named Hálditšohkka, but the spur’s main 1,331m summit lies barely 40m to the north in Norway. A retired geophysicist and government surveyor, Bjørn Geirr Harsson, came up with the idea of giving the Norwegian summit to Finland as a ‘birthday gift’ to mark the 100th anniversary of Finland’s independence from Russia in December next year. Since Mr Harsson first wrote to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in July 2015, the suggestion has been gaining support on social media and the Norwegian government is now considering the possibility of re-drawing the border.
A Eurovision for mountains
Why this Guide?
Using this Guide
The Geography of Europe
Plants and Wildlife
When To Go
How to Get There
Health and Safety Issues
What is Europe?
1 Andorra – Pic de Coma Pedrosa 2942m
2 Austria – Grossglockner 3798m
3 Belarus – Dzyarzhynskaya 345m
4 Belgium – Signal de Botrange 694m
5 Bosnia and Herzegovina – Maglic 2387m
6 Bulgaria – Musala 2925m
7 Croatia – Dinara 1831m
8 Cyprus – Mount Olympus (Chionistra) 1951m
9 Czech Republic – Snezka 1602m
10 Denmark – Møllehøj 170m
11 England – Scafell Pike 978m
12 Estonia – Suur Munamagi 318m
13 Finland – Halti 1325–28m
14 France and Italy – Mont Blanc/Monte Bianco 4808m
15 Germany – Zugspitze 2962m
16 Greece – Mount Olympus 2917m
17 Hungary – Kékes 1014m
18 Iceland – Hvannadalshnukur 2111m
19 Ireland – Carrauntoohil 1041m
20 Kosovo – Djeravica 2656m
21 Latvia – Gaizinkalns 312m
22 Liechtenstein – Grauspitz 2599m
23 Lithuania – Aukstojas/Juozapine Kalnas 294m
24 Luxembourg – Buurgplatz/Kneiff 559m
25 Macedonia and Albania – Mount Korab 2764m
26 Malta – Ta’ Dmejrek/Dingli Cliffs 253m
27 Moldova – Mount Balanesti 430m
28 Monaco – Chemin des Revoires 162m
29 Montenegro – Maja Kolata 2534m
30 The Netherlands – Vaalserberg 321m
31 Northern Ireland – Slieve Donard 852m
32 Norway – Galdhopiggen 2469m
33 Poland – Rysy 2500m/2503m
34 Portugal – La Torre 1993m
35 Romania – Moldoveanu 2544m
36 Russia – Mount Elbrus 5642m
37 San Marino – Monte Titano 739m
38 Scotland – Ben Nevis 1343m
39 Serbia – Midzor 2169m
40 Slovakia – Gerlachovsky stit 2654m
41 Slovenia – Triglav 2864m
42 Spain – Mulhacén 3478m
43 Sweden – Kebnekaise 2111m
44 Switzerland – Dufourspitze 4634m
45 Turkey – Mahya Dagi 1030m
46 Ukraine – Goverla 2061m
47 Vatican City – St Peter’s Dome 132m
48 Wales – Snowdon/Yr Wyddfa 1085m
Some Disputed High Points
Azores – Mount Pico 2351m
Canary Islands – Mount Teide 3718m
Faeroe Islands – Slaettaratindur 882m
Italy – Gran Paradiso 4061m; Mont Blanc de Courmayeur 4748m; Nordend (Monte Rosa) 4609m
Turkey – Mount Ararat 5137m
Appendix 1 Countries of Europe Fact Table
Appendix 2 Mountain Routes Graded by Difficulty
Appendix 3 Table of Mountain Heights
Appendix 4 Glossary of Mountaineering Terms
Appendix 5 Further Reading
Appendix 6 Cicerone guides to Europe’s high points
This guide to climbing the high points in every European country serves as a celebration of the wide variety of national identities in Europe – a ‘Eurovision for mountains’, if you like. The European mainland is on our doorstep and may feel like familiar territory, but there is a wealth of adventure waiting in every one of its countries.
Heading to the highest point of any European country – a high altitude mountain or a comparative molehill – is an experience we wholeheartedly recommend. The sheer variety of Europe’s national high points, collected here in a book for the first time, offers a wealth of fantastic experiences. In short, you are holding in your hand the key to a treasure trove of discovery, adventure and fun. Some of Europe’s greater mountains and ranges may already be well known and celebrated, but many remain untrampled by international hiking boots. The vast majority of Europe’s countries take great national pride in their highest points and most have their own version of a treasure like Ben Nevis, be it gargantuan or diminutive.
Attempting to climb all Europe’s high points is a challenge like no other. You can experience the majesty of Mont Blanc and the Alps, confront Zeus on Mount Olympus, and feel quite baffled in the former Yugoslav nations. Lose yourself body and soul deep on Finland and Sweden’s highest mountains while the aurora borealis shimmers across the night sky. Race uphill and plod down dale. Head east, west, north and south, springing from peak to peak like a mountain gazelle. Leap crevasses, dodge marmots, watch eagles soar from beneath your feet. Climb above rolling blankets of white clouds. Shake hands with shepherds and wayward travellers. Share drinks (and even foods you may wish you had never been offered) with Bulgarians, Albanians, Norwegians, Italians and Bosnians as each makes a pilgrimage to their national high point.
Inevitably we have found that a country’s highest point tends to be in one of its most beautiful areas. From the splendid 100m waterfalls of Iceland’s Skaftafell in the west to Russia’s awe-inspiring Caucasus Mountains in the east, and from the arid red rock of Spain’s Sierra Nevada in the south to the Arctic tundra of Finland’s Halti in the north, this book will take walkers and climbers to some of the best scenery in Europe.
There is no governing body or infallible source for the designation of European state high points, and readers may be surprised to discover that disputes (or maybe debates) over national high points exist in many countries including Italy, Denmark and Montenegro. This is not a phenomenon unique to Europe; even the summit of Everest is claimed in its entirety by both China and Nepal. We have aimed to sift out the chaff to give the high-pointer a clearer picture, and disputes are all discussed in the relevant chapters. As well as disputed high points, there are also some common misconceptions about certain peaks. For example, some people mistakenly assume that Mont Blanc is Europe’s highest mountain, when in fact that award goes to Russia’s Mount Elbrus by a considerable margin.
The start of our own quest to climb Europe’s highest points can be traced back more than ten years. Just after Christmas in 1996 we drove up to Scotland with three friends to climb Ben Nevis. Five teenagers piled into a Ford Fiesta, badly equipped and utterly naïve as to what lay in store. We drove through the night. In the morning we were fed to the brim at a B&B and eventually followed the icy tourist path to the summit of the Ben. We arrived at the top just as the sun set over the highlands. There was just enough time for us to stand on the highest ground and say, ‘Look at me, there is no one higher in Britain right now,’ before a storm and impending night engulfed us. It was our first national high point and an adventure to boot. At the heart of that day there was the elation of a personal and spiritual fulfilment.
Climbers talk a lot about the clarity and personal enlightenment brought about by mountaineering and for the outsider it is all too easy to scoff; but such emotions are voiced time and time again, even by the most down-to-earth Yorkshireman. A common theme keeps arising: man and woman’s search for an understanding of themselves and their place in the world. It is this philosophical search which inspired the ancient Greeks to make their highest mountain the home of the gods; that caused Babel-like towers to be built on the highest ground in Portugal, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia and Latvia; which triggers Tibetans to utter prayers as soon as Chomolangma (Mount Everest) comes into view.
We all like to have a hobby and a challenge. Climbing the European national high points is, in our view, one step (or maybe two) above stamp collecting.
Never before have all the national high points of Europe been gathered together in one place. While information and route descriptions for some of the high points exist elsewhere, collating them can be exceedingly time-consuming and troublesome and, even then, knowing which routes to choose might not prove easy. For some national high points there are no route descriptions beyond the pages of this book. Additionally, complicated geographical disputes have arisen over the designation of certain national high points and this book aims to resolve them. We have outlined any such disagreements and explained the reasoning behind our own choices. (Readers may be surprised to find Italy amongst these and perhaps the most complicated. Italy surprisingly has four different claims for its high point, but at the centre of the dispute is a virtual tug-of-war for the summit of Mont Blanc/Monte Bianco (see the France/Italy chapter).)
The beauty of the European high points in walking and mountaineering terms is that they range from ludicrously easy ascents (Denmark, Estonia, the Netherlands and so on) to ones that will prove challenging to most people (France, Switzerland, Russia). There are also plenty in between. Someone who enjoys a good Lakeland hike will, by acquiring a few mountaineering and climbing skills along the way, be easily capable of working up to ascents of the more demanding national high points. None of the mountains require you to be the next Chris Bonnington or Julie Tullis, but a competent approach to mountaineering will prove invaluable (the foolhardy are rarely rewarded in any mountain range).
Naturally not all of us can take off four months and go racing around Europe to climb all the mountains in one big push. You might not even want to climb them all. Whatever you choose to do, this book is a great resource to call upon. Climbing a national high point is guaranteed to spice up a trip to any European country, and could provide the focus for planning future holidays.
This guide aims to answer the needs of anyone whose primary concern is getting to the top of these national high points. For the most part the simplest and most straightforward routes are described – but not always. Speed and ease of ascent routes is balanced against the subjective merits of those routes that might initially appear more time-consuming and even more technical, but ultimately prove more spectacular and pleasurable.