Accursed Mountains – A Lifetime Experience for Passionate Hikers and Photographers

Accursed Mountains – A Lifetime Experience for Passionate Hikers and Photographers

In the late summer of 2021, I went with a group of friends on a high mountain trek to the Accursed Mountains (also known as the Prokletije Mountains) situated on the border of Montenegro and Albania. I had completed the trek two years ago, but I still remember it vividly and benefit from it in many areas of my life. Therefore, through this article I would like to share how the trek went and my takeaways from it. Furthermore, I will also include a few tips and tricks for avid photographers so that nothing surprises them on a trek like this.

It all started with one innocent message from a friend who was looking for a fifth member for an expedition to Albania. And as an everlasting dreamer and nature lover, I didn't hesitate for a minute. Therefore, in less than two months, I found myself on a plane to the capital of Montenegro, Podgorica. The real story, however, began to unfold in the village of Gusinje, which stands at the base of Prokletije and opens the gateway to the high mountains.

Follow the route along this article

To help you visualize the trek and to follow its course, I have prepared a map, which you can find below (or here). However, I would like to point out that not all routes that were up-to-date two years ago may still work today. The Accursed Mountains are not very well mapped, the hiking trails often change their shape and it is important to use your head, too. Now, I won't stretch it any further, it's time to hit the road!

Time to hit the road!

Or rather... it's time to find it first. For the first few hours after starting the trek we struggled quite a bit with finding the path, and when we finally managed to find the first hiking mark, the darkness came down. 

The very next day, despite the initially rainy weather, the overall mood was much better. We climbed our first peak, Veliki Trojan (2190 m). Then we continued through the foggy landscape to a section called Prevoj Gurit, where the fog suddenly cleared and a magnificent view of the landscape opened up. At this point, my Albanian dream also came true - greenery was everywhere, the silhouettes of high mountains were visible on the horizon, and when a herd of sheep started running into the valley from the opposite hill, I was left speechless with amazement.

However, we needed to move on. So we descended into the valley, where we camped for the night and subsequently spent the next few days climbing Maja Karanfili (2119m) and Montenegro's highest mountain, Zla Kolata (2535m). Step by step we crossed the border of Montenegro and Albania and proceeded to the middle of our trek.

We may be in the middle. But the hardest part is yet to come

Albania welcomed us first with sunny weather. In the mountains, however, one does not choose the weather, so it was not a big surprise that we were hit by unpleasant rain right at the beginning of the next segment. However, with the help of the friendly locals that we ran into occasionally, we were able to deal with all the weather perfectly.

The last days of the expedition we found ourselves in a real wilderness. Our goal was to climb the highest mountain of Prokletije, Maja Jezerces (2964 m). However, Maja Jezerces is surrounded by other peaks and it took us two whole days to reach it. Moreover, I dare say (and I think I can speak for the whole group) that it was one of the most challenging sections of the whole trek. Be it because of the extreme elevation gain, difficult climbing conditions or because of an unexpected brown furry visitor that started sniffing around our tents in the middle of the night. In the end, however, we made it and after climbing Maja Jezerces we safely descended to Theth, Albania.

Tough, but wonderful

I won't lie, it was challenging. But it was beautiful and I really surpassed myself during this trek. It was a real step out of my comfort zone. But at the same time, I fell in love with the mountains here, and I look forward to going on a similar trek again. No matter if it will be in Albania or anywhere else.

Let's talk about photographing in the mountains!

Anyway, I'm a photographer, and I feel it's my obligation to include some photography tips and tricks here. I'll be brief, but if there is a photographer here who would like to know more, I'll be happy to point you to my YouTube channel, where I made a separate video about the trek. In the video, you'll find a summary of the whole trek, as well as more detailed photography tips and tricks and information on what equipment I took with me.

Nevertheless, I will list the five most important things I would stick to if I did a similar trek again:

  1. Take your camera. You won't regret it. And bring at least one wide-angle lens and another, more universal lens, to reach a little further. I had the 17-200mm focal length covered, and thanks to that I was able to take a lot of diverse photos.
  2. Don't forget the tripod. You may be thinking that this is unnecessary. And I agree that carrying a tripod with you on such a trek is not unnecessary, rather it's pointless if you want to save every single gram of the weight of your backpack. But you can carry a smaller Gorilla Pod like tripod and believe it or not, I think you'll appreciate this advice later on.
  3. Peak Design Capture is a great gadget. When you've got a 20 kilogram backpack on your back, you don't want to take it off every few minutes for taking a photo and then put it back on again. The Peak Design Capture made this easy for me, as I could easily clip the camera onto the shoulder strap at any time, but at the same time I was always ready to jump into action and start shooting immediately. 
  4. Think about how you will charge your electronics. We've been lucky enough to stumble upon a place with electricity in the middle of our trek, but I recommend bringing multiple batteries and a power bank of sufficient capacity. To give you a rough idea, I had a powerbank with a capacity of about 30,000 mAh which I used to charge my cell phone, camera, and drone, and it was enough for about half the trek. So just think about it.
  5. It rains in the mountains. And unfortunately very unpredictably. So make sure your equipment is either waterproof or is otherwise protected against water damage. After all, photo equipment is what keeps us photographers alive and it's not a cheap thing.

If you're interested in these tips, I'm sure you'll also be interested in the ones I've listed in the aforementioned YouTube video. So if you have some time, be sure to check it out and let me know if you learned anything new.

I fell in love with mountains

The trek to the Accursed Mountains has pushed me forward in a lot of areas of my life. At the very least, it has made a big dream come true for me, as Albania had intrigued me well before I decided to go on the trek. But it also taught me that as humans we can accomplish more than we think. Or maybe that sometimes we set our life standards too high and we can get stressed about the smallest things. Yet all it takes is to see what standards people have elsewhere in the world, to see what problems they struggle with, and that they are often more happy than us, who are constantly chasing success and values that may not be so important.

Gallery and photography prints

Finally, let me add a link to a photo gallery from the trek so you can take a look at more photos from the expedition. I would also like to remind you about my e-shop with printed photos, where you can find some pieces from Albania and Montenegro, as well. By purchasing printed photos you will not only support me and my work, but also nature itself - as I set aside a certain portion of the proceeds from each sale to donate to projects that are dedicated to environmental sustainability.

That's all for this article. If you have any interesting things you'd like to share, be sure to let me know in the messages or comments, I'd love to do some reading :)

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