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A Trekking Adventure in Bulgaria

Published on: 19/10/23

By Charlie Du Puy

As fans of adventures and adventuring, we try to talk the talk AND walk the walk at Go Ape. We're dedicated to ensuring that every person has a great day at Go Ape, but we also want to support our team and help them keep adventuring!

Every year our co-owners have access to an "Adventure Fund", which employees can use to fund their own expeditions. Everyone can send an application for their proposed adventure, and funding is allocated.

Go Ape tribe member Charlie used the Adventure Fund to help cover costs for a sponsored trek in Bulgaria which was about far more than just raising money. We'll let Charlie explain the rest.

Where it all began


I’m always interested in the events leading up to an adventure trip. There are often some monotonous motorway miles that sit in stark contrast to the rest of the experience, or a quirky story about where the inspiration for the adventure came from.

For me, this adventure started in an ice cream parlour in Salisbury on a cold and wet January evening. I was catching up with my friend James over dinner. James had previously mentioned his idea of a trek in Bulgaria and, as we dug into some fine Italian gelato, he produced a map and shared his plan to climb Musala, the highest mountain in the Balkans at 2,925m.

James is the director of Transform Europe Network, known as TEN. A Christian organisation that supports a network of church partners mostly in the Balkans. Through that network they do amazing work bringing hope to many people, including many living close to or below the poverty line. To give just two examples; lots of the churches have spent their summers running camps for children, and then there's recently been a big push behind TEN's Harvest for the Hungry campaign, which provides food parcels, a little like foodbanks.

The trek was to be a fundraiser for TEN, but much more than that, a small team of us from the UK would be trekking with TEN partners from the Balkans. A great opportunity to raise awareness and encourage one another.

That’s the quirky story of how this adventure came about for me, and despite the simplicity of a short hop up the M3 to Heathrow and 3-hour flight, the 1am alarm clock certainly spiced up the journey a bit!

Fully rested after a night in Sofia, the final leg of the journey to Borovets, and the start of the trek was over quickly, with stunning lake views through the window and new friends to get to know.

The rest of the story is best told in pictures.

An Unforgettable Trek in Pictures

A group of trekkers from Transform Europe Network at the trail head for Musala mountain in Bulgaria

We met the final members of our team at the trail head, TEN partners from Serbia and Macedonia, joined six of us from the UK, plus a group from another TEN partner, Sofia Baptist Church, including our guides Ruben and Stefan.

a beautiful forest flower in the Rila Mountains with a man behind trekking up the mountain track

We made 1,300m of steep ascent on day one, which was hot work. The first section though, was through a stunning forest, with beautiful flowers to admire and wild raspberries to snack on.

Charlie Du Puy and fellow trekkers from TEN hiking in the Rile Mountain to climb Musala

As we trekked above the treeline we were rewarded with stunning views down the valley.


As well as marvelling at view, I spent time getting to know others in the team, including TEN partners Bera, Boris and Mile, who have churches and projects in Serbia and North Macedonia.

A beautiful view back down the valley in the Rila Mountains with a shallow stream in the foreground
A lake below the summit of Musala Mountain in the Rila Mountains Bulgaria

After our lunch stop, we began to encounter some of the lakes that the Rila mountains are known for, and we also got the first glimpses of the summits we’d be heading for the next day.

The TEN Trek Musala team beside their mountain hut for the night in the high Rila Mountains

Our mountain hut for the night was almost a perfect pyramid shape and sat alongside another lovely mountain lake. More importantly, they served us up a lovely bowl of lentil soup and had comfy beds!

The TEN Trek Musala team on the summit of the mountain, the highest in Bulgaria and the Balkans

Day two begun with a fun scramble to the summit of Musala, at 2,925m it’s the highest mountain in the Balkans. We were offered stunning views in all directions, and discovered the first of four cats we’d meet that day, living on the summit (in a weather station)!

Our Bulgarian guides also shared a tradition I can certainly get on board with, breaking into a sharing-sized bar of chocolate on the mountain top.

Go Ape co-owner and TEN Trek Musala team member Charlie on the mountain summit with the resident cat
TEN Director James Vaughton and Pastor Bera from Novi Sad Christian Fellowship in Serbia enjoying the scramble to the summit of Musala Mountain

My friend James (in the orange t-shirt) is director of TEN, and put in a massive effort to bring the whole trek together.

Here James is with Pastor Bera from Novi Sad Christian Fellowship in Serbia. They're both regular visitors to the mountains in their homelands, and like the rest of us, enjoyed the scramble to the summit and taking on a bigger climb than we can find at home.

A spectacular mountain view including a lake in the Rila Mountains in Bulgaria

We’d been warned to load up on water before we left our overnight stop, and for good reason. Not only were there no water sources to refill from for much of the day, but it was a long, intense morning of trekking up and down mountain rises, exposed to the sun. Still, the views were amazing!

The TEN Trek Musala team gathered by a mountain hut for lunch on their trek in the Rila Mountains

Lunchtime was more like mid-afternoon! Thirsty and hungry we arrived at another mountain hut after descending from the baking peaks. We were initially met by one of the largest dogs I’ve seen, and then two tiny, playful kittens that would not keep still for a photo! The meal was traditional Balkan patties made from a mix of meats, herbs and spices.

Two small kittens playing beside the mountain hut where they live in the Rila Mountains
The TEN Trek Musala team gathered to hear from TEN partners about their churches and projects in the Balkans

Throughout our trek, when we stopped for breaks, we took the opportunity to hear the stories of the TEN partners accompanying us. Taking time to pray with them and encourage them in their work was an important part of the trip.

TEN partners from Serbia and North Macedonia on the trek up Musala Mountain

(L-R) Pastor Bera leads a church in Novi Sad, Serbia, which has projects supporting those tackling addiction and homelessness. Mile leads Royal Rangers in North Macedonia, a scouting organisation that provides activities and camps for children. Youth leader Boris works with the young people in the Novi Sad Christian Fellowship.

The TEN Trek Musala team hiking through dense forest in the foothills of the Rila Mountains

Following our late lunch the downhill journey continued, and eventually back into the forest. Our guide Rumen was aware of a ‘shortcut’. It didn’t feel particularly short, but it was even prettier than forest walk the previous day. The single-file track traversed small waterfalls and rewarded us with glimpses through the trees across the valley.

A mountain hut amongst a pine forest in the foothills of the Rila Mountains Bulgaria

Our second overnight stop was a welcome retreat and sat nestled amongst tall pines. Although, the warning signs for bears in the area wasn’t the only reason to get visits to the outhouse over and done with quickly!

A grasshopper discovered by the TEN Trek Musala team in the Rila Mountains Bulgaria

After two big mountain days, the final leg of our journey back to civilisation was thankfully on a gentler gradient. A first for me was cutting across ski slopes on our approach back into Borovets. Boy do they look out of place when not covered in snow!

Throughout our journey was also met some crazy critters, including moths that suck nectar from flowers like a hummingbird, and some decent sized grasshoppers.

As a team we have reached our fundraising target of £6,000, and with gift aid that figure will rise to over £7,000. The work of TEN never stops and if you would like to make a donation in sponsorship of the Trek Musala team, or you're just curious to see how it's going, my fundraising page will remain live until early 2024.

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A view of blue sky mountain peaks and a valley with a lake in the Rila Mountains Bulgaria