THE SCENIC MOUNTAINS. The Green-White Mountains. The Juniper Mountains. The Rough-Hewn Mountains – all are fitting epithets. Not a large range, it can be crossed in a day taking Bratocea Pass eastward to the inner Eastern Carpathians. But don’t forget, the Ciucaş extend westward too. There they are called Bobu, or – if I understood the toothless shepherd – Babeş. Once long ago, I hiked mapless across the mountains, foolishly thinking to arrive at Piatra Mare in the Bîrsei Mountains, the utter edge of the Eastern Carpathians, by evening. Unaware that between us stood Gîrbovei, Doftanu, and Baiu peaks, I got no farther than the sheep-grazed, blueberry-covered western Ciucaş. Plovers hopped about plateau marshes, and the high plains stretched ever onward. I returned to the pass and headed eastward. That, little brother, is where the true Ciucaş lie! Curious, white, conglomerate cliffs shaped into craggy needles, clusters, labyrinths, and enormous rough walls. Wind-chiseled orbs and cornices: beautiful, decorative, white, steep, and overgrown with juniper, rosebay, and grass. Once I saw a similar landscape on a photograph from southern China. The Sphinx of Bratocea, God’s finger: abloom with purple asters, it rises solitarily skyward at the boundaries of Wallachia and Transylvania. We look on as cold, murky Transylvanian mists bear down on one side, and Wallachian sun illuminates the other. The Rock of Truth we call it. Its roots sink deep beneath yellow flowers of lady’s mantel, the likes of which I have never seen before.

Upon Chiruşca plain nestled among mountains, stands a hut so austere it brings one to tears – the hub of Ciucaş tourism. From there, we traverse grassy expanses, dells of white bulls, and dense beech forests high above Sheepfold Valley, finally arriving at Bonecuţa pass. What distant reaches, little brother. The headwaters of the Buzău River, where picturesque Ciucaş Mountains give way to Siriu peaks, the westernmost summits of Buzău. Onward from there, few pilgrims venture. Only teams of oxen wearily haul great beech logs along miserable forest roads.