THE DAPPLED MOUNTAINS. White limestone cliffs, dark pinewood forests, fresh sheep pastures, the Hagymás of old Hungary. Lonely Rock, the most famous landmark, towers above a wooden tourist lodge, the only one far and wide. At the foot of the mountains near the little town of Balan, people mine for copper, but the area is otherwise deserted and grows ever more so the further north you travel. Most wild and beautiful it seemed below Black Hăşmaş Peak where great white bluffs, precipices and rock pinnacles soar above sweeping pastures. Dogs and shepherd children race from ramshackle huts to beg for whatever we give them. The sweets they so desire are a long way off.

Crossing the Hăşmaş Mountains, we continued northward for about a day from Pingaraţi Pass, which is spanned by the road to Bicaz, without knowing if we’d entered the Giurgeu Mountains or not. There seemed to be fewer sheep and more cows, and streams of water trickled down wooded slopes more frequently than in the southern Hăşmaş. There were also fewer pine forests on mountain rims and broad clearings were commonplace. Gradually dissipating forest paths led us southward and roundabout from a tributary of the Bicaz River to the enormous cliffs of Little Suhard Mountain. Above crystal clear brooks: bluffs of meadowsweets, giant fir trees, nocturnal fires and teas of seven rare Hăşmaş herbs. Evenings were silent despite the proximity of Bicaz gorge.

Bicaz Gorge is unparalleled among Romanian gorges. Plunging hundreds of meters between sheer limestone walls, its floor is barely wide enough for the pure water that bubbles at its bottom. Even the road that runs through it had to be cut into the rock in places. The busy route disturbs the gorge’s beauty, but peace reigns in adjoining canyons where white waterfalls rush above great watery pools. Below Bicaz and on its eastward end, the narrow Șugăul Gorge opens up on the left, its wooden footbridge dangling dozens of meters above the water. The cliff walls and flora of Bicaz Gorge have no equal: it was there I collected some of the rarest European bluegrass for my herbarium.