Hike to Toaca Peak, our experience in 2023

Anna and her sons write of their experience of Toaca Peak in Ceahlău National Park, Romania.

Hike to Toaca Peak, our experience in 2023
Ceahlău Mountains

What is Toaca Peak?

Toaca, 1904 meters (approx. 6247 feet) high, 3 meters shorter than the highest peak in Ceahlău mountains, is a popular destination for hiking in the Eastern Carpathian mountains, Romania. Even though it is the second-highest peak in Ceahlău, after Ocolașul Mare Peak (1907 meters high), Toaca is the main attraction in the massif, being famed for its pyramid shape and for the staircase built on its slope.

Toaca Peak

Two hiking possibilities

Two hiking options for the Toaca Peak are available, a longer one starting at Izvorul Muntelui chalet, where the hikers have a large parking lot to accommodate their cars. A shorter trail starts in Curmătura Lutul Roșu. We went for the shorter hike, starting at Curmătura Lutul Roșu trailhead, where we were able to park our car on the road shoulder. Our first stop on the hike was going to be the pretty Dochia Chalet, built right in the alpine meadow above the woody part of the mountain, not far from Toaca Peak.

The sign indicating the trail head at Curmătura with the white and blue mark of the trail.

Trail difficulty level in our opinion

While researching for this trail, hubby found that this particular hike was a moderate level one, so we expected a more roundabout path to the top. Not so. It was pretty advanced stuff, most of it felt like a strenuous walk up an abrupt slope. We would definitely rate it as a difficult level hike.

Tree roots are tricky, can be helpful when it is dry.

Information boards are rest for the weary

We were thankful for the information boards displayed along the path, they were the perfect excuse for us to stop and rest for a little to catch our breaths. The kids were never so interested in information boards like they were on this hike, haha. So one can imagine we ended up more informed and stronger at the end of it all.

The legend of the Thundered Stones, some fun shaped cliffs in the middle of the woods, on the trail. Fun translation from Romanian too. :)

How we passed the time to forget the suffering

At some point, the muscles in our legs felt very sore. But there was no turning back for us, we were determined to go all the way, so we started pondering of all manner of things in a loud voice to make time pass and forget the suffering.

The Thundered Stones

For instance, we remembered with Mihai why people who make physical effort have muscle cramps. We learned it in Biology class last school year. It has to do with the way energy is made in the cell. Our leg muscles are sore because the oxygen cannot reach quickly enough to our muscles cells to fulfill the big need created by our sustained efforts. So one way to help our bodies is occasionally to breathe deeply in and out, to help with the delivery of the much-needed oxygen to the muscles in the legs.

We also pondered on the metaphor of the hike. The Holy Spirit teaches us many things using metaphors in the Scriptures. We felt He was teaching us using the metaphor of the hike. It goes like this: our life is a trail which we hike, so we need to set a pace, and be perseverant, and sometimes rest. The trail of life takes us up and down through the metaphoric woods that block our view of what is around, but then, at some point, we are up on the top of the mountain where we can see far in the distance where we are supposed to go. It is better to live (hike) having good company that encourages you and helps you reach your goal. Looking down at the path in front of us gets boring and discouraging, we need to raise our eyes and look up in the sky and around us at the views that are opening up on the path and enjoy the journey.

Pretty views like this would open up occasionally on the path.

First leg of the hike, the stop at Dochia Chalet

Finally, after much toil, we managed to get out of the woods up into the alpine meadow where Dochia Chalet is nestled between the two highest peaks of Ceahlău massif, Ocolașul Mare Peak and Toaca Peak. It was a view we were delighted to see. The toughest leg of our hike was accomplished without much complaint from the young ones' quarter. I was pleasantly surprised at how well our youngest put up with the effort. Our little one is growing up 😎.

Just out of curiosity, we asked if they had rooms to let. Nope, they were packed until the end of the hiking season. I wasn't surprised.

On the left side—Dochia Chalet. 

We stopped for a little while to enjoy the splendid view from the chalet and cups of coffee and hot chocolate. Pictures cannot capture it truthfully, unfortunately. One has to come and see it.

Coffee with a view. :)

After a well-deserved rest, snacking and petting the chalet cat, we pressed on to the Toaca Peak, our final destination of the hike. The trail from the chalet took us through mazes of juniper and small pine trees.

Mountain pine. They are small because of the harsh living conditions on the top of the mountain. 

Toaca Peak

Compared to the first leg of the hike, from Dochia Chalet to Toaca, the trail was easy and enjoyable. We could see from the distance the staircase on the slope of the pyramid like peak. More people were ascending than descending, and when we got closer to the bottom of the stairs, we could see why. Most people were climbing down the peak on a path in the mountain, not on the stairs. They were quite steep to climb on the way up, so I understand why people try a different route on the way down. Steep descents are so difficult.

The staircase to Toaca Peak. 

From the top of Toaca the landscape is breathtaking. Rows upon rows of mountain peaks nestling in between them, Bicaz Dam Lake on one side, the Eagles' Bathing Rocks and sunlit valleys on the other. After 4 hours of hiking, we made it to our peak. What can I say, it is a good feeling, it wasn't a walk in the park.

Yay, we made it to Toaca Peak. 
Resting place on Toaca Peak. 

Ominous clouds were gathering above our way down the mountain, so we decided to go back sooner rather than later. On our way down to our car, we made a half an hour stop to eat a warm meal at the Dochia chalet. The soup was delicious, like all the soups I have eaten in Romania so far. Romanians are remarkable at putting together flavorful and appetizing soups from scratch.

On our way back to Dochia chalet. 

We left Dochia chalet, going on the same way back to our car. We were sorry to be rushing through the surreal beauty of the mountain top, back in the woods. I find the way down the steep slopes of a mountain always harder to descend. It is like my legs have a mind of their own, resisting me, wanting to stay back and relax some more.

The sky had darkened over the Ocolașul Mare Peak. 

Summer storm

As soon as we got into the woods on our way back, a fierce storm fell upon us. I could understand how the Thundered Stones could have been smitten by a powerful blast of a lightning bolt. At first, a heavy summer rain poured over us amidst thunders and lightning. After a while, the heavy rain turned into an endless drizzle that drowned our spirits made high by the beauty of the mountain. Now the descent was not only difficult, it became dangerous. We had to walk cautiously on a slippery, muddy slope with tree roots sticking out at every step. Our muscles and nerves were strained at the maximum. We were glad we had our hiking boots on, a lady wearing sneakers fell and broke her leg and had to be carried away in the ambulance to the hospital. The Mountain Rescue Rangers were on top of things, very prompt in coming to the rescue, we were impressed.

Rain, rain, go away!

Three hours later, silent and drenched, we got back to the car. We were tired but happy to be alive and in one piece, happy to be able to jump in the car and drive away towards the horizon where a hot shower and a soft bed were waiting for us.

Our kids experience

Mihai, 15

I stare in dismay as the trail keeps going up the steep hill. I feel the sweat pouring down my face and suppress the urge to complain bitterly. The heat beats down mercilessly on me as I crawl up the endless stairs leading to the peak.

Toaca Peak is a 1904-meter tall mountain peak in Ceahlău National Park, Moldavia (a region in Romania, not to be confused with Moldova, an autonomous country which used to be part of Romania). It is the second-highest peak on the Ceahlău Massif.

Red Lake and Bicaz Gorge

On the way to Ceahlău massif, we stopped to see the Red Lake, which was formed in 1838 by an earthquake. The side of the mountain fell into the Bicaz river below, blocking up part of it and forming this natural dam lake.

Red Lake

The lake's surface is peppered with tree stumps from the landslide following the earthquake. It was called the Red Lake because the blood from the animals killed in the avalanche tinged the waters red for weeks after.

Tree stumps.

After seeing the Red Lake, we went through the Bicaz Gorge, which is a gigantic gorge that you can drive through! The cliffs are insanely tall and have grass growing on them!

Bicaz Gorge

The climb to Toaca

The next day, we went to the actual hike on Mount Ceahlău. Instead of starting at the bottom, we started the hike one kilometer away, which made it easier to climb the mountain as the ascent from the base to our parking spot was more than 700 meters!

We had to climb the mountain, through a thick forest, until eventually, we came out in an alpine meadow, where the Dochia Chalet is situated. This cabin, which is supplied by helicopter, is a place where travelers can rest and eat. However, we didn't stop for too long but pressed on and got to the base of Toaca Peak.

Toaca—on the right. 

A gigantic staircase led to the peak. The staircase was so steep, at one point we had to use the stairs like the rungs of a ladder! I imagined the Morgul Stair in Lord of the Rings should be something like it.

After getting to the top, we could see for miles around and could see the Bicaz Lake in the distance. Finally, we descended the mountain peak down a different path and came to the Dochia Chalet, where we ate a sumptuous lunch and started the descent to the car.

Need a hand?

It started raining on the way back, and an unfortunate woman in front of us slipped on some wet surface (I couldn't see what) and broke her leg. However, we made it back to the car safely.

Paul, 12

I scramble up a steep incline and look up at the hike. I groan in dismay as I notice that there are approximately ten billion more inclines up ahead! Sighing, my family and I take a break and drink what seems to me seven gallons of the life – giving drink known as water. I pant for breath as we hike up the steep incline and make it up to what looks like the end of our pain and suffering (I was woefully wrong)!

One-minute break well spent :)

We arrive at a castle-like structure made of solid rock known as the Thundered Rocks. From there we weren't far from Dochia Chalet. I was glad to finally rest, but it was not to be for long. My family and I still had to hike to Toaca peak. We navigate our way through a maze of junipers and pines, finally reaching the final ascent, a looooooong ladder. We trudge up this monstrosity of human engineering and finally get to the tippy top of the mountain.

The monster stair.

I slowly crawled my way down the windswept path down the side of the mountain, rather than descending the staircase. After a tense fifteen minutes of slipping and misery, we arrive at the bottom from whence we came. We marched back to the cabin, ordered some hot, delectable food, and almost leapt with joy when it arrived.

Ready to have something to eat.

The journey back to the car was perilous and slippery as it started raining. The way down was almost a blur in my memory as we descended on the soaked slope and arrived at our car. Some poor lady had fallen in her haste to get back to her car and slipped, breaking (crack!) a limb. I hope this lady had a quick (speedy!) recovery.

Mountain avens.