Hiking - Story

Scaling Peaks Together: Romanian Couple Alex & Karina Isar

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We all dream of one day travelling, scaling peaks and climbing mountains, well since we are too lazy to get out of our beds, Alex & Karina Isar to the rescue! This young couple saves up every month to explore the great outdoors and fulfil their wanderlust.

Alex & Karina are a young married couple and are mountain and nature enthusiasts from Romania. Their love for the wild has been with them since long before they met each other, and this only brought them closer together. They started blogging about their outdoor adventures hoping to inspire others to follow in their footsteps or to go further

From running down mountains in wake of thunderstorms to scaling dangerous rock-fall prone peaks, they have great memories of hikes, some awesome, some funny, and some tough moments.

The Heights of Hiking with: Alex & Karina Isar

Connecting for the #IamLivingit series, Team Livingit got in touch with Alex & Karina, who shared their stories on how they get to mountain tops, their love for hiking and their passion for adventure.

Livingit: What inspired you to start Hiking/Trekking? Tell us about your 1st experience?
Alex & Karina Isar: I (Alex) started hiking in high school, during summer breaks I would go for multiday trips in the mountains together with friends. Since some of them were boy scouts I had the opportunity to learn a lot about mountaineering from them like how to organize your backpack, what gear you should have with you, etc.

I think one of my earliest real hikes was a 4-day ridge track over Rodnei Mountains in the north of Romania. I remember it was more than 60 km long and we had to carry all our food with us and a fair amount of water as springs were scarce. I learned the hard way what was useful to carry and what was dead weight.

The Heights of Hiking with: Alex & Karina Isar

I (Karina) remember some years before my first experience, was a bit painful. Back then I had an awful tent, a super cheap sleeping bag and almost no hiking clothes. During the day it would be 30 degrees Celsius and I would have never guessed it could drop close to zero in the night. I was so cold on that night I couldn’t sleep at all.

But then again, the next day, I reached my first 2000 m peak. Going up was great, but the descend was a total mess. My hiking boots were not really meant to be hiking boots, and they were way too tight. I had sore feet and my nails hurt for a week. Well, sometimes you learn the hard way. Back then there wasn’t so much information on the Internet.

Check: Tips to keep in mind when selecting hiking shoes!

The Heights of Hiking with: Alex & Karina Isar

Livingit: What inspired you to start a blog? When did you start? How was the journey?
Alex & Karina Isar: The first site which is in our native language, www.prinlumepringanduri.com , was Karina’s idea and it started out more like a personal diary for her to keep track of all the places where we have been, but in short time it started gaining traction. One year later we launched the English site together, www.hereihike.com , where we planned to mainly promote hiking in wild Romania since there is close to no quality information about hiking in our country that is available to the general English-speaking public.

We do this out of passion and desire to help people. We don’t advertise on our sites and we support full costs. This is mainly because we think nature is for everybody and there shouldn’t be a material cost for accessing information.

The Heights of Hiking with: Alex & Karina Isar

Livingit: Did you have a mentor and how did it help?
Alex & Karina Isar: We can’t say we had a particular mentor. You can learn from each person you interacted with and to some extent friends, parents, and random people on the Internet may inspire you every moment. For us, the desire to travel, to hike and explore the world was our so called mentor.

Each story we hear is inspiring, each photo we see triggers our curiosity. It’s unbelievable to see how some people travel all the time, some have crazy jobs that take them to the most stunning places of the world and others are amazing athletes, but in the end, we think you must find your own way and let your inner self guide you through life.

The Heights of Hiking with: Alex & Karina Isar

Livingit: Do you prefer to trek solo or with friends? How different are the two types of experiences?
Alex & Karina Isar: We more often travel together, just the two of us. I guess it’s a kind of another version of ‘solo’. We are independent and free to create our own schedule as we wish. Particularly if we are talking about hiking/trekking on longer tracks you need to calculate very well the amount of time you need and all kinds of details. The more people you add to the equation the bigger the chances not to reach your end destination or not to mark all objectives.

The Heights of Hiking with: Alex & Karina Isar

Basically, when we want to do some serious trekking we go alone. We also go hiking with friends and love meeting new people. It’s really a great way to share experiences, to make new connections and to have a lot of fun. We sometimes organize trips with our friends and of course this bring back huge satisfaction and nice memories.

Livingit: What groups did you join and how did it help you? What was your experience in trekking with Groups?
Alex & Karina Isar: For more than two years we joined a group of people from the central part of Romania who are regularly going to the mountain side and are involved in different outdoor activities. Since that time, we took part in several outings and it has simply been a blast. It is great to have the possibility of exchanging ideas, to find optimizations and to share experiences even though the larger the group the harder it gets to organize a hike from a logistics point of view.

The Heights of Hiking with: Alex & Karina Isar

We think joining a group of enthusiasts is especially great for beginners as they manage to get access to a ton of information early on and don’t have to test a lot of things on their own skin. Regardless of your level, there is always something new to learn.

Livingit: Tell us something about your gear – your current collection/brands you use. What are the must carry items for you? What is missing in your gear?
Alex & Karina Isar: We try to get the best quality/price ratio and are not focused on getting brand X or Y just because they have great branding. I think we now know the feeling of determining if a piece of gear is of good quality and if it is worth the money or not (not taking looks into consideration).

The Heights of Hiking with: Alex & Karina Isar

In Europe, we have Decathlon, which is a sports equipment store specialized in most outdoor activities. Mainly most of our gear comes from them as we found they have great value per price especially in the mid-top range of products.

We think the backbone of any gear is having a good, solid and reliable hiking boot that will keep your feet dry and comfortable even after multi-day hikes. In our opinion the main trick here is first to find the perfect fit based on your foot structure. The brand is less important as long as it fits like a glove and the constructive materials are of good quality. In any case when gearing up, start from the bottom as it will give you a solid foundation.

The Heights of Hiking with: Alex & Karina Isar

There is always something missing, always something you want to improve or upgrade. Currently I think we are missing ice axes even though they are not mandatory for the winter hike levels we are currently doing (but hey, it doesn’t hurt to have them around). Alex also needs a new self-inflating sleeping pad as he managed to puncture it in a gazillion spots in one of our hikes and it only insulates for about 8 hours.

We would also like to pick up stand up paddle boarding and to buy all that is required for this sport but I think this going to be further in the future.

Livingit: How do you stay fit/train for your treks? What’s your training plan?
Alex & Karina Isar: We try to use the car as little as possible. Every day we go to work on our bicycles. Awesome way to start the day. Alex goes to the gym or trains at home (bodyweight exercises) and I am doing yoga a few times per week. During the winter we sometimes go to spinning classes.

We are very careful with what we eat. This is also important to keep a healthy body. Karina stopped eating meat two years ago. Ever since we don’t cook with meat and I cannot complain at all as she always prepares the most delicious meals.

The Heights of Hiking with: Alex & Karina Isar

Having a healthy lifestyle in general may sound a bit more demanding than it really is but it requires less effort than most people imagine. Hiking requires a healthy body but also contributes to maintaining a good one both physically and mentally. A good physical condition means embracing a good mental and spiritual balance. They all go together and nature is the cradle where you can truly bond with yourself, with people you care about.

The Heights of Hiking with: Alex & Karina Isar

Livingit: How has hiking helped you (personally/professional)?
Alex & Karina Isar: We started hiking together more than five years ago and I can see how different we see things now, how different our expectations are. We started blogging about this aiming to inspire other people to discover life outside the rules or our modern society.

Livingit: What is one of the craziest treks you’ve embarked on? Could you elaborate a bit?
Alex & Karina Isar: There are a lot but one comes to our mind, Moldoveanu, the highest peak in Romania. It was a long, exhausting, monumental trek to celebrate our first wedding anniversary. That time we had already done the highest peaks in Slovenia, Bulgaria and Macedonia, but had not scaled the highest in our country. The trek is absolutely stunning from start to end. A pure alpine trek that shares with you the very heart of Romania. 28 km, 15 hours and almost 3000 m altitude gain with perfect weather and an early morning summit reach.

The Heights of Hiking with: Alex & Karina Isar

We were traveling with some heavy backpacks and even though it was summer, there was still a lot of snow in some areas. We were really tired and our knees were hurting bad but it was the most remarkable memory of all. This is one of the treks one must do in a lifetime. If you ever visit Romania, do include Moldoveanu Peak.

Livingit: What is one of your best-hiking memories?
Alex & Karina Isar: There is beauty in every hike we made. I believe this is one of the most difficult questions to answer. Each season has it’s wonders: the first snow, the smell of heavy Summer rain, the smell of flowers during Spring and the relaxing leaves falling in Autumn -We fall in love with this each time. Also, every peak we reached, every place we hike is amazing and makes up more and more memories.

The Heights of Hiking with: Alex & Karina Isar

Two years ago we had an amazing trip in Fagaras Mountains, Romania. We experienced our first paragliding flight and after that, we went for one of the most spectacular peaks in Romania. It was an unexpectedly warm October weekend and miraculously snow hadn’t fallen yet. Nature had painted everything in warm yellow-brown-ish colors of Autumn. We did a long trek towards Negoiu Peak from Balea Lake and planned to sleep at Caltun Lake in our tent.

The Heights of Hiking with: Alex & Karina Isar

From Balea we first ascended on the peak called Laitel, 2390 m, then descended and set camp at Caltun lake – which by the way is one amazing places to sleep. To reach Negoiu peak – 2535 m, the second highest point in Romania from Caltun we took a really risky route that is closed for tourists due to massive rock falls. The route was pure scrambling on a more than 45 degrees slope on a mountain notch. We had 30 minutes of pure adrenaline and then celebrated the success with a beautiful sunset over the mountains. It was a perfect day which we buried deep in our hearts.

Livingit: What was one of your worst experiences while trekking and how did you overcome it?
Alex & Karina Isar: We were trekking towards Toubkal peak, 4167 m – the highest peak in Northern Africa. Day one, we went from 1600 m altitude to 3200 m at the refuge with a group. All was good during the first day, trekking was great, I did not feel tired and the enthusiasm was big for the following summit day.

The Heights of Hiking with: Alex & Karina Isar

Over the night both me and Alex began to feel sick. Alex got off easier but I got really sick – a combination of food poisoning with altitude sickness. I realized that it was impossible for me to reach the summit and I decided to abandon the ascent. It is really important to know and accept your condition/limits in situations like this because it may put you or the others in danger. It wasn’t pleasant at all, I was more than upset but hey, there’ plenty of time to try it again, and the mountain ain’t going anywhere soon.

Livingit: How do you deal with unpredictable factors such as the weather while trekking?
Alex & Karina Isar: This funny episode comes to mind, We were just married and had decided to do our ‘trash the dress’ photo shoot on one of our favorite peaks in the Retezat Mountains. It was a terribly hot summer and weather was very unpredictable. We started our ascend in the morning the sky was perfectly blue and there were no signs of bad weather.

As we started to ascend some white puffy clouds were making their appearance in the sky. We knew that this might end up with some rain but maybe later, maybe tomorrow. We had all the gear with us, plus the wedding clothes and two photographers out for a real trek for the first time in their lives. As we approached the peak and gained visibility over the other side of the mountains we realized the awful truth.

The Heights of Hiking with: Alex & Karina Isar

The sky was dark blue and the storm that was coming towards as was moving super fast. You could feel the charged electricity in the air and the metal pole from the top of the peak was buzzing. Now I tell you, we started running down the mountain towards the emergency shelter as fast as we could. There is nothing to joke about when a storm approaches you high up in the mountains. Especially when you are above 2000 m.

So how to deal with unpredictable weather – first you need to understand what you can expect, then you need to learn how to react. Try to learn about those two before you actually experience them. Because of the fact that we knew the dangers, we decided to abandon the plan and, as such, we got away safe with a funny memory.

Livingit: How do you plan for your trekking trips in terms of overnight stay, finances, route…etc?
Alex & Karina Isar: There are a lot of things to consider. Finances: For us, we are always travelling on low budget, this of course has a big influence on how we plan the trips. When we plan we make a list with all the costs: accommodation, transport, food expenses and of course add a little extra just in case. We always estimated the costs very accurately. Every month we try, as much as we can to put aside a little money for our trips – you never know when the outdoors is calling and you must go!

The Heights of Hiking with: Alex & Karina Isar

Overnight stay: First: weather, weather, weather. We try to make Plan A, Plan B and… maybe Plan C. So we don’t waste time due to bad weather. Because during the Spring, Summer, and Autumn we sleep most of the time in our tent we are always looking for places where wild camping is allowed or affordable. If we go wild camping we are always picking places with fresh water springs.

Food: As well, most of the time we carry our own food and separate each meal in individual bags. This is a good way to calculate the precise food you need to take.

The Heights of Hiking with: Alex & Karina Isar

Route: For the route, where possible we always get a GPS track; as well we always record our own track to help others. Where we have no GPS route we try to study the map, estimate time and effort based on the altitude differences and all information we find on the Internet. Plus, the less we know about a route the earlier we start the trek, this way we ensure we have enough time to do it.

It may sound we overplan the trips but in fact, a mountaineer will understand that planning is an important step in obtaining the desired result.

Livingit: What are 5 essentials to pack while trekking?
Alex & Karina Isar: Waterproof clothes, Warm Clothes, Water (+recipient), Basic first aid kit with a survival blanket, GPS/Map.

Livingit: What advice would you give a fellow aspiring mountaineer?
Alex & Karina Isar: I would say other than to be enthusiastic, be smart. Prepare yourself for everything, stay in shape, aim for good gear and most of all prepare for the trek you are about to make. Do a bit of research, find out all you need to know for your own safety and respect nature.

The Heights of Hiking with: Alex & Karina Isar

Before going on a trek consult the weather forecast, make sure you have proper clothing and equipment, be familiar with the maps, get a good GPS track if possible and remember to always protect nature with all its wonders. Last but not least enjoy every bit of it! Life is beautiful! Ah! Don’t forget your camera, who knows you might inspire someone to go out and explore?!

Livingit: What places are next on your bucket list?
Alex & Karina Isar: We don’t know… the WORLD? I can’t remember a day when we don’t think about going somewhere, picturing overselves on some mountain top, breathing fresh forest air enjoying the simplest pleasures of life.

Next stop, Italy! is already planned with the famous via ferratas in the Dolomites. We were planning this for a long time now and we are looking forward to it.

In the long run we want to explore as much as we can, the Alps, especially the Tour Du Mont Blanc. Because we also like cycling we have all kinds of plans for bike tours as well.

The Heights of Hiking with: Alex & Karina Isar

For what’s next we will need to make some financial efforts because we are thinking of Norway, Nepal, New Zealand and the cherry on top Patagonia, Argentina. I (Karina) dream of Patagonia ever since I was a child and it’s one of those places I know I will absolutely fall in love with. I honestly am a bit afraid that I’ll buy a one way ticket. Well, I am only enumerating a few of the places we want to visit but rest assured we have many more!

Read: Medhavi Davda: The Trekker with Ravenous Legs!

So maybe your dream hike is not that difficult after-all, maybe a little planning, a little adrenaline, love for outdoors and a little discipline of saving up? We can all take some from this story to implement into our lives, be it scaling the highest peak or an occasional yoga class? No step is small and no mountain too big. Give it a try!