Kom-Emine is the longest and perhaps the most famous marked hiking route in Bulgaria. Its history dates back to 1933, when Pavel Deliradev and Todor Tsvetkov first walked the route along the ridge of Stara Planina, which connects the Kom mountain peak with the longed-for sea cape Emine. Deliradev describes his journey in the first guidebook "From Kom to Emine".
20 years later, the transition was repeated by members of the Republican Commission on Tourism under the Supreme Committee for Physical Culture and Sports. In the following years, the route gained great popularity and many people fulfilled their dream of crossing it. But it should be known that the trek is not easy at all, the approximate length of the route is about 600-670 km, which are covered within 18-25 days, depending on the physical fitness, temperature and atmospheric conditions, as well as the allocated time for rest of each tourist.
Our great interest in the Kom-Emine route met us with Ivana Radomirova, who is an amateur mountaineer and completed the trek in 2017 after preparing for it for a long time.
She told us interesting things about the preparation for the hike and shared valuable practical advice for everyone who decides to walk the longest hiking route in our country.
If your dream, like Ivana's, is to hike Kom-Emine, you should first start with physical training, as Stara planina is delightfully beautiful, but also not easy to cross.
Ivana, her partner and a mutual friend decided to walk the route together, starting preparations in the winter of 2015, a year and a half before their hike in June 2017
“In 2016, Vitosha was ours, not only Vitosha, but also other mountains near Sofia. We tried to walk as long as possible to get used to it. At the beginning it was quite difficult, especially when you are immobilized and not used to this load, it is difficult. But every climb, passing more kilometers brought us satisfaction and strengthened our idea that we will complete the route. The more prepared you are, the better.
Toward the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017, we started thinking about equipment, getting interested in details about the route - there are many sites with useful information, as well as Facebook groups. All we needed at one point was a track of the route, which we got from a Kom-Emine forum member. To use this track you need to have a GPS, you can also use a phone, but it is not good to use a phone. The track doesn't guarantee you won't get lost along the route, it's possible, but it still helps tremendously. The track can be confusing at times as there are many crossings where the markings are lost. For example, the tree with the marking is cut down, and it can be misleading. With good orientation, it would not be a problem or lead to a fatal loss.
When preparing for Kom-Emine (it is an experience), I recommend to pass some part of the route that is more unfamiliar, in order to get to know the Stara planina, with its peculiarities. Moreover, near Sofia, there are parts of the route that can be seen, for a person to get to know them."
Top Com. Photo: personal archive
Map of the route, contacts with the huts and coordinates of the rescue services
“Route Map - Mandatory. There are also books that present quite detailed information about the transition. Don't rely solely on GPS because batteries can die, anything happens.
Also during the preparation we got to know most of the mountain services on the stages of the route. There is one rescue service in western Stara Planina, another in eastern, and it is good to have the telephone numbers of each service. It is mandatory to monitor the weather conditions, because in the Stara Planina, as much as the sun shines, after 2 minutes there can be hail, sleet, even snow, and that too in the middle of summer."
Map of Western Balkan.
"After the preparation period has already passed, which is almost to the end, it is good to give yourself a period of about 2-3 weeks, before departure, in which the muscles and the whole body can have a good rest.
When planning the trek, it is important to estimate the time to pass each stage and leave an hour or two extra, just in case.
The average passage is about 20 days. But I recommend giving yourself a few days to rest, take your time, to have a chance to explore.
If you decide to sleep in the huts, you must have the current telephone numbers of each hut in advance, and before leaving it is a good idea to call them and ask if they offer food, yes stay informed, and have a backup plan.
As well as a backup plan for each leg of the route – from point A to point B, for each day. Every plan should have a plan B – if it rains, if you can't make it because of wounds, etc.“
The backpack and gear
Equipment: "To be tailored to a person's weight and how much they can carry. The less the weight of the backpack, the better, and it also depends on the decision whether a person will sleep in the huts or in a tent. It is recommended that you try on the backpack in advance, that it is comfortable for you, that it protects your back from getting cold - there are such options.
Shoes – it is very important that they are comfortable, one idea bigger, because when going down, the toes get pinched and you may run out of nails. It is good that the shoes have a good sole, that they are mountain shoes. If the shoes are new, they must be worn in the nearby forest, mountain, park before the hike.
Sticks – required. Maybe more expensive, maybe cheaper, but you must have them as an attribute, because they help both when going down and when going up, they take the weight, and you also move your arms separately, which is a workout for the whole body.
Medicine kit: it must contain painkillers and more:
- Vaseline – it is used to protect you from the appearance of calluses and sores. The advice for it was given to us by an experienced mountaineer who passed the route. It is good to oil the feet every morning, as well as at every rest - you take off the socks to dry from the sweat, during this time you rinse the feet, if you have water, then smear the feet with Vaseline. You air out your socks and put your shoes back on.
- Repellent against ticks, as there are many in Stara Planina.
- A cream for joints to relieve pain.
- Trimming cream, optional but recommended.
- Urbazone or something anti-allergic.
- Drug for disorder.
- Water purification tablets or bottle. It is a must to have such a bottle or the corresponding tablets, as not all water is of good quality.
- Muscle and joint patches that stick if you overexert yourself and get sore, which is 99% sure you will. Or have knee pads that tighten your knees.
- Patches for corns - we didn't have to use them because of the Vaseline tactic. But it's good to have just in case.
- Antipyretic. But everything should be in one blister so it doesn't weigh.
- Medications if you have a chronic illness.
- Magnesium - we oiled ourselves every day. It's good for both drinking and slathering.
Clothes: I personally decided to wear 2 pants, 2 t-shirts, 2 pairs of socks, 2 pieces of underwear, one softshell type jacket that is windproof, rainproof - but from the cheapest, a sun hat, which is good to have a brim, doesn't have to be expensive, as for eastern Stara planina, it's good to have a net that hangs on the hat to protect you from insects (unless you want to eat them)."
From Momina Polyana Hut to Echo Hut. Photo: personal archive
"It is recommended to stick to three-layer clothing if the weather is cooler: T-shirt, blouse and sweatshirt, warmer, winter gloves, put the jacket over the sweatshirt made of softshell, it keeps out the wind and some rain. It's nice to have a hood too. I had both a band and a hat, a hood. Waterproof pants that go over the main pants.
Wedge – under the pants. It is good for both men and women. I used my ski leggings.
Something to sleep in - leggings or light clothes, because not everywhere is clean.
It is important to wear a sleeping bag even if sleeping in the lodges is an option. Everything happens and you have to have a solution. If something happens and you can't make it to the lodge, this will be your option to sleep over.
Another good thing is a foil (a rescue foil is carried), this is in case of rain, thunder, when you can't get to point B, it's light, it doesn't take up space, and it's not bad to have it for everyone case.
Flip flops – for the bathroom, if you are two people, you can safely use one pair. Smaller, lighter.
Microfiber towel as it is light and comfortable.
Food – enough for one day Crackers, one can, two instant soups, nuts are very good because they give energy, dry meat – sausage, fillet, bacon, you name it loves Because even if you don't like meat, you will feel at some point that your body needs meat because you sweat a lot, use up a lot of energy, electrolytes"
From "Kozia Stena" hut to "Dobrila" hut.
Important: bring s alt. "I carried mine in a chocolate egg case so it's more convenient and doesn't take up space. This is important because the body needs s alt since you sweat a lot. And from the lack of s alt in one moment you start to feel nauseous, you can't drink water because you feel even more nauseous and it's good to take s alt at such times."
Trick to keep your luggage from getting wet in the rain: "They sell bags that you put inside your backpack to store things you don't want to risk get wet if it rains Another cheap option is to put your clothes in a sturdy bag or sack to keep them dry in the rain. Because in heavy rain your backpack will get wet. It is highly recommended because the weather is uncertain.
Who loves coffee.
Water – this is important because there are quite a few waterless stages It's good to keep yourself hydrated. I personally had 4 bottles of half a liter each. They do weigh, though. There were times when I didn't drink much, but there were also times when I needed a lot and didn't even have enough. Therefore, I emphasize again that it is important for a person to familiarize himself with all the stages of the route, to understand what awaits him, where the waterless stages are, in order to be well prepared.
Phone charger Everyone brought their own phone, and separately we had taken one of the older models, which lasted a long time without charging, because not every lodge can to charge your phone. A power bank is a must, which is used in critical situations. Not all lodges allow you, as some lodges are quite inaccessible and rely on generators for electricity, they are limited. Or they rely on solar collectors."
Kupenite, the alpine part of Stara planina.
"Bags with energy vitamins. Candy, sugar, as blood sugar can drop from fatigue, from the strong sun.
A roll of toilet paper or tissues, as well as a garbage bag.
Needle and thread, if you accidentally get a callus, make a drain with the thread so that it does not collect. That didn't happen to us because of the Vaseline tactic.
We had also taken a carabiner and a rope, so we were advised, if there is fog and in order not to get lost, to use the rope, but we did not have to use it. But whoever wants can take just in case."
To Echo Hut.
Hazards along the route
Bears, snakes, shepherd dogs.
"Take your kettles - because bears exist in Stara Planina (laughs). As you walk, ring the bell that is attached to your backpack. There are a lot of bears in the Central Balkans, and that's why tourists often tell each other the following joke: " How do you know there's a bear in the forest? If you find a bell in the poop, then there's a bear."
So the bells will help you to be heard more and the animals are afraid of the noise. When you are more people, you talk, make noise, rattle, hear each other. And before you go on the trek, it's good to familiarize yourself with what behavior you should have if you do happen to see a bear. There are foresters in the Central Balkans and they go around, warn if there are bears nearby, so that's a relief.
The other most common danger is snakes and various insects I have personally seen a black snake which is poisonous. There are also quite a few warblers. I jumped over 10 snakes, but I'm not afraid. In these cases the poles help again because snakes don't have hearing like we do, they feel the vibrations and when you walk you create a vibration. Therefore, when you move in an area with a lot of squats, and they often hide in them, it is good to press harder with the pole into the ground, so that the snake feels the vibration and hides.
Shepherd dogs are not harmless, so it's a good idea to have dog cookies on hand. You give him a cookie, water, and you're first friends."
Mountain insurance – you must have it.
“Mount Vezhen - many people told us that it was very difficult to climb, but it was easy for us. However, the descent from there was endless, endless, endless… (laughs). Because you've already been walking for hours, you've been going since 6 in the morning, it's already 3 in the afternoon, and you see a point, somewhere, so far away from you that you feel like crying, and you realize that it's the hut. It was one of the hardest days for me. Because you walk from 6am to 3pm and you haven't gotten anywhere. In this stage from the Kashana hut, which is the Zlatish Pass, to the Echo hut, you go about 40 and some kilometers, and if you do it all that day, don't split it, it turns out that you climb 15- storied building over 40-50 times for the whole day! You just climb something and come down. And so many times. And that's why it's good to know the route, to know what to expect, and to have a plan B. So I recommend, if you're not in very good physical shape, it's best to split this route into two days to move comfortably.
One of the hard days is in some parts of Eastern Stara Planina, like Rishki Prohod. They call him Rish's Horror. You definitely need Track there because there are usually a lot of fallen trees, thorns, etc."
Peak Vezhen as seen from Echo Hut.
"Descent from the last peak of Kom-Emine is St. Elias, which is before Emona. You begin to see the sea, you approach the end, which for us was celebrated with green fig jam and delicious brandy, and in this moment you realize that you have achieved something that you doubted until the last day. Because every day there are trials. There are days when you say to yourself "I'm doing nothing but walking, just knocking these sticks on the mountain", but when you see the sea, you say to yourself "I made it". It's a unique feeling and I don't know if it can be described in words, it has to be experienced."
… and the sea
"On the last day of the hike, I personally recommend leaving as early as possible because it is very heavy. Be sure to stock up on water. Be prepared if you will sleep there in a tent or if someone will pick you up from there.
Cape Emine. Photo: iStock
For me it was one of the saddest moments because the dream is ending. For now. (he is smiling.). Because Com-Emine gets under your skin, and no matter how much you tell yourself in the first month that you will never do it again, with that heavy backpack, with those shoes… Just after a month you wonder how to get the people around you to start over.
You throw the pebble and sink into the dream, into what you managed to do. (Tradition dictates that when you leave Mount Kom, you take 2 pebbles, small ones, of course, one remains as a memory, and the other must be taken to the sea.)
One forgets when he is in the city, how beautiful our Bulgaria is, especially in the central Balkans, being on the ridge and looking at mountains from everywhere… I walked almost everywhere with teary eyes, because this beauty on a human palm should be seen. I wish it for everyone to be able to afford it and see it“