Exciting news to share! In December 2014 we asked our family of international Jones ambassadors to submit trip proposals for a new Jones grant award. This First Annual Jones Adventure Grant was awarded in January 2015 to the trip proposal that best showcased the spirit of exploration and the drive to discover and shred epic wilderness terrain. We are thrilled to now announce the winner of the 2015 Jones Adventure Grant and share a glimpse of the successful winning expedition that has already gone down.
So without further ado, please give it up for 2015 Jones Adventure Grant winner MITCH TOELDERER who led an expedition in February to the "Accursed" Albanian Alps!
Where the heck are the Albanian Alps you ask?! Here’s the lowdown from Mitch about this stunning off-the-radar mountain range and his mission to explore it:
Defining adventure in Albania: Mitch’s radical up/down tracks two days walk from the trailhead.
Trip Report and Photos by Mitch Toelderer
The country of Albania is located in Southeastern Europe on the Balkan Peninsula in between the Adriatic and Ionic sea. Albania shares a southern border with Greece and a northern border with Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia. I had heard stories about the Albanian Alps a few years ago from my friend Martin `McFly´ Winkler, but I only started to look closer at the range last fall when searching for remote European mountains that were accessible without using a plane. From what few winter pictures I could find of the Albanian Alps, the peaks looked steep, reasonably sized and typically plastered with snow due to their location close to the sea. Pending a decent winter, I knew there would be amazing riding terrain in Albania and that’s exactly what we found.
The mountains in the central part of the range look wild with huge rock walls. From the looks of the jagged peaks ominously jutting through the clouds it’s understandable why the locals call them the ’Accursed’ mountains. There is also a legend about the origin of the ’Accursed’ mountains that goes like this:
Two brothers went hunting and found a beautiful fairy. Asked which brother she preferred, the fairy answered: one for his bravery, the other for his good looks. The brave brother killed the handsome one and took the fairy home to their mother. The mother was so angry she cursed the fairy and the mountains forever.
Our trip started in Innsbruck and we drove down the Balkan peninsula to Albania. We gave ourselves a few extra days enroute to ride any eye catching mountains we passed by and to visit some of the famous theaters of the Yugoslavian war.
When we got to Albanian we quickly realized that accessing the high peaks was going to require a solid effort. Unlike Central European mountains, with all the modern infrastructure that ski tourism brings with it, the mountains in Albania are still wild and mostly untouched. Life in the Albanian Alps is still very basic and people live as simple farmers raising goats, sheep and cows like it used to be in central Europe decades ago. This family’s home was two hours walk up a steep hill from the nearest road.
Over the course of almost three weeks in Albania, we made two extended overnight trips into the mountains. Each trip we faced difficult weather. At first it was very warm, then it started storming. Here’s our camp before sunrise on one of the few sunny days.
We stayed in several seasonally uninhabited shepherd’s villages located in some of the highest valleys. We sat out a multi-day storm in this hut. It was the only hut in the village with a second floor and therefore a dry room. We were so stoked to find it.
Here’s a look inside one of the nicer huts.
In the summer these huts are used by shepherds and berry collectors. It took us almost two days to walk into this valley and we were worried the village might be completed buried by snow.
After a week of bad weather that brought a meter and a half of fresh snow, we were running out of food and gas. On our last possible day in the mountains, the sun finally came out and I got to ride some beautiful lines. Here’s the crew at camp after two epic morning runs.
Huge thanks to Johannes Hoffmann, Jakob Schweighofer, Klaus Zwirner and Carlos Blanchard for joining me on this incredible adventure and to Jones Snowboards, POC Sports and Patagonia for making the trip possible. Look out for a film produced by Whiteroom Productions about our trip debuting next fall at the 2015 Freeride Film Festival in Innsbruck.