The aim of this Adventure Academy expedition is to learn and practice expedition skills in the world-class hiking destination of the Šar Mountains. Equipping you with the skills, knowledge and practical experience in the field, this is your chance to take your independent adventures to the next level.
Trekking the newest section of the High Scardus Trail – the 495km hiking path crossing the borders between Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia – this expedition will feature long, challenging self-supported days which will provide a taster of more committing trips and also be hugely rewarding for anyone with existing trekking or expedition experience. Along the route, you’ll negotiate river crossings, learn valuable first aid and leadership skills and navigate your way across high passes and mountain summits, including Mt Korab, the highest peak in both Albania and Macedonia.
- Acquire and develop expedition skills in a real-world environment.
- Learn from a highly-qualified and experienced Secret Compass expedition leader.
- Benefit from structured learning objectives and practical experience.
- Get professional advice and tips towards planning your own expedition.
- Pitch yourself against the Eastern Albanian Highlands.
- Trek epic long-distance trails along the border of Albania, Macedonia and Kosovo’s stunning scenery.
- Summit Mt Korab (2,764m) the highest peak of Macedonia and Albania.
- Experience the hospitality of local people.
Working within the structure and support of an expertly guided trek, this expedition will provide teammates with an excellent grasp on the skills necessary to maximise their time in the mountains and gain confidence for more challenging endeavors. From the basics of navigation to first aid, team management, risk assessments, planning, camp craft and weather awareness, this Adventure Academy expedition provides real-world scenarios at every turn designed to equip you with the knowledge to step out on the trails and negotiate tough terrain with confidence. Guided and taught by a highly experienced Secret Compass expedition leader, the course objectives and structure will be somewhat tailored to suit the team’s requirements dependent on their existing knowledge and experience as well as local conditions on the ground.
The High Scardus Trail
The team will be trekking some of the best stages of the High Scardus Trail, connecting them with the newest section of the Via Dinarica – the 1930km mega-trail connecting the countries of the Western Balkans. Extending towards Mt. Korab, the highest peak of Albania and the Republic of Macedonia (one of only two summits in Europe to form the highest point for more than one country), these highlands are home to Albania’s highest peaks. With more than 40 mountains reaching above 2,500 meters, the diverse landscapes of the Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia borders provides a great setting to learn and develop expedition skills. Expect dramatic, unspoilt mountain scenery, authentic homemade organic food and a country rich in contrasts as you take on long challenging trail days in one of the premier hiking regions of the Balkans Peninsula renowned for its population of brown bears, wolves, foxes and roe deer.
Hiking beyond borders
In a similar style to the Peaks of the Balkans trek, the newer High Scardus Trail crosses the borders between Albania, Macedonia and Kosovo to bridge cultures and promote cross-border discovery. Romans dubbed the range Scardus, which translates as colourful – symbolic perhaps of the mix of landscapes, cultures and ethnicities of this cross-border region which persist to the modern day. Taking in an array of lifestyles from the urban bustle of Albania’s capital, Tirana, to the bucolic pastureland of Macedonia where the team will be hosted by local shepherds with traditions unchanged from thousands of years, this expedition will provide an insight into the dynamics of the local area and some of the challenges faced by all countries along this winding border.
Immersed in the region’s unique and distinctive landscape, this Adventure Academy expedition will use a framework of set training objectives – although this content does not lead to a certified qualification, it has been developed specifically for Secret Compass based loosely on the Joint Services Summer Mountaineering Foundation, and the Mountain Training Mountain Skills Course with an emphasis on multi-day expeditions.
To give you the skills you need to be competent, confident and safe in expedition environments and on your own trekking adventures, lessons will take the form of open discussions and practical demonstrations. Dependent on the skill and confidence level of the team and what the individuals hope to achieve from the trek, the training objectives below may be varied but these offer guidance of what to expect on this expedition.
Introductory Training Objectives
- Hill and mountain skills.
- Route planning, logistics, transport and budgeting.
- Risk assessments, both formalised and dynamic.
- Kit and equipment selection and care.
- Navigational exercises, use of compass, walking on bearings, timing and pacing.
- Using navigational aids such as GPS and smartphones with apps such as ViewRanger.
- Health & hygiene on expedition.
- Wilderness first aid.
- Tropical illnesses such as malaria and prevention.
- Moving on steep terrain.
- River crossing techniques.
- Camp-craft including different types of tent, correctly setting them up and the safe use of stoves.
- Team management and leadership styles.
- Mountain weather systems.
- Geology and geography.
- How to mitigate human impact on mountain environments.
Secret Compass runs expeditions with framework itineraries, rather than guided tours with set daily plans. Read more about our Approach here. The following is the outline plan for this Adventure Academy expedition to the Balkans. A fuller itinerary will be provided in the Expedition Handbook which is available on request or upon application to join the team.
All teammates fly into the international airport of Tirana. There are regular shuttle busses to Tirana, the capital of Albania, which is a short drive away and this transfer is each teammate’s responsibility. Once at the nominated team hotel you will meet your Secret Compass expedition leader and instructor before driving out of town towards the trailhead.
Heading off from the small town of Bulqize, there will be a short morning transfer to the trail-head before the trekking begins. Although this expedition will be horse supported for the most part, there are several days planned for self-sufficient trekking to provide a more varied expedition experience and prepare the team for future trips. At these points you will be required to carry everything needed to support the trek including food, tents, camping and personal equipment and a share of group kit. The pace will be reasonably slow in order for the expedition leaders to conduct ‘field lessons’ covering the subjects outlined in the Training Objectives tab with practical demonstrations incorporated into the day’s travel. Evenings will be a mixture of sleeping in twin share tents in wild camps to hone your camping skills and experiencing the local culture in small mountain homestays. A full kit list will be supplied in the expedition handbook.
After coming to the end of the trek, a bus will be on hand to take you back to Tirana to hot showers and a celebratory team meal. A quick detour en route for lunch will take you to one of Northern Albania’s most renowned wineries for a quick tasting and tour around the winery on your way back to civilisation. The expedition officially ends after breakfast on 25 May although teammates can arrange onwards travel at any time on this date (including flights during the early hours). Airport transfers are teammates’ responsibility. Full inclusions and exclusions are outlined in the Included tab on this page.
Secret Compass expeditions are achievable by anyone with a healthy lifestyle and a good level of general fitness. Teammates should be willing to be part of a team working together to achieve the goal of the expedition. For those less used to challenging expeditions, the biggest challenge on this Adventure Academy expedition in the Balkans is likely to be carrying enough equipment and food to be self-supported for several days and trekking for multiple days in a row. Teammates who arrive without meeting the agreed minimum fitness requirements can jeopardise themselves and the expedition’s goal so do take training seriously, prepare as appropriate and arrive fit and ready to go.
No previous experience of mountainous conditions is necessary to join this expedition, but team members would benefit from trekking or hill-walking practice and being used to carrying 10 – 20kg for multiple days. This expedition will teach mountain and expedition skills on the assumption that team members have no previous knowledge and will provide a platform for those with previous hill walking experience to further develop their skills in a challenging expedition environment. Teammates must be comfortable with the following.
Minimum fitness requirements
- Trek: up to a maximum distance of 18km per day.
- Daily activity: up to nine hours per day for seven consecutive days.
- Carry: up to 20kg per person (although this will often be less due to horse support).
- Terrain: varied and uneven underfoot. Expect some steep, loose and mountainous terrain.
- Altitude: up to 2764m on Mt Korab.
- Climate: exposed conditions with temperatures ranging from +25C to 0C with wind-chill.
- Swim: comfortable practising river crossings.
- Professional Secret Compass expedition leader with full medical and communications kits.
- Local guide and support team including pack horses.
- Structured learning objectives and training equipment.
- All accommodation throughout.
- Group camping equipment including tents.
- All meals and soft drinks from arrival lunch on the 16 May to breakfast on the 25 May.
- All transport as outlined in itinerary.
- Special permits and permissions within Albania, Macedonia and Kosovo.
- International flights/ travel to and from the start and end points.
- Travel insurance (obligatory).
- Visas if required.
- Tips to local guides (discretionary).
- Alcohol unless provided by hosts with meals.
- Personal equipment (full kit list in the Handbook).
- Any accommodation, travel or activities outside of the stated itinerary.
On application to join this Adventure Academy expedition, potential teammates will receive a detailed Expedition Handbook. Here are some expedition-specific questions and our general FAQ will answer many other questions. Get in touch if your question remains unanswered.
What if I’m new to all this?
While previous hill-walking or camping experience is certainly beneficial, this trip is designed to teach skills and knowledge to those who have never been on a multi-day trek or expedition before. The only essentials are a willingness to work as a team and to meet the fitness requirements under the relevant section. If you do have multi-day trekking or expedition experience already, unless you have been on a specific Hill or Mountain Skills course before then many of the lessons on this course will still be new and even experienced team members will benefit from refreshers in navigation, team management, camp ground identification and more. Alongside the useful mountain and hill skills taught and practised, this area of Eastern Europe offers some of the most impressive scenery in the world, and anyone is welcome to join the team to experience this.
Can I get porters to carry my bag?
There will be horse support for the majority of this trek, however at times you may have to be completely self-supported. This means carrying personal and camping equipment, a share of the group equipment such as medical kit and stoves, and enough food for the duration. You should train in preparation for this expedition by meeting the requirements in the fitness section.
Can I charge my electricals?
This will be very challenging with limited access to power once the trekking section begins. Please ensure that you are self-sufficient in terms of charging your appliances by bringing things like spare batteries, lightweight solar panels or power packs to avoid frustration.
Will there be telephone signal?
Your mobile roaming will work in Tirana and the small villages and start and end of the trek. You are very unlikely to get signal during the trekking portion.
Can I arrive a day late?
As The Plan outlines, there is a chain of transport to get teammates out to the start of the trek so start and end dates are not flexible.
I’m a vegetarian. Can I join?
Vegetarian ration packs are available, so yes, not a problem at all and most homestays are very accommodating for different dietary needs providing we can let them know in advance. Outline all dietary and allergy requirements on your Application Form, link below.
How can I find out more?
Apply for this expedition team using the button below to receive your Expedition Handbook with fuller details. Secret Compass is then on hand to answer any questions or to firm up your place on the team. The Handbook contains a kit list for this expedition.