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THE BALKANS

expedition handbook

This Handbook contains everything you need to know about this Secret Compass Adventure Academy expedition to the Balkans.

Read on to discover our ethos and team-centred approach and for the nitty gritty information like flight and visa advice, insurance requirements and kit recommendations. Use the buttons below to ask questions or to apply for this team or, once approved, to secure your spot on the team with a Booking Form and a £400 deposit.

Key facts

  • Arrive: at the team hotel no later than 1100 on 16th May 2020.
  • Depart: leave Tirana any time on the 25th May onwards.
  • Insurance: Ensure you have comprehensive cover.
  • Travel Documents: send your flight, insurance and passport details.
  • Balance due: 90 days before departure on 16th February 2020.
  • Find FAQ and Testimonials online.

Aim

The aim of this Adventure Academy expedition is to learn and practice hill and mountain skills in the world-class hiking destination of the Šar Mountains. Designed to equip you with the skills, knowledge and practical experience in the field, this expedition 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.

Summary

Looking to hot-foot off on your own independent hill adventures? Then put your annual leave to better use in 2019. In the company of leading outdoor experts, this Adventure Academy trekking expedition will teach you the skills you need to plan and execute your own pursuits, and feel more confident and competent on more challenging team expeditions. Exploring the Šar Mountains of Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia, this is a unique opportunity for cross-border discovery and to experience cultures which politics has historically failed to unify.

Highlights

  • Acquire and develop expedition skills.
  • Escape the classroom and learn in the field.
  • Learn from a highly-qualified and experienced Secret Compass expedition leader.
  • Benefit from structured learning objectives and practical experience.
  • Get professional advice and tips on expedition planning.
  • Pitch yourself against the Eastern Albanian Highlands.
  • Trek long-distance trails along Albania, Macedonia and Kosovo’s borderlands.
  • Summit Mt Korab (2,764m) the highest peak of Macedonia and Albania.
  • Experience the friendly hospitality of the locals.

Flights

You need to organise your own international flights. We have a unique partnership with Student Universe (a specialist division of the Flight Centre Travel Group and no, you don’t have to be a student to use them). The dedicated Secret Compass team understand us, our destinations and use global buying power to save you money and offer security along with a 24-hour assistance helpline. Fill in a free, no-obligation Flight Request Form here or call (UK) 0844 560 9799 for assistance in booking international flights.

It is advised that you book a flexible flight ticket that can be changed or refunded if the expedition dates are changed or if it is cancelled for any reason. See our online Terms and Conditions.

You should arrive into Tirana International Airport Nënë Tereza. Transfers to the team hotel are not included to allow for maximum flexibility for team members, but can be easily arranged in advance. You need to be at the team hotel by 1100 on the 16th May 2020 and the expedition officially ends after breakfast on the 25th May 2020, although you are free to depart anytime as many flights depart early in the morning.

Insurance

Travel insurance that provides cover for emergency repatriation in case of a medical emergency is compulsory for all expeditions. You should be aware that many standard insurance policies may not cover you adequately for all aspects of a remote expedition and so we strongly recommend that you purchase a suitably designed insurance policy. Secret Compass cannot comment on the suitability of your cover so if you are in any doubt please contact your policy provider and ask them to confirm that you are covered to our minimum standard (below).

  • Emergency medical repatriation (to home country) including any associated expenses abroad of at least $500,000.
  • Activities: ensure that any expedition activities are included, these could be trekking, horse riding, rafting, MTB etc.
  • Geographical region: check the geographical region you are going to is insured (often the US and Canada or countries such as Afghanistan are not insured).
  • Foreign Ministry advice: check your insurance is not sensitive to any travel warnings issued by your respective foreign ministry. In the UK, many insurers will not insure you when the Foreign Office warns against travel to this area. Foreign Office advice will not necessarily mean we cancel an expedition or do not travel to a particular area. Please check @FCOtravel and the Travel Aware site.
  • Dates: make sure the period of cover begins at the departure and ends at the return to your home country. Many flights take a day or two and time zones vary. Insurance companies may prejudice your claims due to this.
  • Pre-existing medical conditions: disclose these to your insurance company and to Secret Compass.

Prior to travel Secret Compass will require the name of your insurance policy provider, their 24-hour emergency contact number and your policy number. For full information on travel insurance and links to suggested companies, please visit the insurance page on our website.

Visas

Visas are your responsibility. British citizens can enter and remain in Albania for a maximum of 90 days in every 6-month period without a visa. Please check with your nearest embassy or consulate on the latest advice.

Passports

Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 3 months from the date of entry into Albania. Please send a clear, colour copy of your passport to Secret Compass ahead of the expedition and carry photocopies with you on the expedition in a safe place.

Day 0: May 15 – Tirana

We are aware that many flight times will get you into Tirana the day before the expedition officially begins. Accommodation will be provided at the team hotel for this night should you need it, however meals on this day are your responsibility. There will be an opportunity to leave a small kit bag at this hotel with clean clothes for your return at the end of the expedition.

Day 1: May 16 – Bulqize

Meet at the team hotel no later than 1100 for your transfer into the mountains. Your adventure begins at the turn off for the winding road along the river Mat and Fan, north east for Tirana. Passing through the rock gate of the scenic Ulez-Shkopet Reservoir, criss-crossed by improvised suspensions bridges, the team will travel into an often-forgotten region that was home to the family of Albania’s national hero Skanderbeg and the infamous 20th century monarch King Zogu.

Stopping in at a small local restaurant at the Shkopet Lake, you will have an introductory brief from your SC leader and the chance for a quick dip before continuing on to your first homestay. Reaching your destination, the small mining village of Fushe Bulqize, the afternoon will be spent learning your first set of skills; an introduction to mountain skills, risk assessment and trip planning and kit and equipment. You will spend the night in a recently renovated 200-year-old fortified tower house with a local miner who was among the first to great hikers and cyclist into his home. After a long day you will be treated to a well-earned home cooked meal before the start of your trek the following day.

Day 2: May 17 – Hinoske

After waving farewell to your hosts you will drive through fog-filled valleys to the small village of Popinar. Peeping through the fog, here you’ll catch your first glimpse of the mighty mountain range which forms the border with Macedonia. Today will focus on an introduction to navigation, before putting these skills into practice. The first segment of the trek quickly gains altitude on a route shepherds use for their seasonal movement. An initially gravelly trail leads to their huts and over meadows to the highest point of the ridgeline, where you cross over into Macedonia. With splendid views of the neighbouring country you will practice your navigation as you circle around Mt. Velivar (2,375m) and reach the small pastoral settlement Hinoske. Located on high altitude it is inhabited only four months in a year. Overnight in simple concrete bungalows and there will be discussions on health & hygiene, first aid and tropical illness as well as a chance to learn about seasonal changes and livestock from the local shepherds.

Day 3: May 18 – Zagrad

From the heights of the shepherds’ pastures you will descend to the traditional villages of the Peshkopia region. The trail first climbs over meadows to the ridgeline of Mt. Deshat following the border between Albania and Macedonia, with panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. In the distance one can already spot both the Grama Pass and Mt. Korab – your goals for the days to come! The descent into the pan/basin (Talkessel) behind Peshkopi, leads to one of the most picturesque stone villages of the region, Rabdisht. After exploring the small cobbled alleys and drinking firewater with the locals, you will continue over an elevated lookout point and through potato fields to Zagrad. In the hidden village you will stay with a family of three generations. They are farmers of a large estate and produce almost everything they (and you) will consume themselves. Your host will be proud to show you around their lands and let you sample their local produce. Lessons today will cover team management, leadership, pacing and timing and mountain weather.

Day 4: May 19 – Grama Lake

This is one of the most demanding days of the journey. Well rested and fed, you will climb to the mountain pastures above Zagrad, pass the hut of last nights’ host and zigzag on a steep switchback trail up the face of the mountain towards Grama Pass. This is the perfect opportunity to learn more about navigation as well as how to move on steep ground. The top makes for a great picnic spot and a sweeping vantage point over the area you have already covered as well as what is still to come. Hidden behind lies a wide green plateau where sheep graze in the thousands. It’s watered by the Grama Lake and called the “Ladies’ Pasture”. Descending on a mule trail, you will head to the lake to set up tents for the night. You may run into local shepherds who live in basic huts in the mountain pastures throughout the summer months. They look after the animals of the entire village and are reimbursed for their efforts. Want to try and milk a sheep? Today offers the best opportunity to do so!

Day 5: May 20 – Radomire

Today is an easier walk which takes you across the plateau, past mountain lakes, meadows and across a small ridge. Only a slight ascent separates you from the glacial shaped side valley that is part of the Korab Massif. Located at the foot of Mt. Korab, the village of Radomire is the only place on the route that occasionally sees visitors who come in summer and winter alike to climb the highest peak of both Albania and Macedonia; tomorrow’s goal. Access to this entire area used to be restricted, anyone caught in the border zone faced up to 25 years of gulag imprisonment and an attempt to cross the border was to be stopped with live rounds. However, with relationships somewhat warmer, this is no longer the case. The team will set up tents in the mountains above the village, discuss topics such as campcraft, stoves, tents and expedition food.

Day 6: May 21 – Mount Korab

Rise early and prepared as today in the day to conquer the peak of Mt. Korab (2.764m). It’s a strenuous day with much elevation difference but without technical difficulty. The path sees shepherd trails and mixed terrain, rocky stretches and soft meadows. Reaching the border saddle you will circle the peak and approach it from the backside offering a very different perspective. Weather permitting, you will have a celebratory lunch at the summit before heading down the back of the mountain and out towards some old shepherds ruins and your camp for the night. You will be honing your navigation skills by now, and also get taught emergency procedures and medical evacuations.

Day 7: May 22 – Caje

Leaving the Korab Massif behind you enter the area of the Sharr Mountains, another range that extends for about 80 km across the border triangle of Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania. The main focus on today’s trek are river crossings. The hike runs over high flower-covered meadows with breath-taking views of the surrounding mountains, right up to the tri-point of the three nations; Albania, Macedonia and Kosovo. From here there are multiple trails with the help of your guide you will pick the most suitable to reach the remote village of Caje. The gorge has a certain end of the world feeling attached to it and might be the highest year-around inhabited settlement of Albania. You will stay with an extended family (Großfamilie) and visit their friendly neighbours. The local “klubi” is the gathering point of the village, where elders sip “raki” (fruit spirits) and youngsters have started to be attracted by energy drinks – times are changing even here. Other lessons taught today, will be geology, geography and human impact in mountain environments.

Day 8: May 23 – Shishtavec

For most of the day you will be following the high ridgeline that forms the Albanian-Kosovar border and have the opportunity to climb a minor peak or two before reaching Shishtavec, an area populated by the Gorani community. Now separated by 20th century borders, the formerly nomadic Slavic Muslim minority speaks a Bulgarian dialect and is spread across all three countries. Tonight will be your last night in the wilderness, camping by beautiful lake near the village of Shishtavec. Local shepherds will prepare grilled lamb and other local dishes to celebrate the end of the trek and your last day in nature. You will learn about expedition planning including logistics, travel and budgeting over dinner and will also have the opportunity to ask any questions and consolidate the information that you have learnt throughout the last week.

Day 9: May 24 – Tirana

From Shishtavec you will travel to Tirana and into the fray of the vibrant capital that is home to a quarter of the country’s population. En route you will stop at one of Northern Albania’s most renown wineries for lunch, tastings and a winery tour. Once back in Tirana you will be free to relax in your hotel, explore on your own and soak up the buzz of the city or join our city walk. With plenty to see in the city, you can visit sights from the modern bazaar quarter, to a former atomic bomb shelter or the “House of Leaves”. Both tell the history of the “sigurimi”, the secret police that terrorised Albanians under dictator Enver Hoxha, as well as their victims. In the evening we explore the “blloku”, once the living quarter of the politburo elite, it has been turned into an upmarket neighbourhood packed with boutique shops, the trendiest cafes, restaurants and bars. Celebrate a successful and memorable journey on Albania’s High Scardus Trail over your final meal at a local restaurant. Tirana’s nightlife awaits!

Day 10: May 25 – Onward Travel

Although the expedition officially ends after breakfast, teammates are free to depart at any time on this day.

About Secret Compass itineraries

Please remember that this itinerary acts as a framework plan. It provides guidance as to our intentions but may not be followed religiously. This is an adventure and by definition the outcome is uncertain. The leadership team will adapt, flex and change the plan depending on the numerous frictions you may encounter along the way.

Fitness

All our expeditions are achievable by people with an active and healthy lifestyle. However, this is an arduous expedition that will test you and at times you may be sore, tired, hungry and possibly wet! You must be prepared physically and mentally for the expedition and for living in basic conditions for the duration. Please ensure that you train for the expedition and arrive fit and ready to go. You will be required to be fit enough for the following.

  • Grade: 215.
  • Daily activity: varies but up to approx. 9 hours per day for seven consecutive days.
  • Walk: maximum of 18km a day.
  • Carry: up to 20kg.
  • Terrain: varied from meadows to steep, loose mountain passes with altitude differences greater than 1000 m.
  • Climate: exposed conditions with temperatures ranging from +25C to 0C with wind-chill.
  • Swim: not required but there will be opportunities to swim in mountain rivers/lakes. River crossings are likely.

Previous experience

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 fit and capable of 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.

Medical

Vaccinations. Please seek advice from your health professional on recommended vaccinations. The NHS Fit For Travel site and Travel Health Pro are both useful.

Dental. It is strongly recommended that you have a dental check up prior to departure. Dental problems far from help are very unpleasant.

Money

The currency in Albania is the Albanian Lek. Major credit and debit cards are accepted in most banks, large supermarkets and international hotels. Smaller businesses and taxis often only accept cash. There are numerous ATMs in Tirana and the main towns, as well as bureaux de change where Sterling, US Dollars and Euros are widely accepted. On the trail there are few opportunities to spend anything, although you may be passing through small mountain villages where there may be the opportunity to purchase the odd souvenir or local snack. This expedition is all-inclusive so you won’t need much money, just for a beer in the towns and some souvenirs on the way or for tips (discretionary but always appreciated).

Secret Compass always suggest carrying an emergency fund of €100-€200 in cash.

The following is Secret Compass’s recommended kit list for the 2020 expedition to the Balkans. You will be required to carry all of your own kit for this expedition along with a share of a technical mountain tent, group food and cooking equipment and the medical and communications pack. Secret Compass will supply tents, cooking equipment and other safety related items of equipment.

Discounts

Secret Compass have arranged team members discounts with Cotswold Outdoor, Nordic Life, Outdoor Hire and Expedition Kit Hire, details of these will be sent through on booking.

Baggage and sleeping

  • RUCKSACK: 60-70ltr, all your personal gear needs to fit easily into this pack and have enough room for a tent, food and share of group equipment provided by us. Although this expedition is horse-supported, there may be times when you are required to carry all of your equipment.
  • DAYSACK (optional): To leave at the hotel if you want to leave some personal items behind.
  • WATERPROOF RUCKSACK LINER: Sealable “canoe” or “dry” bags made by Podsac or Ortlieb. You need a large one to line your rucksack.
  • SMALLERY DRY BAGS: As above, but smaller bags to put essential items in. The large rucksack liners sometimes leak so anything important needs to be waterproofed individually. This also helps to keep you organised.
  • SLEEPING BAG: Rated to at least comfort 0C. Down is lighter and more compact than synthetic options but also invest in a waterproof stuff sack.
  • FULL LENGTH SLEEPING MAT: Inflatable roll mat required. Bring a repair kit!

Clothing

  • 2 x THERMAL BASE LAYER: Top and bottom, avoid cotton and look for synthetics or wool.
  • 2 x LONG TREKKING TROUSERS: Thin trekking trousers that dry quickly and are comfortable.
  • 1 x MID LAYER: Fleece or equivalent.
  • 1 x DOWN JACKET: Lightweight down Jacket or synthetic equivalent suitable for evenings whilst camping down to 0 degrees C.
  • 1 x WATERPROOF JACKET AND TROUSERS: Gore-tex or equivalent.
  • 1 x WALKING BOOTS: Ensure your boot is worn in and comfortable. Waterproof trekking boots with good ankle support. Recommend you visit your local outdoor store for advice on fitting.
  • 4 x HIKING SOCKS: Fitting well with your boots and comfortable.
  • SANDALS: Around camp and river crossings. Not flip flops!
  • WARM HAT: For evenings.
  • GLOVES: Consider cold weather gloves for wind protection and liner gloves if not too cold.
  • 4 x UNDERWEAR: Sport or Cycling shorts don’t chafe.
  • BUFF OR BALACLAVA: Some form of face protection from high winds at the summit.
  • GAITERS (Optional): To prevent mud and water entering boots and for shallower river crossings.

Eating

  • MUG
  • SPOON: At times you will eat directly out of the dehydrated ration bag, so a bowl is not necessary but consider an extra-large spork.
  • 1 x ROBUST WATER BOTTLE: Nalgene or Sigg.
  • 1 x CAMELBACK: You need to be able to carry a minimum of 3 ltrs of water in a combination of camelback and water bottles.
  • 0.5L Thermos Flask (Optional): at warmth and morale boost on the mountain.

Health and Hygiene

  • WASHBAG, TOOTHBRUSH AND TOOTHPASTE, RAZOR, DEODORANT
  • SOAP: Anti-bacterial and BIODEGRADABLE
  • TRAVEL TOWEL/SARONG
  • WET WIPES OR BABY WIPES
  • ANTIBACTERIAL HAND GEL
  • TOILET PAPER
  • TRAVEL TISSUES
  • SANITARY PRODUCTS
  • LIP SALVE WITH UV PROTECTION
  • VASELINE: Keep readily available on to prevent chafing skin and heel friction blisters.
  • VITAMINS
  • AFTER SUN/MOISTURISER
  • FACTOR 30+ SUN CREAM

Small First Aid Kit

A team medical kit with a comprehensive primary care provision will be supplied by Secret Compass.

  • A WATERPROOF BAG OR TUPPERWARE BOX: Keep kit dry and safe.
  • PAINKILLERS: Ibuprofen and paracetamol.
  • ZING OXIDE TAPE AND SMALL SCISSORS
  • MELOLIN DRESSING PADS x4
  • 2 x CREPE BANDAGE
  • COMPEED BLISTER PADS: Please note that Compeed produce several similar looking blister packs for corns, etc. Please ensure you purchase the standard/original item.
  • DIAHORREA TABLETS: Imodium.
  • REHYDRATION TABLETS or SACCHETS: Nuun or similar.
  • ANTISEPTIC WIPES
  • ANTISEPTIC CREAM
  • PIRITON TABLETS: For allergies.
  • EURAX CREAM: For bites.
  • ANY MEDICATION YOU NORMALLY USE: Find out the generic/chemical name for your medication in case you need to source more in-country. Please also check that your medication is legal in your destination. You MUST make Secret Compass aware of any medical conditions before you travel.

Other

  • TREKKING POLES (Recommended): Many team members find trekking poles useful on slippery or uneven terrain or for steep descents when carrying weight.
  • WATCH: A watch is essential for the navigation exercises.
  • COMPASS: A Silva style compass with a rotating bezel and roamer scale is essential for the navigation work, such as the Silva Expedition 4 model.
  • MAP CASE: A waterproof map case to keep maps dry. Secret Compass will provide the mapping.
  • HEAD TORCH AND SPARE BATTERIES: Petzl Tikka heard torch or equivalent.
  • SUNGLASSES: With UV-filter lenses.
  • PENKNIFE: Don’t pack in your hand luggage!
  • LIGHTER: For lighting stoves.
  • GAFFA TAPE: For emergency repairs to your kit, you can take some off the roll and wrap it around something else in your kit.
  • 1 x KARABINER: For securing your rucksack.
  • SPARE BOOT LACES
  • SMALL SEWING KIT
  • RE-SEALABLE PLASTIC BAGS: For dirty washing, wrappings etc.

Our approach

Secret Compass organises expeditions, not sightseeing tours. Our expeditions are team-centred, flexible and dynamic. Teams are managed on the ground by Secret Compass staff: industry-leading professionals and guides of the highest calibre. They put the structure in place for your team to have an incredible experience while achieving your expedition’s aims.

Remember this is not an organised tour. It is an adventure. More often than not expeditions don’t run smoothly! The nature of the areas we operate in mean that we will encounter a number of challenges that we expect everyone to meet and relish. Friction and hurdles are all part and parcel of an arduous expedition and also to our success as a team. These make the journey more adventurous and are often the most memorable and amusing parts when looking back. Each expedition is thoroughly reviewed on its return, and team members will have the opportunity to provide feedback which helps to inform planning for future expeditions.

Local partners and bureaucracy

Our teammates can only achieve the extraordinary with the help of people in the communities we travel through. NGO and aid workers, guides, fixers and interpreters all work extremely hard and are generous in their hospitality to us and our teams: visitors in their land. They are crucial to our success. Please remember and respect that their perspectives and concepts of time, environmental responsibility and customer service might differ to yours. Occasionally there is no established protocol for outside visitors which means we encounter local power struggles or disagreements. Our leaders have years of experience in delicate negotiations like these and conversational chess – especially through an interpreter – and these interchanges are often memorable parts of any expedition.

Infrastructure and natural events

The areas we travel to often especially remote. Transport infrastructure can be ageing, inadequate or non-existent. Flooded roads, collapsed bridges, fallen trees and vehicle break-downs are all par for the course. Our teams thrive on overcoming challenges like these – be prepared to get stuck in and push occasionally! Natural phenomena like desert sand storms, early monsoons, landslides across key routes, winter coming early, gale force winds and driving snow can all make for a more interesting time on the expedition.

Food

In some areas our teams explore, we rely on local food sources. This can often be outstanding (but can also be very average) and we always make the best out of the resources available. In other cases, we will supply filling and high-calorie dehydrated expedition foods (ration packs).

Part of a team

Secret Compass fosters a team mentality across all its expeditions and projects. Like all teams you will have a leader who will give direction to your progress. Crucial to your team’s success – especially when the going gets tough – is the attitude of the teammates working together to achieve the aim. You really are part of a team, not a cosseted guest on a tour. We ask teammates to muck in and help out any aspect of the expedition, from fetching water and helping to prepare and cook food, to carrying some group kit and equipment if required. The working language of all teams is English.

Typical teammates

There really is no typical expedition member, though everyone needs to be fit, healthy and ready to take on the expedition’s aim by the time of departure. Participants range from 21 to 65+ in age and come from all over the world. Backgrounds include contract workers and engineers, IT specialists and students, teachers and literature lovers, journalists and keen photographers and so many more. What bonds our pioneering teams is their shared spirit of adventure, sense of humour and positive outlook. A good teammate looks on the bright side when the 4×4 breaks down, the rain comes early and when a meal is distinctly pedestrian. Our teams have done us proud in working together to achieve their common goal: the aim of the expedition. If this sounds like you, you’ve come to the right expedition company.

Teammate mentality

You need a robust, spirited and can-do attitude to cope with demanding days and rough camping in rugged and wild places. You’ll cover good daily distances (generally carrying your own kit and equipment), eating expedition foods or relying on local food sources. Meet and relish these as an integral part of any arduous expedition and its ultimate success.

Risk management

Secret Compass is an expedition company not a tour company. Expeditions contain inherent risk. This is part of the appeal for teammates. We do not make expeditions safe as, by definition, that is impossible. We construct and implement a three-staged risk management approach to reduce risk to what we perceive as a tolerable level.

  1. Risk assessment.
    We conduct a thorough risk assessment of potential hazards and threats that may be encountered on the expedition and provide recommendations to reduce the likelihood of harm occurring/ severity if it does occur.
  2. Safety plan.
    As part of our expedition plan, we detail actions to be taken to implement and resource the recommendations of the risk assessment. This includes a detailed medical and communications plan.
  3. Delivery.
    The expedition leader is responsible for dynamic risk management on the expedition itself.

Key risks

Key risks encountered on this specific expedition include RTAs, weather related illness and minor slips/trips or falls from rough, uneven ground. If you would like to see the full Risk Assessment for this expedition, please email info@secretcompass.com

Incident management and medical

As part of the safety plan, Secret Compass has a full incident and emergency plan for medical and other emergencies. This will be discussed in full at the arrival brief, so everyone is aware what action will be taken. In summary, incidences are usually managed on the ground by the expedition leader in the first instance with remote support from Secret Compass’s 24 hour Operations Room before evacuation to the nearest appropriate medical centre.

Informed consent

It is your responsibility to understand the risks associated with adventure travel in remote areas. You also must understand that medical evacuation will take an extended period of time (potentially up to two days) and will require wilderness extraction techniques and long carries by stretcher. In-country search and rescue and emergency services are very basic or non-existent and the expedition will rely on internal resources for medical evacuation. By joining this expedition, you accept the risks associated with the venture. If you require any more information on specific risk management for this expedition, or would like to speak to us about our medical planning prior to the trip, please get in touch.

Testimonials

Read team Testimonials or watch this short video featuring expedition teammates (filmed on location in Ethiopia) for an insight into life on expedition.

 

Cultural

Tirana is a cosmopolitan city but rural areas are more conservative so please dress appropriately. If possible, ask permission before photographing churches or other religious sites. English is not widely spoken but it is increasingly spoken by younger people. Throughout much of the region, hospitality is deeply ingrained in the culture. In rural Albania, hospitality was actually codified in the kanun, the traditional Albanian law, and it is such a part of their life that is can often be difficult to convince locals to accept any money when invited into their homes for food or a drink whilst passing through remote villages.

Terrain

This expedition will cover a variety of terrain from dirt tracks, rolling meadows and mountainous ridges to deep valleys and exposed plateaus. The team won’t be covering vast distances each day but the expedition will be made more challenging by the altitude.

Weather

May is the end of spring and start of summer in Albania and traditionally sees temperatures around 15˚C at the base of the mountains with highs in the mid 20˚C and lows below 10˚C. The highlands can be very exposed with strong winds which can add a significant wind-chill factor.

Transport

Tirana airport is located outside of the city – team members are responsible for their own transfers between the airport and the accommodation at the start and end of the expedition. Transfers are available by bus or taxi depending on your arrival time. Depending on the final team size, 4×4 vehicles or minibuses will be used to transport the team between Tirana and Popinar village where the rest of the expedition will be on foot.

Accommodation

The team will stay in a comfortable homestay in Bulqize at the start of the expedition and in a hotel in Tirana at the end of the expedition. There will be a bed booked for each team member at the team hotel in Tirana on the Friday night prior to the start of the expedition. Rooms will be on a twin-share basis, any extra nights outside of the Secret Compass itinerary can be booked directly with the hotel. Whilst on the trek accommodation will be a mix of camping, rural homestays and remote shepherds’ huts. The team will be camping in technical mountain tents provided by Secret Compass and shared between two people.

Food

In towns and villages, the team will eat well in local restaurants and homestays whilst dehydrated expedition rations will be used whilst camping – these are high-calorie and tastier than they look! Dietary requirements can usually be catered for but should be discussed with Secret Compass in advance. It is recommended that you bring a favourite snack or cereal bar for each expedition day as a morale boost.

Communications

Secret Compass staff will be carrying at least two methods of communication, usually a Satellite Phone and a DeLorme two-way communication device. These will be used for regular updates to head office and for emergencies.
Unfortunately, routine communication between team members and family/friends is not possible – please reassure them that no news is good news! If there is an emergency and someone needs to contact a team member, they can contact Secret Compass’s Operations Room on +44207 096 8428 who will endeavour to pass a message on within 24hours.

Cell Phone. Your mobile roaming will work in Tirana but you are unlikely to get signal whilst on the trek.

Here are some frequently asked questions that are specific to this expedition. Read our general FAQ too for questions such as ‘how do I join an expedition’ and more. Can’t find your answer? Contact SCHQ.

I’m a vegetarian. Can I join?

Teammates with dietary requirements are welcome to apply for this expedition and should state their specific requirements when applying. Secret Compass will always endeavour to accommodate dietary requirements but may request you bring additional supplementation if you are on a restricted diet.

Can I have a one-person tent?

Secret Compass will provide the tents for this expedition. The team may, at times, be carrying all of their equipment for this expedition – sharing a tent helps to reduce this weight and results in a warmer night’s sleep. If you would like a single tent, please contact Secret Compass.

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 at Popinar and back from Shishtavec so start and end dates are not flexible.

Can I charge all 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.

What if I have never been on expedition before?

This trip is designed to give you the skills and knowledge to someone who has never been on a multi-day trek or expedition before. This expedition is achievable as long as you are willing to work as a team and fulfil the requirements under the fitness section.

What if I have been on other expeditions or Secret Compass trips before?

Unless you have been on a Mountain Skills course, a lot of the lessons will be new to most or will be a good reminder and a confirmation of previous experience such as navigation. It will also be good to share your experience with other team members who want to find out more from a team members point of view. Along with all of this, the trek is a brand new long distance trail with the potential to explore new untested routes and peaks, and anyone is welcome on 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-sustaining. 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. At the very minimum you will be required to carry day sacks each day with spare layers, food, water and a share of the group medical and communications kit as well as anything that is required for the days learning objectives.

Do you provide further advice?

You might find our Get Ready section useful, with further advice about fitness, flights, travel insurance, visas and our approach to risk management.

How can I apply?

Use the buttons below to contact Secret Compass with your questions or to complete our no-obligation Application Form to join this team. One of team will get back to you promptly.

The Journal