Mount Korab (2764m) is the highest mountain in both Macedonia and Albania. We decided to climb it from Macedonia even though various sources on internet states that this approach can be prone to restrictions due to border issues and security reasons.
Police checkpoint in Strezimir
After Bulgaria (see our hike to Musala) we spent a night at a cheap roadside motel outside of Gostivar in Macedonia. We then drove southbound on the main road, before we turned right (west) to Mavrovo Lake. We continued along the lake/dam to the small town Mavrovo Anovi. From here the road goes down a valley and after 8 km we turned right onto a gravel road that heads north up a valley to Strezimir Border-Police checkpoint. We were a bit anxious that the guards would deny us to enter here, because this sensitive area has been closed for shorter and longer periods ever since the conflict in 2001. This side of the mountain has thus in theory only been open one Sunday in September when the annual mass hike to Korab takes place to celebrate the independence day of Macedonia (September 8).
The police did a thorough check of our passports, but thankfully we were allowed to continue into the Macedonian-Albanian border area. This also confirms that there is no longer any need of a "special permit". We then drove another 3-4 kilometers until we turned left up a steep and short road to the now abandoned Strezimir Watch Tower.
Getting soaked in the rain
We parked our car next to the watchtower at approximately 1450 m.a.s.l, and then began to walk. Instead of following the road we decided on a shortcut (path) through the woods. Soon it started to rain heavily and the cold wind increased the higher we got. We had almost zero visibility, and the trail was not particularly well marked. The trail forked a few times and occasionally both the trail and markings disappeared entirely. Fortunately I had downloaded a reliable GPS-track of the normal route (found on internet), so we never had any big worries that we would fail to reach the summit or that we would get lost in the fog.
The last stretch to the summit was a wet and cold experience. It was tricky to stand upright when the wind blew at its worst. We still managed to reach the top after having covered 8.5 kilometers in just over 2.5 hours. Not too bad considering that we also had gained more than 1300 meters of elevation. At the summit one can supposedly be able to see across the whole Albania and out to the Adriatic Sea, but such conditions we could only dream about.
We descended in less than two hours. We immediately replaced our soaked clothes with dry ones, and turned the car heater on full. When we arrived at the checkpoint, the police officer wondered if we would come back the next day in order to make a second attempt. He obviously must have thought that we had aborted the climb.
Tetovo City near the border of Kosovo
We drove back to Gostivar, and continued straight to Tetovo near the border of Kosovo. We decided to search for a hotel in Tetovo, since we originally had planned a rest day after Korab. We wanted to minimize our upcoming stay in Kosovo, because the rental car company explicitly excluded this war-torn country from the agreement. Hence we had to stay the night in Macedonia, and Tetovo seemed to be a good choice for doing some further planning and preparations for Kosovo.
It was very busy traffic in the city of Tetovo, and Lars who happened to be the driver, almost gave up on finding a hotel in the chaos that prevailed. We were actually on our way out of the city center when a small hotel appeared on our left side. We checked into the room and then went out to see a bit of Tetovo, which is not the typical tourist destination. Later in the evening we ended up in the hotel's dining area and started to plan our strategy for the next country (Kosovo) and highpoint (Deravica) over a few beers.
Korab at EveryTrail