The Start, The Spark

Petya Kolcheva
Началото, искрата
Sep. 16, 2020
My parents were mount enthusiasts – especially my mother! She was able to enjoy the view from every mountain top, every stone she ever climbed. I most probably inherited the love of mountains from them. I remember when I first started going to Sofia University and saw this poster on the info board (I was a freshman in the Law Faculty) inviting us to join this tour of Mountain Sredna Gora and climb its highest peak. Here’s a question for the readers: What is Sredna Gora’s highest point actually called? If you can actually name it without going on Google Search, feel congratulated!

I’ve been there as a kid and still remember these extremely rare and centuries-old beech forests climbing the hills up to the top; the endless meadows ‘sprinkled’ with serene mountain flowers and herbs; thousands of butterflies dancing with the sunlight. My parents were taking a rest while I and my sister were trying to catch the butterflies all day long by throwing our sweatshirts over them. Then we used to roll down the hill until our heads started spinning.

I needed to visit this place of distant and happy memories yet again. I didn’t give it much thought and immediately signed myself in. Back then I didn’t have the required equipment, but hey, who did? Well, at least I had leather hiking boots of somewhat good quality and they’re always of the highest importance. I also had a backpack, jacket; was filled with curiosity and adventurous spirit - the other things needed, I borrowed.

It was a late November Saturday, we took the train to Bourgas and drove off the sub-Balkan railway to Koprivshtitsa. I didn’t know any of the other participants – it was a mixed group of Law students, led by a colleague of ours – Boris Landzhev. Turns out his brother was s very skillful alpinist and speleologist and Boris himself was a very experienced mountaineer. He was strong, a perfect athlete nonetheless, confident, caring, and the ultimate leader. 

Koprivshtitsa was huddled in fog; soaking wet we went on a bike road meandering across the field. At one point the road turned into a trail going all the way up to what was on top of the gray-ish autumn forest. Water was pouring down the tree branches and a cold wind was blowing. I had no idea where we’re going! I knew for a fact that we were going Southeast but that was pretty much everything. It was going on for hours now and getting closer to the top turned the rain into snow. Of course, my overrated shoes failed me, but fatigue and discomfort never even crossed my mind. I was flying on the wings of my own intrepidity. I wanted to show off as tough, fearless even! Watching out for the road and the site, I could’ve led the group back to Koprivshtitsa blindfolded.

We go to the hut at dusk. Needless to say that with all the rain there was no electricity. We lit up the wood stove and let our clothes dry up. Shaking from the cold, we were passing a bottle of alcohol hoping it will make it all better. After the first ‘uproar’ wave, we started making the table, lit some candles, and sat down for dinner. The wine started speaking – there was passion, desire to speak, to show off… The fact that we made it to the top by ourselves, that we were alone in the middle of nowhere, the darkness, the candles’ flickering, and the shadows all over the walls were all building up this mysterious atmosphere of storytelling, songs, silly jokes, and unheard-of legends. We couldn’t stay indifferent to the historical past of Koprivshtitsa as well – back then Bulgaria was going through its last years of communist dictatorship and the situation between the governing party and us, the young and intelligent, was looking ugly. On the other side, every other wittier joke could send you to the nearest police station, cost you your job, your future, and your profession. And we were, in fact, the Faculty of Law. 

I was standing there quietly and observing these men, all wet and messy, dare not to even take a breath. Suddenly they started singing Bulgarian Revival songs and they were good – they’ve done it before. The sides of the hut were bending backward under the power of their voices; the wind was blowing the patriotic songs far away. Even the woods were listening as if they were petrified guards waking up and getting ready to re-creating the April Uprising of 1876. In between the more and more exalted songs you could hear some unthinkable back then historically-related slogans. I honestly thought it was some kind of fairytale I was witnessing. I could see the determination and power in their words, songs, in their fists. It went till the morning finally came through the canteen window.

We made some tea, packed our bags, left the hut, and continued where we left off. We went down the other side of Sredna Gora’s crest – to Hissarya. Rain, mud, and fog again.

I didn’t think for a second. There were no questions, no doubt after what I have witnessed last night. The touch of freedom I felt in this dark abandoned hut compared to nothing I’ve experienced in my life. I was no longer afraid – not from the mountain, nor the dictatorship.

I have found like-minded people, a way to feel free!

You can hear more about Petya, the challenges and difficulties she went through, and what they’ve taught her on video HERE

Петя Колчева
Petya Kolcheva
Petya Kolcheva is the first Bulgarian woman to ever climb the seven highest world peaks together with her husband – Kamen Kolchev. Details about her last expedition as well as some stories can be found on her personal blog.
The first 8-hundred peak she ever climbed is Cho Oyu (8201 m). Petya is also the first Bulgarian woman to climb Mount Everest (8848 m) in the year 2009. Regardless of all the expeditions, she’s been on, her favorite peaks are Malyovitsa (Rila), Todorka and Vihren (Pirin), Cherni vrah, Kominite and Reznyovete (Vitosha), Musala (Rila), and Botev (Stara Planina). In 2011 Petya Kolcheva publishes ‘In Everest’s Shadow’. She is a successful lawyer and mother of three wonderful children, that she often takes mount-climbing with her.