Kosovo, Rudoka - 2658m/8721ft
Since starting my 100 country high points project I had simply assumed along with many others that Djeravica (2656m) was the highest point in Kosovo. This claim was backed up by the majority of websites and high point lists available on the internet. That was until I saw details regarding a mountain on the border with Macedonia claiming to be the new highest point of the republic of Kosovo. This was very intriguing news indeed and my position was simple, this needed researching in a lot greater detail.
The mountain in question is called Rudoka (2658m) and it's situated on the Kosovo/Macedonia border in the Sar mountains.
In 2008 the Kosovo border with Macedonia was set. A year later a hiking club called Hiking Njeri noticed that the summit of Rudoka (2658m) now lay right on the border, meaning that it was now potentially higher than Djeravica which is commonly regarded as the highest point in Kosovo. Since then several other hiking groups and trip reports indicate this to be the case with their GPS measurements ranging from 2658m - 2661m.
The above trip reports all mention a border stone situated on the very summit of Rudoka with RK (Republic of Kosovo) clearly stated thus showing that the summit of Rudoka is indeed on the border and could therefore geographically be classed as the highest point in Kosovo.
I started looking into detailed maps of the area for clarity regarding this border marker (Number 8) and it soon became clear why Rudoka had not been "Recognised" as the highest point originally. Google maps (highest detail) was the only map I found that placed the summit of Rudoka in Kosovo. It is situated on a small triangular section right on the border with Macedonia. The other maps simply showed straight point to point lines with no regard for detailed variations along the border where as the Google maps border was a lot more accurate in this regard proving crucial. The true position of the border stone showing RK would be something I wanted to physically clarify myself.
Armed with this information I looked into making plans to climb Rudoka. I decided to book a flight to Skopje in Macedonia then catch a bus to Tetovo from where I spent the night in a hotel. Early the following morning I caught a taxi (€13) to a small village in the mountains called Novo Selo located at around 1350m. This would be the start of another long day where I had planned to head over several 2500m+ mountains before finally reaching Rudoka.
During my research I had seen a small trail on the OpenTopoMap about 3km from Novo Selo which headed over a grassy meadow through a forest and seemed to head in the general direction of the first mountain which is ~2650m. I reached the path at 07.30 and followed it through the forest to around 1800m. I was soon aware it was leading me a lot further west than I had planned. But I continued knowing it would still save me a lot of time and energy compared to steep overgrown forest climbing. The land opened up after the forest and from there I decided to head straight uphill following my GPS towards the base of the first mountain. It was steep grass and with the sun getting warmer paired with a full rucksack made those few hours tough going.
The final 600m to the summit got steeper still but I plodded onwards and upwards until finally reaching the summit with no evidence of the path shown on the map at all. The views over towards Rudoka were fantastic! I could clearly see the ridge I had planned to go along which would enable me to maintain ~2500m instead of dropping to below 2100m in the valley below. From here the route looked fairly steep and exposed in sections and as I hadn't seen any one else mention this particular route and with no sign of even a feint trail it could become awkward.
An hour quickly passed on the ridge with progress becoming slow due to the steep slopes/cliffs. I had made it over one of the four tops on the ridge and was now at the base of the second. I looked into the valley and thought it might be best to just head down to 2150m then straight up to Rudoka from there as the pace on the ridge was becoming tedious and time had now become a major factor. It was after 13.00 by now and I knew Rudoka was still a few hours away at best. My flight home from Skopje was at 06.05 the next morning but of course I needed to get back to Novo Selo (small village, no taxi) then to Tetovo from there to Skopje and finally to the airport. I already knew the last bus I could catch to get to the airport in time for my flight was at 02.05.
I had a drink and some food and made a decision. Right! I'm going to drop down off the steep slope and head to the valley then up Rudoka from there. Having previously read a trip report of an ascent from the Black lake which was visible 500m below I knew it would be possible.
It was okay at first but got steeper in sections so I took it steady as a slip or stumble here would not be ideal. I could see two big groups of sheep about 400m below me in the valley towards where I was heading. I carried on descending until I heard a loud bark, followed quickly by several more. Shit I thought.. Sheep dogs! As usual a complete bane when walking and climbing hills and mountain as they are more often than not loud, aggressive and unrelenting. I carried on descending but they became noticeably more agitated even though I was still several kilometres and hundreds of meters above them. I stopped, had a think and then carried on. The barking started again, louder and more aggressive than before. "I'm really in the shit now" I remember thinking. I could see two flocks of sheep in the valley so undoubtedly there would be two packs of sheep dogs too. Do I turn back or climb back up onto the ridge and continue at the slower pace? But of course in doing so it would mean a greater risk of not making the flight. I stopped again and exhaled heavily. I finally decided to contour around some cliffs without encroaching on the dogs and would hopefully be able to bypass the peak on the ridge and then see where I stood and go from there.
It was slow going and after some scrambling and fancy foot work I was back on the ridge having successfully bypassed the previous peak. I looked at the two remaining peaks ahead on the ridge and noticed a line across the slopes and towards the direction of Rudoka. I assumed it could only be an animal track as it stayed constantly at a similar height but perfect for my needs so that was the plan! Contour around the two peaks and hopefully I could find my way on to the saddle of Rudoka without too much height loss. There were loose rocks a plenty but it was tolerable and I made good progress reaching the saddle up to Rudoka in no time. From here I was just left with 170m of ascent and I would be on the summit. It was still really warm but a few clouds had started building up for the first time all day bringing very welcomed intermittent relief.
By 15.15 I was standing on the summit of Rudoka right next to the border marker with RK (Republic of Kosovo) clearly displayed. I looked on the map and the GPS on my phone which placed me exactly where the more detailed google maps had shown the border to run but more importantly what did it say my altitude was? I placed the GPS on a rock next to the summit marker and waited a moment. It said 2660m! I grinned and said Wow! That puts Rudoka 4m higher than Djeravica but more importantly (as of course there is potentially a margin of error) it corroborates within the range of the other measurement I had seen stated for Rudoka.
I took photos and a few videos along with one showing the summit/border marker and the altitude and then set off as time was pushing on. I had already made the decision to head towards the black lake in the valley and hoped the sheep dogs had gone or moved on. A risk but I simply didn't have the time to go the ridge way back. I descended quickly soon passing the saddle and soon found myself near to where I had seen the dogs previously. I looked up at the cliffs I had climbed around 400m above and smiled while shaking my head in bemusement. No sign of the dogs so I pushed on.
There were red and white circles and strips leading the way from here which as always are useful. Just before the black lake after topping up my water supply I saw a pack of sheep and the sheep dogs further along the path I was taking. I chose to stay tight by the lake side albeit knowing I would now be in full sight. The dogs saw me and all started barking. I looked over quickly and saw four of them to my left and one in straight in front that must have walked ahead of the pack. It was gonna be a bit close for comfort as I had a lake on my right hand side and dogs to my left. I looked forward and walked on keeping a steady pace with no quick movements. The barking continued but they didn't advance too much. I had to take a detour and ended up descending a dried up steam but they had by this point followed me over head still barking. I picked up the pace and after a 15 mins the barking had become more sporadic and I was able to continue down unhindered.
My plan from this point was simple, I was going to head down to the main road about 15km away get a lift the 14km to Tetovo then catch a bus to Skopje. I stayed on the marked track until it just abruptly stopped as it intersected a new road leading in a different direction. So I just continued to follow the general direction of my original heading using my phone over steep grass and through several forests before coming across another winding road that eventually led me to a small hamlet called Rakovets. From here it was 45 minutes to the main road by Pirok where I needed a lift for the 14km to Tetovo for the bus to Skopje.
It was 21.15 and getting quite dark when I got finally made it to the main road and after maybe 10 cars driving past with me waving 500 Macedonian denars (£8) a guy and young lad 18ish pulled over. I said "Tetovo?" he nodded and I jumped in. He refused the money I offered at first. I quickly sat down and discovered that the back seats were soaked! I looked up and noticed that the roof was split but to be honest by this point I didn't care. I offered the driver the money once more and insisted. He smiled, but he turned out to be a bit gung ho and as he accelerated we smashed straight up the kerb and onto the footpath! The rest of the journey continued in similar fashion to be honest with constant revving, overtaking with little margin for error and speeding but it was my ticket home. After asking if I spoke German every other word seemed to be Scheisse from that point which was quite amusing.
They dropped me off at the bus station in Tetovo but I was told there were no buses to Skopje so I waited an hour or so just in case but then finally had little choice but to catch a taxi (€20) which finally got me to Skopje around 00.30 with the bus to the airport at 02.00.
Another long but successful day ultimately meaning country high point 51 ticked off.