Hiking from Mt Vodno to Lake Matka

It’s a cosy evening in Saša’s flat in Skopje. I’m reflecting on the day, eating sweet Tulumba pastry soaked in syrup and sipping the local mountain tea, reading about the region’s history and think about things to do during the next couple of days in Macedonia. As I look on the map of my smartphone, I realise I don’t need to decide whether I would like to go up Vodno Mountain to visit the Millenium Cross or whether I’d prefer to walk along Lake Matka instead. I can actually combine these two on a hike that has me walk up Mt Vodno, across it and down the other side into the Treska Canyon to reach Lake Matka. Wow – I really like that idea, let’s do some research online.

Ok, there is of course the usual calls for taking a guide but from what I understand it’s perfectly feasible to walk this on my own. My sense of adventure is piqued and at 9am the next day I close the door to the apartment building behind me and off I go. First stop: bakery for breakfast, water, fruits and peanuts to carry with me. I walk up to the parking lot of Mt Vodno cable car and – as the ascend would be on the snowy, shady slope – decide to take the gondola instead to soak up some more of the day’s scarce rays of sunshine up on the top. It saves my energy and I might do with a little bit of extra daylight towards the end of the day – who knows how it goes 😉 The lady in the ticket office asks twice whether I really want a one-way ticket and also the nice serviceman operating the cable car raises his eyebrows, astonished and making sure I understand I don’t have a return ticket. He wishes me good luck waves goodbye as I head up the mountain.

There is a marked path, though one has to be very careful not to lose the signs. It is pretty much straightforward, I’d say – just walk away from the 66m tall Millenium Cross and always along the ridge until you get down on the other side. In case you walk left or right before that, you’d get down the mountain and would probably – at some point – reach a village on either side (looking at the map, the Vodno Mountain range seems only about 5km wide and 10km+ long – linear distance, that is).

At the beginning of the walk, around the Millenium Cross there are quite a few people around, and the further you walk away, the more quite it gets. Although there is an actual dirt road the first half of the linear distance (until you get to some former Russian bunkers) there is also the option to take some smaller paths directly through the woods which are also shortcuts. As you can see on the map below, towards the Lake Matka end of the hike the path leads to the right side. I seemed to have missed that part and gone slightly left initially (this is the short bit of the path where Google Maps doesn’t show any trail at all) so that I had to find my way back to the right side through the wilderness and passing by some rock walls used by climbers in summer 😉

This map – if I remember correctly – is placed on each end of the hike and one in the middle.

I would not recommend to just anyone to walk it alone but for an experienced walker with a good sense of orientation and certain ability to find and follow signs, it should be ok. There is GPS signal throughout the area. I do recommend starting this adventure early enough in the day so there’s enough time to make it back down into civilisation in daylight.

One does get rewarded with these wonderful panoramic 360˚ vistas and spending time by oneself, alone with nature and this feeling of being on top of the world … or at least Macedonia 🙂

What is a bit tricky for me is making sense of the Cyrillic signposts – only a couple of them during the entire walk anyways, but still, would have helped to be able to read them, I guess. Especially towards the end of the day after I had passed the church of St Nikola (see below) when I follow a perfectly visible path to my left, down sth like a trench/chute that even has a signpost (in Cyrillic) or so I thought. And I do end up at the water but – unfortunately – wrong side of the river, just below the dam and there is nowhere else to go without falling down into the water. Last chance I have is to trace back the last few metres and follow a very narrow trail up the rocks to see whether this would possibly lead somewhere – it looks like it’s frequently used, at least. Shock, horror: there is an unsurmountable 3m high gate in front of me! Nevertheless, I breath a sigh of relief when I see people on the other side of the massive dam. The first human beings after 5 hours or so!  As I get to the gate and am just about to shout out to someone, I notice that it isn’t actually locked and it is indeed a fantastic feeling to open it, walk through and then just cross over the dam, climbing a couple more barriers (apparently I am not supposed to be here) and falling into the arms of a friendly EVN worker of the electric power station. As I explain that I’ve just walked over all the way from Skopje he sidelines the fact that I’m trespassing here, welcomes me with a warm smile and gladly helps me locate the last bus out of here tonight.

As per photo above, one is supposed to walk down from church of St Nikola and follow the path leading uphill and out of the canyon and that will lead directly to the bridge that allows a safe and easy crossing of the river Treska. 
Church of St Nikola … from where you could walk 10mins down a steep, narrow trail to catch a boat to the other side of Lake Matka (ring the bell to catch the attention of the boat operators) or walk down the well-marked path that gets you to the bridge where also the bus stop for buses back to Skopje is located (unless – like me – you turn left too early and get out just below the dam, which is a dead-end!).
This is where I get back to civilisation, coming from behind the top of the rocks on the right side. Instead of turning left down into that first trench/chute when coming from the church of St Nikola, one is supposed to keep going as per photo further above where you can see a path leading uphill and out of the canyon. 

This is the bus stop from where bus #60 goes back to Skopje. You are supposed to travel with a public transport “plastic card” (=SKOPSKA) and have the 35 MKD (Macedonian Denars) that the journey costs, on it. The bus driver was super friendly and let me ride the (last) bus out of Matka without it (last bus is at 16:30pm during the winter months).

What an incredible day – a wonderful hike through nature and with marvellous views throughout! Thank you to my Guardian Angels who took good care of me 🙂

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