It’s not every day you’ll find us up in the mountains at 2 am with baggy eyes, a tired mind, and less than an hour of sleep. But when our friends invited us to celebrate this Bulgarian tradition, we couldn’t pass up on the chance to hike up Vihren Peak for sunrise on July Morning.
It’s not our first time hiking up to Vihren Peak (or our last) but it was the first time we hiked it for sunrise! And actually, it was our first-ever hike in the dark!
Next time we’re definitely going to make sure to get more than an hour of sleep. We’ll also bring some coffee to keep us energised for the whole hike.
A big shoutout to the local Bulgarian at the top of Vihren. He poured us a cup of rocket fuel to keep us going. All while the strong winds brought shivers down our spines. You saved the day!
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Hiking up Vihren Peak for sunrise on July Morning
We heard about this crazy thing where people hike up Vihren Peak for sunrise back in 2022 where a few of our friends at Coworking Bansko did it.
Since it was in the middle of Bansko Nomad Fest we decided to skip out and not take part.
After hearing the stories and getting serious FOMO, this year we decided to take part in the tradition and go up for sunrise even though it was in the middle of this year’s Nomad Fest as well.
There were some challenges and debates about whether or not it was worth going up but we decided to do it.
We don’t share too many personal stories here on our blog. Since it was our first-ever sunrise hike (and a super cool Bulgarian tradition) we felt it was fitting to share our experience.
What is July Morning?
This might sound like some made-up holiday that we North Americans created as another excuse to get drunk and party all night, right? That’s actually not the case…
After doing some research on the holiday we realized it’s an actual Bulgarian tradition – and the story behind is quite interesting.
Thanks to Uriah Heep’s (a British Rock Band) hit “July Morning” this hippie tradition started back in the 1970s.
Every year on the 1st of July, Bulgarians make their way to the east coast. They go catch the sunrise over the sea as a celebration of freedom.
It started where people would hitchhike and make their way to Kamen Bryag, Burgas, and a few other cities in celebration of a new beginning.
Now, this hippie movement has spread to more and more coastal towns. Even here in Bansko, adventurous and outdoorsy people make their way up to Vihren Peak for sunrise on July 1st (read more about July Morning here).
It seems like each year this Bulgarian tradition continues to grow. It grows and grows and makes its way around the country!
Our friends even told us that this year there were at least 20% more people at the peak than there were last year.
It may be a one-and-done kind of thing for us. Who knows though, I’m sure with enough convincing or if FOMO strikes again then we may be back up on the peak for the next July Morning!
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The struggle of no sleep before July Morning
The whole ‘not getting much sleep thing’ was probably the biggest hurdle for us in order to “complete” July Morning.
If it wasn’t for Bansko Nomad Fest we probably could have gone to bed at 8 or 9 pm. A few more hours of sleep would have been nice. But that did not end up happening…
Instead, we got home just after 11 pm. We went to bed about half an hour later only to get an hour of sleep. Which we don’t recommend before the big hike up to Vihren Peak.
Getting an hour of sleep and sitting in a car or plane for the next hours we could do. But for hiking the second tallest peak in Bulgaria, this probably wasn’t the best idea…
The fact we knew we were only getting an hour of sleep before a challenging 5-hour+ return hike made the task feel a bit more challenging.
So when that alarm woke us up at 12:45 am it felt like a bit of a dream. We were definitely both ready to just turn off the alarm. We almost called our friends to let him know we weren’t going to be able to make it this year.
I think the two of us are quite similar though so once we agree to something we do it. With baggy eyes and foggy minds, we got out of bed, put our hiking clothes on, and got ready for the hike ahead.
No adventure goes as planned
We planned ahead. We did everything we had to do to be ready on time and maximize the amount of sleep we got.
As we were waiting at our kitchen table, staring at each other in the eyes, contemplating our decision of what we were doing, and waiting for a text from our friend that the taxi (which was pre-booked) was coming, we almost fell asleep.
The taxi didn’t show up and our friend had received no updates from the driver who he spoke to the day prior. The two of us were looking at each other and wondered if it was a sign from the hippie gods that today wasn’t the day to do this hike.
As the minutes and the bags under our eyes grew it felt like we were honestly about to fall asleep and we were ready to opt out.
Some tears started to come down Jo’s cheeks because she was so tired and exhausted and we had to have an honest conversation about what to do.
A text from our friend interrupted the conversation. Apparently, he gave up on the original driver and found a new driver for us all.
At that point we felt like we couldn’t cancel and going was the only option (which it wasn’t). So we decided to go – and it was so worth it!
The journey up to Vihren Hut to start the July Morning hike
Once we got the taxi sorted, we got picked up by the driver and met up with a few of our friends!
We’ve done the drive many times before so we were used to all the twists and turns up the mountain but in the dark, there’s an extra bit of adrenaline to it.
Thankfully, we had a careful and good driver so the drive up was fine. There were a few moments where I could feel my eyelids closing and I might’ve gotten a few minutes of sleep on the drive.
Eventually, we passed Banderica Hut which meant Vihren Hut was only a few more minutes away.
I definitely wasn’t far off telling the taxi driver to just drive me back to Bansko so I could get a good night’s sleep. But we made it that far already so there was no turning back now!
All of the lights
We won’t go into too much detail about the hike up in this post since we already have a whole post on hiking Vihren Peak.
What made this hike up quite unique on this day was the fact that it was PITCH BLACK for the first few hours of the hike.
We started the hike just before 2:30 am and the only thing that helped us find the way was all the head torches from all the hikers that lid up the path. Well everyone except for me!
Luckily, there were so many people around me that every few seconds the trail in front of me lit up and the path ahead became visible.
Even though it was hard to see at times, the little lights up and down the mountain were probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced.
The fact we were somewhere in between a 100 ish people hiking up the mountain was so cool! Some people also camped the night at the summit which could potentially be a cool option for next year.
Walking up the trail, it honestly looked like human-sized fireflies scattered up and down the hiking path to Vihren Peak. Maybe it’s because it’s the first time I’ve done a proper hike for sunrise but I thought it was the coolest thing ever!
If you by chance spend a summer in Bansko and love hiking, new experiences, and making memories you should try to hike up Vihren for July Morning.
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Halfway up the hike and the plot twist is resolved
Let’s quickly go back to the taxi situation for a second…
We definitely thought the taxi driver overslept and completely forgot about us but our friend who organized the trip got a text message from him as we were halfway up the mountain.
It was definitely not the answer we were expecting.
The standard “I’m sorry, I overslept, my alarm didn’t go off” was what we thought the guy would respond.
Instead, our friend got a message that our taxi driver was hit by a drunk driver on the way to pick us up.
That is not what we were expecting to hear at 4 am halfway up to Vihren Peak.
Thankfully, the driver was ok and only his car was damaged but it still felt quite uncomfortable knowing that our driver got hit by a drunk driver on the way to pick us up.
It was a shitty text to receive but, thankfully, he was ok and we could continue the hike up to Vihren!
Enjoying July Morning from Vihren Peak
The rest of the hike was basically just darkness where I couldn’t see too much unless someone’s head torch shined where my next step was about to go.
As we got closer to the top, Mother Nature showed us her twilight to help guide us on the final section.
And then we got to the top of the mountain!
Hohnestly, though, I personally wouldn’t say the views were worth it. Don’t get me wrong, the views from Vihren Peak are stunning – but it was very foggy and we couldn’t see much.
It was also very cold and windy too and the temperature was around -2C with windshield. Even with four layers of clothes we were COLD!
The sense of accomplishment still made it worth it though! Hiking Vihren Peak for sunrise is such a cool experience.
Hiking is always challenging because you always hope for an incredible view at the top but if Mother Nature’s magic isn’t shining in that exact moment it can be a little bit disappointing.
I tried to change my mindset a little bit though and tell myself that I should be thankful that I live a life where I have the opportunity to do this. A life where my legs let me summit awesome mountains like this.
So even though it wasn’t the most banging sunrise I’ve ever seen, it was cool sharing this memory with each other and the friends we accomplished this mission with.
We completed the hike around 8:30 am (so 6 hours later) and got a taxi to pick us up and drive us home. Our heads hit the pillows at 9:30 am and we passed out instantly.
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Final thoughts on the July Morning hike up to Vihren Peak
I personally love challenges and missions so when the opportunity came to hike up for July Morning it was a no-brainer.
There were definitely moments on the drive up to start the hike where I thought to myself I could have just had a nice sleep0in and enjoyed a good breakfast at home the next morning.
Then there was the part of me that thought to myself that I should cherish the moment, enjoy having the opportunity to do this, and make some memories I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
It was tough, we had a brutal sleep, and we felt pretty exhausted us for the rest of the day. But if you’d ask me if I’d do it again knowing what I know now, the answer would be a big, fat YES!