Saturday, August 15, 2020

Hello High Tatras

If you want practice saying cześć then go for a hike! 

This was my first proper hike in the Tatra Mountains, the high mountain range which shares the boarder of Poland and Slovakia. It's about 2.5 hours drive from Krakow to Zakopane, which is the cute mountain town that is the primary hub for mountain access from the Polish side. That unfortunately means lots of traffic getting down there and a bit of parking stress. To overcome that stress, Cameron's coworker, Robert, recommended we leave Krakow by 4:30. Well, it's a good thing we did because we had a long day ahead of us. 

Two of my friends came along too, but we split up pretty early on and ended up doing separate hikes. Probably a good thing, since the route Cameron, Robert, and I ended up taking was pretty challenging. Robert planned a 25km route for us which included 1650 meters of elevation, two 2000+ meter high points, and pulling ourselves up rock scrambles with chains. Naturally, the most dangerous climb was paired with a huge downpour and some hail. 

But don't let me complain; it was beautiful! It had all of the elements of what I love in a hike: wildflowers, meadows, looming peaks, countless lakes, plus a few Polish add-ons like mountain huts and ski lifts. The Tatras aren't that big, and you can access any part of the National Park as part of a day hike, but nonetheless they fill up quick! You have to book far in advance to stay overnight, but they are also popular to stop for the bathroom, beer, or some traditional Polish cuisine for day hikers, too. 

Despite it being Friday (for many Polish people it was a three day weekend), there were a lot of people out. From the first peak, it seemed like any direction we looked we could see people trekking about. Unlike in the Olympic National Park where you can go off trail to create your own wilderness route, the Polish national parks are much more restrictive. They mandate that you stay on the trails and swimming in the lakes are not allowed, but it many ways the landscape is more accessible because of the abundance of trails. Also, unlike the Olympics, it's very easy to create a loop which is a really treat. It wasn't as wild as the Olympics, but I would say the Tatras rival in beauty. We will surely be going back regularly. 

These were some steep rocks to climb, especially when wet. 

Luckily the other side of the pass was not as challenging as this, because going up is much more manageable than going down would have been. 

Views from the start of the hike. We started off in the forest but it opened up within about 30 minutes of hiking- another benefit of the Tatras over the Olympics. 

You can see that it was by no means a lightly-attended trail. Even on the more challenging trails were busy, plus this was not as busy as a proper weekend day. 

We were on top of the two pointy peaks (the hill in front and the peak behind it slightly to the left).

Another view of those two peaks. One of the mountain huts was in this little village (not sure what any of the other buildings were used for).

Even though we split up, I think my friends ended up taking this lift later in the day. 

Cameron being a photographer and the clouds starting to darken even more. 

I love mountain streams. 

Another pond and more dark clouds. 

We climbed to this peak, which was the taller one from the earlier pictures. The sign wars of falling rocks and very difficult terrain. 

There's another lake at the bottom of this. The train you can see on the other side is the one we took to get to the other side of the pass. 

Views of the climb up to the first 2000+ meter peak. 

Lake views from the peak. 

You can see that there are trails along most of the ridge lines. 

People hanging up at the peak. 

Views from the top. 

One of the bigger Lakeland the mountain pass in the background. 

Two lakes on the other side of the pass that are part of the Five Lakes Valley. 

Another of the five lakes, including the Five Lakes Valley mountain hut. 

Wildflowers on the way down the valley. It was a lot of downhill and my thighs are very sore today. 

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