In early November I made a quick visit to the mountains of the Polish High Tatra. I had been in the region once before, in Feb. 2007, but I never made it into the mountains at the time. This time around, and with a Polish friend and fellow photographer as a guide, I was looking forward to heading up into the hills.
After an overnight car-bivy in the parking lot we headed out under clear skies into the crisp morning air up the road which forms the first park of any hike in the region. After a few kilometres we headed into the forest and up the trail towards the Five lakes Valley. A little before 10am we arrived at the hut where we would stay for the night, right on the edge of a beautiful lake and surrounded by steep mountain peaks. After a brief rest and some food we headed off with camera’s in hand to go wander about. With no plan, we headed in the general direction of Zawrat pass arriving some time later. Being November, there was a bit of snow about, but thanks to an unusually dry and mild autumn for most of Europe in 2011, we were fine in just trail runners and no winter gear. From Zawrat pass a bit of a scramble along a ridge led us to some small 2,200 meter peak with stunning views back to the Five Lakes Valley and south into Slovakia (where the highest mountains of the Tatra are). After a bit of time taking some photos, we eventually wandered our way back to the hut a little before sunset.
A side note: As an American, I have basically no experience with mountain huts. If I hike in the mountains in California, I carry a tent, tarp, or sleep in the open. I cook (crappy) food on my little stove and drink from rivers or melt snow. In winter, I go to sleep in the cold and get dressed in the cold the following morning; my boots usually frozen solid. Now for Europeans, this is almost barbaric. As much as I like wilderness and wild camping, I cannot deny that I enjoy the luxury of mountain huts. Maybe I’m just getting old. In Poland the huts are fairly cheap by European standards, with dorm bed running around 40 Zloty ($12) and dinner $3-6 (A huge schnitzel, sauerkraut, potatoes, potato pancakes, and a beer cost be about $6 at Morskie Oko hut). A warm shower after a long day on the trail is probably worth a few dollars alone. Plus the benefit of the weight savings from not having to carry camping gear means I can either travel lighter than possible back home, or load up on more camera gear. Probably better to choose the first option…
At 6am the following morning we were on the trail to Morskie Oko. We had hopes of perhaps trying to get up Rysy, Poland’s highest mountain, but upon closer inspection it would have been a rather dangerous adventure on the icy snow without crampons and ice axe. After a few hours wandering around the lakes we headed back to the Morskie Oko hut a bit after noon to a shock of surprise. Hoardes of people. Everywhere! A definite change of scene from the 5 people that had been in the Five Lakes hut the day before. But Morskie Oko is one of the most famous places in Poland. And the fact that people can be taken by horse drawn carriage the 10km up to the hut, means there is more of a city looking crowd of day tourists filling the dining room. Luckily they all leave by late afternoon and only a few smelly hikers seem to be left. After a good dinner it was off to an early night while setting my watch for 4:00 am.
Now, we weren’t getting up at 4:00 am to continue further into the mountains. It was in hopes of getting to the parking lot before the attendant and thus saving 20 Zloty. When we had arrived, on a Thursday, the parking attendant got there around 6:00am. Cool we though, get there a little before that and we should be fine. So at 4:15 am we left the hut and started the 10 km walk down the road towards the parking lot. Making near record time, we at the car at 5:30 am and started loading our gear. Then we saw the light in one of the buildings turn on and the parking attendant man come walking up towards us. Bugger, I guess someone spends the night on the weekend. 20 Zloty poorer we hit the road. So much for that genius idea. Though a bit of luck was on our side as we came across some nice light over the forested foothills a bit down the mountain (the last photo). Leaving the mountains we headed to Bielsko-Biala to visit a few more friends and spend the day eating pizza at the climbing gym.
Overall, I’m quite impressed with the Tatra. Though not the highest mountains in Europe, they are rugged and beautiful with a good network of trails and fun scrambles, I’ll definitely be heading back one of these days and wander around for a week or two.
Photo: Przedni Staw – Front lake, Five Lakes Valley, Tatra mountains, Poland
Photo: View of Wielki Staw – Big lake in Five lakes valley, Tatra mountains, Poland
Photo: Slovakia – left, Poland – right, High Tatra mountains, Poland
Photo: View south into Slovakia from near Zawrat Pass, High Tatra mountains, Poland
Photo: Dawn comes to Tatra foothills, Poland