Tiso AdventuresTranscontinental Crossings - Poland to Slovakia via the High Tatras
Gavin is back in the mountains, resuming his quest to tick off the highest peaks in Europe. On an eventful trip to Poland and Slovakia, he summitted Rysy and Gerlachovsky on a 9-day long trek in the High Tatras, situated on the western tip of the Carpathian Mountains. Keep reading to find out how he got on with his latest adventure, and his top tips for anyone who wants to explore the High Tatras.
by Gavin Robbins
Gavin works in the Tiso Edinburgh Rose Street store. He’s outdoors mad, and is currently on a mission to climb the highest mountain in every country in Europe.
At last! It’s been a long time since I was able to get out but finally back to ticking off these European high points! On this trip we took on Poland’s highest mountain, Rysy (2501m) and Slovakia’s highest mountain, Gerlachovsky (2654m), both set in the incredibly wonderful natural park of the High Tatras at the western tip of the Carpathian Mountains (Europe’s second longest mountain range!).
And so it was, one feverish and aching boned morning I crawled coughing and spluttering out of bed, my wife gave me one last “If you’re too unwell don’t go” looks, I just smiled and said I’d see her soon. I met my friend Ryad at St. Andrews square, and the first thing he said to boost my morale was “you look terrible”. For the next 9 days we were off to spend a large part of it hiking with very heavy packs and then a very long exposed climb. Suffice to say, I really wasn’t looking as forward to it as I usually would be.
Arriving early evening in Krakow to a cool 32°, we spent the night in the old Jewish part of town, a much less franchised area of the city, sipping heavy pilsners and dining on fine Polish dumplings. If, however, you are craving your Starbucks and McDonalds, you can always head to the main square, which is very pretty but a lot more commercial.
Bed late and up early (always the way), we collected the obligatory gas canister and then headed south to Zakopane, an incredibly outdoor orientated town. Not hanging around we carried on to Lysa Polana, the start point for the path up to Morskie Oko loch (the fabled, “eye of the sea”), but as we found out, it’s also the largest tourist pilgrimage site in Poland!
2 hours later on a very slight incline and what is basically a tarmac road, we arrived at Moskie Oko. I was burst. This was not a good sign. I was worried all my training had been for nothing as this bug appeared to be getting the better of me! Pints, food, cards and an earlier night ensued, as the next day we planned to take our full packs right up and over Rysy, taking the steep North Polish side. We then planned to walk all the way into Slovakia, aiming for a nice town called Strbske Pleso.
The weather was overcast when we got up, so no scorching sun to deal with, breakfast cooked and munched, then packs on and the slog commenced. Up. Up, up and up was the only thing going through my head. Well, that and a whole packet of cough sweets. Then, just as it got steeper and rockier and the eye of the sea became more like the squinting eye of the sea, there she was! The rain! Of course. But it didn’t detract from the summit, a touch exposed but very pleased to be up there! Huge granite crags as far as the actual eye (not the sea eye) could see!
We didn’t hang about as we were only about a third of the way, and so we plodded on down through big vast corries and gullies, down to lakes and valleys and forests. It was incredibly scenic. If anyone loves the outdoors, the Tatras are a great and very user-friendly mountain range. Finally arriving at Strbske, we checked in the bags at the digs and went out to enjoy the scenic little town, marked for its massive loch and laid back hazy atmosphere (off-season, it would be very different in the ski season!). We celebrated a little too much I reckon, but wasn’t planning doing Rysy again, so enjoy when you can.
Up and away in the morning again, feeling a touch more optimistic, as today was just a big hike back up the valley and then east, coursing the southern flank of the Tatras. It was long, there was a big push at the start and then at the crest the rain came out to play again. The rest of the journey to the next digs was very Scotland-esque. Waterproof jacket on, head phones in, head down, walk. It was actually a good laugh, but the company you choose is usually what makes this happen.
Arriving at the Hotel Sliezsky Dom, we hadn’t realised just quite how up-market this hotel was. But when in Rome (or thereabouts)! We got checked in, then off to use the sauna, steam room, cold water bucket, hot tub and relax lounge. Never before have I ever had it this plush in the mountains. My fever started to turn for the better after this. An excellent dinner with local Slovakian cuisine, and yes, it’s exactly how you imagine it, flavoursome stodge. Then some drinks and cards and a review of the route for tomorrow, with the backdrop of the low valley below us and all the stars above us.
Up early and on the trail - the beautiful Velicka Dolina (valley), waterfalls, lochs, stunning mountains either side of you, rising up into the stratosphere, with a huge cloud inversion behind us. A couple Chamois came to say hello, it was truly stunning. I made it to the start of the route, but had to collapse for half an hour, still feeling a bit wiped. Gerlachovsky is Slovakia’s highest mountain. You are only allowed to climb it with a guide, or if you are a member of a UIAA affiliated club. If part of a club you can only use the popular accent routes to decent, otherwise you must find your own climb up to the summit. We opted for Martins route, known as the most honourable way to climb the mountain. The best way to describe it is to imagine the Cullin ridge, but starting at 2000m and going up to 2600m. There were some very exposed traverses, some steep climbing up, and we took a 40 meter rope and simuled our way along. It was an amazing ridge and the granite was like a home away from home. 6/7 hours from the start of the ridge we arrived at the summit, the last 60 meters were very steep and very exposed but the holds are excellent and by then we had struck a very good rhythm! The final 20 meters is on a knife edge ridge no wider than a Toblerone bar!
Sat on the summit, it felt real good. Three years since my last euro high point, so very happy to be out. The descent we chose was very steep but very quick, with a few laddered, chained, pegged sections. We then treated ourselves to another night in the posh digs, roll on that sauna! The beer flowed and we were very happy staring up at the milky way before bed.
Leaving Gerlach we headed east to HreBienok, a nice high mountain spot, with a few restaurants and lodges. We checked in and were due to have a rest day… but I couldn’t resist another peak, Slavkovsky, and left Ryad chilling at the bar. It felt like doing a really big Munro and feeling in good spirits I decided to run back down, the look of surprise on Ryad’s face when I arrived back around 3 and half hours earlier than intended was worth it.
After this, it really just becomes a tale of hiking up high sweeping forested valleys to big mountain huts for pints before running back down again. The views were spectacular, the weather totally fair for what we achieved and the people very accommodating. We spent two nights in Bratislava after saying our fond farewell to the high Tatras, a very pleasant city well worth a visit by anyone’s standards (Café L’Aura & Antik by St.Martins Cathedral, an excellent café/bar/antique store and The Globlin Bar well worth a visit, but for very different reasons!).
I can’t recommend the Tatras strongly enough. Whether you want to climb or hike, or just have low level excursions from scenic town to town (they have a great train service), you’ll feel right at home there.
So hopefully, if I can convince the wife, a weekend break to Denmark next, to go their biggest high point “Møllehøj”. My Danish friend tells me it’s simply pronounced "Mow" - I think it’s genuinely a cow field. So a change of pace might be nice!
Peak of the trip: First laying eyes on the Tatras – it’s been so long since I got out to Europe and was such a great feeling to be back. Also the Danube – I’ve always wanted to see it, an ancient river that connects so many lives and places over thousands of years.
Pit of the trip: Hands down getting sick before, during and after. I like a challenge of course but it would’ve been good if I wasn't so run down.
Biggest challenge: Gerlachovský. Usually, I do routes like that with my more experienced friends, so was great for Ryad and I to pull it off on our own accord.
Biggest surprise: The sheer number of people going to Morskie Oko lake in Poland. My Polish friend had told me about it, but to see that many people all streamlining down from the lake, I’ve never seen anything like it!
Best view: From the relax room in the spa in the posh hotel. It looked out onto a small rising valley, with huge rocky ridges either side, a small lake, and a waterfall taking centre stage. There was a little hanging cloud shrouding around it whilst still being really light and bright.
Best bit of kit: I treated myself to an Artilect Sprint Baselayer and wore it every day on the hill, which performed beautifully. Super comfy, super stretchy, dried faster than usual and felt brand new each time I put it on. Also, my super light recycled 40 metre Edelrid rope. Wasn't sure how trusting I was going to feel with a recycled rope, but it's absolutely fine.
Top tips for the High Tatras:
1) Best resources: Summitpost has excellent beta as always. It’s also worth checking out the Slovakian mountain rescue website – some really good info there on the do's and don'ts. UKC has some stuff and Cicerone do a guide book as well.
2) We used Mountain Forecast for the weather and it was pretty accurate.
3) In terms of navigation, you’ll just need a map. The paths are very well maintained and the whole thing just felt easy and accessible.