Technically Aided

Trip Start Jun 08, 2010
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Trip End Aug 26, 2010


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Flag of Slovakia  , SK.,
Thursday, August 12, 2010

Today was my big (planned) hiking day in Slovakia. I went back over to Slovensky Raj to try some of their real trails. Most of the trails, or at least the trails they bragged about, in "Slovak Paradise" went through or alongside gorges. They were not like the easy-walkway-running-just-above-the-water gorge trails I had done in Switzerland and Slovenia, though. These were mid-to-difficult hikes sometimes running through the streams with "technical aides" stuck into the rock to help you climb beside waterfalls and navigate cliff faces running above the rivers.

This sounded a little intimidating, so I bought a map of the park for a few euros yesterday and spent some time planning my route. All of the gorge trails but one, were one-way only. This meant I had to take care to choose a gorge that would meet-up with another trail that allowed me to still get back to my car without hiking across half of the park. Another factor to consider was I didn't know quite what to expect from the "technical aides", but if I started on a one-way trail, I'd have to continue even if I got to the first technical part and had problems.

I decided to start with the Prielom Hornádu gorge as it was the only two-way gorge trail. That way I was free to turn around at any time. However, if I followed the entire trail, I'd end up at least 7km from my car when I was done. Sure I could go back the way I came, since it was a two-way trail, but repeating my steps didn't sound like a lot of fun. I decided I'd go about a quarter of the way along the trail then switch to the one-way trail up Kláštorská Roklina gorge. By that point, I would have passed several of the "technically aided" portions and know whether I was up to them or not. At the top of the second gorge, I could then circle back down to my car on a non-gorge trail.

At the entrance to the gorge was a sign reminding me to keep the phone numbers of the park rangers and mountain rescue with me at all times. I thought sure, I'll write them down next to the number for Bruce Wayne so I can call the Batmobile using the Universal Translator on my invisible Wonder Woman phone to come rescue me. Traffic on the trail was light enough that I was alone most of the time, but there were still enough people passing that I would only have had to wait maybe five minutes for someone with a cell phone that works in Europe to pass by and theoretically call for help, assuming there were no language problems.

Of course, none of that was necessary. The technical aides I encountered were a little challenging, but nothing I couldn't handle. Once I made it past the first set of two-foot wide metal grates hanging from the cliff-face, with only a wiggly chain to hold onto on the left and a steep drop to the river below on the right, and showed myself it could be done, I was okay. Still, I wouldn't recommend it for people with a moderate to severe fear of heights or, as the park mapped warned, people carrying babies.

The Prielom Hornádu trail ran alongside and above the gorge. The river itself was fairly wide and smooth, without a lot of visible rocks. There was one cool part where the position of caves in the side of the cliff in relation to the flow of the water made it sound like people were talking faintly inside of the caves. I'd imagine the effect was caused by the same mechanism as the Sea Organ in Zadar.

The Kláštorská Roklina trail actually went through the stream bed for most of its length, but it was a stream not a river, and a particularly shallow one at that, so it would have been hard to get seriously wet. The inch or so of sole on my boots was enough to keep my feet dry the few times I had to step in the water. Most of the technical aides on this course were ladders running alongside short waterfalls.

Before I started on Kláštorská Roklina, I checked the info post at the bottom of the trail and saw that the biggest waterfall in the gorge was only 13m. I figured that would be a good way to estimate the tallest ladder I might have to climb. Around 40ft seemed manageable, and in reality I don't think I ended up having to climb anything that tall. (Note to self: When climbing ladders on a muddy trail, remember to hold on to the sides of the ladders. Don't grab the rungs unless you want a handful of ickyness.)

Based on the two trails I took, which was a very small subset of the park as I didn't even complete one of the trails, I'd say the attraction of Slovensky Raj was the challenge of the hiking, rather than the beauty of the gorges. I encountered a lot more clambering and climbing on the trails I took than dramatic vistas and other scenery. It was enjoyable, but more like the joy that comes from completing an obstacle course than the joy of admiring a beautiful object.

I've got to interject here for a second... I feel at this point I've painted myself into the corner. Today will likely be my last gorge-related entry of the trip, and I've yet to unlimber the long-promised, and no doubt much-anticipated gorge pun that I mentioned back in Slovenia. However, for the reasons I just noted, it isn't really appropriate to the gorges of Slovensky Raj. Quite the dilemma... I think I have to save it for a future blog, so stayed tuned.

Back on track... After I grabbed a snack at the park restaurant, I sat at a picnic table recovering my strength for the estimated hour-plus descent back to my car. Climbing up Kláštorská Roklina had been a bit of a work-out, but I was more tired than I should have been as before I even started with Prielom Hornádu gorge I climbed a 120m hill looking for a fortress I'd seen marked on my map. It didn't sound like a bad idea when I started, but 120m was a lot higher than the 120ft my non-metric brain registered. Also, the fortress was in such ruins I almost walked passed it. There wasn't much to see without a serious excavation being undertaken. So it was a side-trip I could have done without.

Anyway, while I was rallying, I heard a truck drive by and turned my head to look. The truck bed was filled with mountain bikes. While I watched, the driver unloaded the bikes and put out a sign advertising bike rental for 5 euros, helmet included as the sign said.

Remembering my trip down the Tatras on a scooter, I decided to spring for a bike. I bike a decent amount, but it was my first time ever riding a mountain bike actually down a mountain. It started out a little rough as they had frozen the gear-shift on a really inappropriate setting, so peddling on a flat felt like the Wicked-Witch riding her bike through the air alongside Dorothy. There was a lot of leg churn and not a lot of wheel movement.

After I got going on the downhill section, it was much better. I'm sure I didn't break any trail records, but I did make it down to the bottom at a brisk pace compared to walking. It was also a nice rest for my poor legs and feet. My fingers and forearms did take a bullet for my legs, though. The brakes were almost non-existent, so I had to squeeze with all my might when I need to stop for a car on the single-lane gravel road or slow down for a turn. I assume the brakes were so unresponsive on purpose to keep people from freaking out and jamming on the breaks when they saw a big rock in the road, then flipping head-first over said rock as their front wheel locked up. At any rate, it was better than walking.

Tonight, I stuck my head out of my hotel window. There was a festival going on, and I was on the town square so I could hear the band. I was looking at the Medieval town hall and the steeple of St James church, thinking wouldn't it be great to live here with this view, and then I turned my head to the left and saw mountains in the distance, fading away with the setting sun. It would be great. Probably expensive, though, and I'd have to learn Slovakian, so maybe I'll leave the hotel and just keep the memory.

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