Tearing it up in the Tatras
Trip Start Sep 12, 2006
100Trip End Sep 08, 2008
I'd been to Zakopane once before back in October, but I only saw the bus station as I was there for just a day and preferred to spend the day hiking in the mountains rather than seeing the town
However, Zakopane wasn't the main purpose of my trip. During the two full days I had I planned to hike to the famous alpine lake of Morskie Oko on the first day, and to the summit of the symbol of Zakopane, the 1864m Mt Giewont on the second. The sun was shining when I woke early on the Wednesday morning, and after picking up some food and water I got a short bus ride to Lysa Polana, the small settlement at the start of the two hour hike to Morksie Oko.
While hiking in the Tatras is spectacular, it's hardly a wild hardcore experience, and I found myself surrounded by literally hundreds, maybe thousands of tourists as I waited to pay the national park entry fee. I was later told that once upon a time you could drive almost to the edge of the lake, but some years ago the road was closed, meaning you now had to hike 9km up a sealed road to the lake. It wasn't the most interesting walk, but the Slovakian Tatras, ever visible to my left made it pretty interesting
When I finally reached Morskie Oko I was amazed with what I saw. I imagined there would still be some snow about despite the beautiful weather but I didn't think I'd find the lake frozen! Furthermore, there must have been a few thousand tourists sitting by the lakeside. It was easy to understand why they were there though, as the magnificent lake at the foot of Poland's highest mountain; Mt Rysy (2499m) was an amazing site. I joined them for a while, as I'd powered the 9km to the lake and I needed to get some food into me. After checking my map I decided to hike on past the lodge onto another lake, Czarny Staw. This involved a pretty steep 200m climb through ankle deep snow, however the view at the top was truly stunning. To the north west lay the magnificent Morskie Oko, and to the south east lay the completely frozen Czarny Staw. There weren't nearly as many tourists here, maybe thirty, and I only had to walk a further five minutes before I found a rock to perch myself on well away from everyone. By this stage it had gone 2pm, and I lapped up the opportunity to sunbathe in the snow beneath the towering peaks. While I was there I saw a helicopter fly over the frozen lake and hover behind a rock on the face of Mt Rysy for about 10 minutes
It was a pleasant hike back to the lodge, and I was happy that I hadn't pushed myself too hard as I had a much bigger hike the following day to reach the summit of Mt Giewont. As I sat on the bus back to Zakopane I used it as an opportunity to practise my listening skills in Polish as the radio was on and I was the only native English speaker there. Unfortunately the news wasn't good, as a number of accidents in the mountains were reported on the news, reminding me that despite the beautiful weather and huge number of tourists in the region I still had to take care.
I made an early start the following morning as I knew the climb to Mt Giewont's summit would be a tough one. My plan was to walk out the front door of my hostel, through Zakopane, through the forest and up the mountain, without putting one foot on public transport. After paying the entry fee again, I continued on through the beautiful Strazyska Valley. There were only a handful of tourists here, and the trail was a lot more interesting than the sealed road to Morskie Oko. After climbing 300m I was disappointed to come across a huge sign reading "LAWINY!" and a notice informing that the trail was closed
After some 25 minutes or so I came upon another stunning valley, the Dolina Malej Laki. I checked my map and saw that I could make it to the summit of Giewont if I continued through this valley, although it would take about an hour longer than the route I had hoped to take. The climb up the southern slope of the mountains was quite tough, as it was under a shaded pine forest, and the snow had frozen. It was a difficult climb, but once I passed above the tree line I could see Giewont again, and the huge cross on its peak. That wasn't the best site though, as I could see some people on the summit meaning there was a way to climb to the top as I had hoped. From the point where I was standing it was another hour to reach the top.
The view I was rewarded with at the summit was absolutely amazing. To the south I could see Poland's Tatras in their entirety, the High Tatras to the east and the Western Tatras. To the north west I could see Babia Gora, the mountain I had unsuccessfully tried to climb back in November, and directly below Giewont's northern slope lay Zakopane
I spent about an hour at the summit before realising to my surprise that my train back to Opole left in just three hours. It had taken me about four and a half hours to reach the summit! I knew there was another, quicker route back down, and I took this. Luckily the snow was quite soft, so it was actually a lot of fun jumping and sliding back down the slope. I reached the small settlement of Kuznice about an hour before my train, giving me just enough time to get back to Zakopane, pick up my stuff from the hostel and get my train.
My second trip to Poland's Tatra Mountains was totally amazing, and I knew in my mind that this was a special place. There were plenty of peaks left for me to climb and valleys to explore in the High Tatras, not to mention the Western Tatras which I hadn't set foot in, or the other half of the range on the Slovakian side of the border. If there was one place in Poland there was no doubt I'd return to, it was Zakopane.