Slovak Paradise

The Tatra mountains form a natural border between Poland and Slovakia and are the highest mountains along the 1200km Carpathian Mountain Range. It was overcrowded in Poland so we were excited to head to the Slovakian side. We stopped at a very helpful info centre in Tatranska Lomnica. The girl advised us of some nice hikes. I asked her if there happened to be an area where we might have a chance of seeing a wild bear. To which she said yes, any rubbish bin! We all laughed, till I asked with a straight face ‘where’s the dirtiest bin in town?’.

She said the weather was due to be bad but luckily the next day we woke to a cracker, and could finally see the mountains in their full beauty. There are 25 peaks in the Tatra’s rising over 2500m, they were beautiful slabs of rock protruding from the green foliage. I was a happy bunny back in my element.

We set off on a hike and made it to the first lake, Popradske Pleso in just over an hour, so decided to continue up to a second lake. It was a bit of a slog uphill but we were happy that it wasn’t busy, and we weren’t hiking along a road like in Poland. The weather eventually clouded over though, and it had quite a brutal wind chill as we reached Vel’ke Hincovo Pleso at nearly 2000m elevation.

Signs gave us times to further destinations, and we decided to continue up to the saddle for better views. Once there we thought sod it, let’s just persevere and climb the summit, why not!

As we neared the 2364m Koprovsky Stit peak the sun started to burn its way through the clouds and we collapsed at the top with a fab view. The large lake we’d come from was now just a small navy circle with turquoise edges, and huge mountains shot up from its shores. Ridge lines headed off in three separate directions from where we sat. Some were messy wedges of rock while others had neat, sheer, edges like a punks Mohawk.

There were mountains layered behind one another, spikey, flat, jaggered and curved as far as the eye could see. It was an incredible viewpoint, it’s taken a while to be wowed again, but hats off to you Slovakia, you did it!!

We ended up walking 7 hours and were absolutely exhausted. On the walk back though we spotted a family picking berries, then we saw it was wild raspberries! They were all over the place, how did we spend 4 hours walking past them on the way up and not realise? What a treat, they were delicious and so sweet. Very small compared to shop bought ones but full of flavour.

When we got back to Pablo our solar shower had vanished from the roof. We thought it had been stolen but then we spotted it on the grassy verge, how odd. It couldn’t of fallen down, why would someone move it there? Craig didn’t seem to care, ‘oooh it’s nice and warm!!’, and pessimistic me ‘someone could of pissed in it!’

The next day had such thick fog that you could barely see 20m ahead. There was no point hiking in the mountains, you wouldn’t see a thing, and we didn’t want to have another day just sitting in the van, so we left the beautiful area and drove south to Poprad.

About 15km south was Slovensky Raj National Park which translates to Slovak paradise. It’s an area of mountains, of about 1000m elevation, covered in forested slopes and sliced with deep gorges. We didn’t arrive till the late arvo so just did a short hike up Sucha Bela Gorge. The walk went right through the gorge along a crystal clear stream.

When it became too narrow or impassable, rocks and logs were laid out to avoid walking in the water. Whole sections had wooden plank bridges, it made a nice change to normal hiking. But it made an even better change when we saw the famous ladders heading up past waterfalls.

The first one was at a nice angle, like a standard ladder against a building. The second was almost lying horizontal , and a chain draped to the left of it so you could hold on with one hand.

The third one was short, but vertical and had a waterfall streaming close by. Then the gorge got really narrow and curved around. Metal foot steps were drilled into the rock wall to walk around on. Then it led to a metal bridge and ahead were two ridiculously tall, vertical, metal ladders. It was a misty day, the air was moist, and so were the ladders.

It would of been fine, if we didn’t have to come back down them. Going up is easy, but back down is a lot trickier. We made it up the first one but Craig kept saying stupid things like ‘guess what I was just thinking?…well, a boulder fell down and crushed you, and I didn’t know where we were when I called for help…where are we?!’ ‘Shit, I don’t even know what the village is called here, don’t tell me your stupid thoughts!!’

Then he said ‘imagine if the ladder just collapsed and we were trapped in the gorge!!’. So we left the last ladder. Which was probably for the best as once we got back we realised it was a one-way only hike. We weren’t supposed to come back down the slippery ladders, instead there was a 4 hour loop walk to avoid back ups of people in the narrow sections.

It did get us thinking about how well made the ladders and steps are when your not in the most developed of countries. I can imagine some calloused-handed builder sitting with his mates at a pub and throwing a few bolts up and down in his hand saying ‘fuck knows where these were supposed to go!’
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