Tatras

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It takes 2h in an empty bus to reach Zakopane. But according to our host it can take up to 7h to come back from the mountains around Christmas time. Zakopane is a very popular spot for hiking in summer and skiing in winter, some would say it is the Polish Chamonix. Poland is mostly flat except along its south border.

Tatras are a small mountain range  about 80km long and the highest mountains af all the Carpathian range. Zakopane is the only city on their feet on the Polish side and so we started hiking from there.

The main street of Zakopane is pedestrian and almost all buildings are made of wood. An it starts with the church at the bottom of the street.

Church of Zakopane

Followed by many restaurants, sports and tourist shops while going up.

Building in Zakopane

We entered the Tatras National Park at Kuźnice, just south of the city, following the main street. And walked from there to the mountain hut Murowaniec.

As soon as we started walking up, we had a nice view on the Giewont mountain. One of the most popular hike in the Polish Tatras. Our hosts in Krakow said they once waited 2h to be able to go on top !

Giewont

Going up from Kuznice

The forest is huge on this side in the Dolina Suchej Wody and only some small shelters emerge from it.

Forest in Dolina Suchej Wody

They are a lot of other tourists on the trails, although we are in June. But that’s because the mountain hut is very close from the city, less than 1h30. And a lot of work as been done on the paths which are often cobbled.

When arriving on the mountain hut, the hills turn really into mountains.

Cobbled trail

Dolina Suchej Wody

And here is the green roof of Schronisko Murowaniec.

Murowaniec

A black smoke is blowing from the chimney … because it’s powered on coal !

Coal powered Schronisko Murowaniec

They are plenty of people here. The hostel is almost full, one day later and we would have had to sleep in the dining room. And the hostel has more than a hundred beds. We arrived at 3pm and it started to rain shortly after. So we had a long afternoon inside, reading maps and putting a stamp on it.

The day after we walk up at 7am. But we misunderstood the breakfast time and thus started hiking after eating cookies from our own bags instead of waiting. And because we were unsure of the weather, we preferred walking in the morning. Beside that, our roommates left at 5am, after being particularly noisy for an hour …

So here we go to the Swinica mountain, 2301m, the one in the center of the picture, through the pass on its right.

Gasienicowa Dolina

Lakes in Gasienicowa Dolina

Very nice valley plenty of lakes before reaching the Swinica pass.

Reaching the Swinica pass

Swinica pass

And still 1h to go to the summit. But we don’t trust the time anymore. Indeed it took us less.

Swinica pass

And on the way we met our roommates again. What’s the point of leaving so early if we’re on top before ? I’m being sarcastic, they used another way.

At the end there are some chains at some points.

From the top the view is amazing, there are lakes in every valley around. Here is the view on the northern side, with Schronisko Murowaniec in the forest under the patch of grass. And more north it’s flat. The mountain range is really small.

From Swinica

Towards Murowaniec

On the other side we see the valley of the 5 lakes. Even if we never saw the 5 lakes at once !

Valley of the 5 lakes

On the slovak side we se the northern face of the Krivan. This mountain is a national symbol. It’s on the coins of 1, 2 an 5 euro cents.

Krivan from Swinica

And some wild valleys towards the west. We really expected to see a bear somewhere, but we didn’t have the chance.

Ticha Dolina

On the way down to the 5 lakes valley, there are still some chains. It makes everything a lot easier.

Chains on the way down

In the valley we had our first close encounter with the mountain wildlife, a marmot.

Marmot

Then we passed the nicest mountain hut on the polish side, Schronisko w Dolinie Pięciu Stawów Polskich. But we just asked them to call the next one to see if they had some space for us to be closer from Mt Rysy for the day after.


Mountain hut of the 5 lakes valley

The trail between both mountain huts is a very nice balcony.

View on the 5 lakes valley

So beautiful that people come here to have pictures for their wedding !

Getting married

The next hostel is a huge tourist spot. It’s next to the lake Morskie Oko (Marine Eye) and at the foot of Rysy, which is the highest mountain in Poland (2500m) and our next destination. (Rysy is the pyramid shaped mountain in the background on the left, the one that appears smaller)

Morskie Oko and Rysy

Truth is it deserves this crowed because the place is really beautiful.

Morskie Oko and Mnich

Rysy itself, also not that easy because it has a lot of chains, was also supposed to be very crowded. But the weather was very unsure. So following the example of our previous roommates we woke up at 4am. It was light enough outside because the sun rised around 4:30am. It’s supposed to take 4h to go on top. at the second lake, there are still 3:20 to go and it really starts to go up steep.

Rysy sign

Both lakes, Morkie Oko

We saw some chamois, but hard to take a focused pictures in the poor morning light. The way up is pleasant in the snow and then with a lot of chains. We are pleased by the weather. Rain was on the forecast.

Snow to Rysy

Chains to Rysy

On top, the view is great on both sides. Clouds are starting to go up. Here is the view towards East and the High Tatras.

From Rysy towards East

And here is a lake shaped like a footprint.

Footprint lake

From top we see the way down on Slovak side. Which seems a lot more gentle than the way up.

Slovak side of Rysy

It took us less than 2:30 to go on top instead of 4 hours and there was absolutely no-one on the Rysy. We were the first people on top that day.

On the way down we stopped for a real breakfast in the Chata pod Rysmi and started to learn some Slovak words. And here we can start paying with euros. While having breakfast, the fog arrived and shortly after we started to go down it rained. So we were really lucky to be on top so soon !

We arrived in Popradske Pleso as soon as 10am, so it let us plenty of time to go sightseeing around. Beside the lake there is a « symbolic cemetery » full of painted crosses.

Symbolic Cemetery

To the cemetery

We started to see the nice yellow signs of the Slovak side. With approximate translation, especially in French.

Snow warning sign

Here is the hostel and the lake. The weather went again better in the afternoon. Actually, for the following days, it kept changing.

Popradske Pleso

The next step was a balcony at the border of the range. The only way up was a pass (Sedlo pod Ostrvou) in the morning.

Up from Popradske Pleso

Sedlo pod Ostrvou

On the other side is a great view on the slovak forest, and also the mountain resort Strbske Pleso.

Strbske Pleso

Balcony

The path was again very well maintained.

Balcony

View on the forest

We stopped at a very nice lake, Batizovske Pleso, on the foot of Mt. Gerlach, the highest mountain of the range (2654m).

Batizovske Pleso

Tatranska Magistrala

On the way down we saw that the forest was actually in poor shape. We learned later that there was a huge windstorm in 2004 which turned pine trees forest in meadows. Still impressive.

Former forest

We made a pause in the village of Stary Smokovec to refill our bags with food. Some nice buildings, but too much mixed with hugly modern buildings from the eighties.

Grand hotel of Stary Smokovec

Then we took a modern and expensive funicular and spent the night at Bilikova chata. Great food, and nobody there compared to the previous nights.

Thev view from there gives a measure of another calamity beside windstorms : insects.

Forest from Bilikova chata

The next days we were supposed to explore the 2 Studena Dolina (cold valleys). But the weather started to get colder and rainy. So we just walked again on a kind of balcony, without going a lot up.

Water falls on Studeny potok

Good choice because at the cable car station of Skalnaté Pleso we encountered snow. And it is only 1700m high, late June. After staying a bit inside we walked down under snow and then rain in a very pleasant forest until Tatranska Lomnicka.

From the village we were able to watch the snow cover on the Lomnicky Stit.

Lomnicky Stit

Then we took a train to Poprad, the main city next to the Tatras in Slovakia. We were surprised how cheap trains are in Slovakia, this ride was 96 cents.

Train in Tatranska Lomnicka

There is not much to see in Poprad itself, but the location is convenient. The center has 2 wide pedestrian streets and the church rings every hours like an ice-cream seller !

Poprad

Poprad

We found a great hostel. They made a discount, although we didn’t ask for one. And on the last floor we had a great view on the Tatras from our balcony.

Tatras from the hotel in Poprad

Now the hiking part of the trip is over. But there is still a week of sightseeing to go ….

Next episode : Castles & cities in Slovakia >>

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