High Tatras Hiking

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January 16th 2012
Published: April 15th 2012
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The snow began to fall when we were about half an hour shy of the Slovakian border. The falling snowflakes made the darkened landscape look surreal and dreamlike as they fell softly onto the windshield. I was hypnotised, but only until I realised that snow down here meant deep snow in the High Tatras. Having grown up in Australia, snow is a novelty that turns me into a 5 year old with ADHD. There is of course snow in Australia but seeing it usually requires a minimum 2 hour drive into the mountains.

My excitement grew as the road rose and fell over the three small mountain passes that stood between us and Poprad. We made slow progress on serpentine roads that wound through snow covered pine forests, the only source of light coming from villages that lay nestled, deep in the darkened valleys. Zoli was afraid that our trip might be delayed on the steep and unsalted roads but breathed a little easier once we’d left pass number two behind us. He was very familiar with the roads and said that number three was a walk in the park compared to the first two. We had barely begun the incline when the ice slicked roads began to disagree with the tyres and we were forced to pull over and fit the snow chains. After an unsuccessful half hour struggle, the guys enlisted the help of a passer-by who helped give us a push start. Zoli managed to get the car going minus snow chains and we were finally on our way again. The rest of the trip was comparatively uneventful and with a quick stop for supplies (read Beer) at Tesco, we were soon at the Penzion Altendorf, Stará Lesná.

The following morning began with a delicious buffet breakfast and yet another struggle with snow chains before we managed to get on the road again. We drove to Tatranské Matliare and savoured the last few moments of warmth in the car before bracing ourselves for the weather outside. At around minus 10 degrees, it wasn’t unbearably cold but the wind added a whole new element of freezing to our adventure. We started up the mountain trail which led us up the mountain at a relatively gentle incline. We plodded along at a decent pace, taking care to step into each other’s footprints to avoid ending up waist deep in snow. The wind picked up and the snow fell harder with every step. About an hour and a half in, visibility was down to about 10 metres. Our necks were sore from constantly looking down. On the odd occasion that we glanced up to take in our surroundings, we would be slapped in the face by snow carried by the icy winds. Every so often we were forced off the path by a mountain medic on skis, who was being towed by his German Shepherd or a group of Slovaks practising some crazy mountaineering activity. A nip of pálinka about 3 ½ hours in gave us the renewed spirit we needed to make it to our destination. Needless to say, the majority of our party was pretty relieved when the mountain lodge finally came into view. After peeling off soaking layers and a mulled wine or 3, I felt warmer than when I got 2nd degree burns sunbaking off Cozumel. Or close enough to anyway! Unfortunately, after an hour of warmth, the time came to descend before darkness closed in on us. The march down was relatively quick taking only 1 ½ hours (compared to 4 on the way up) and we set foot back in the car park just as the last rays of the sun slipped below the horizon.

Dinner plans at a local restaurant were scrapped in favour of a hot shower, facemask and an early bedtime. It’s a shame we saw nothing of the surrounding landscape but this at least ensures my return, this time in the warmer months!


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