Wednesday, 29 August 2012

To the ridiculous?


Vel'ka Svist'ovka summit

Sneaky view of the Vel'ka from Cierne Pleso

View down from the magistrala
After the exertions of Gerlach today's destination seems a mere bimble - but just imagine if this hill was in Cumbria! Wainwright would have devoted many pages to it.
First of all, I cheated by taking the cable car from Tatranska Lomnica to SkalnatePleso at 1751m.
The debate about using the ski lifts from Skalnate Pleso to bag the second highest point in the Tatry i.e. Lomnicky Stit (2634m) had both ethical and economic dimensions. Ethically, is it OK to bag something by merely stepping off a ski-lift. Economically, that even with a 'senior' discount it would have cost a further 40 Euros. However, as it happens, the outcome of the debate was decided by the fact that the lifts were not operating because of high winds at the summit.
It was easy walking to the summit of Vel'ka Svist'ovka (2038/P20?) using the Tatranska magistrala - a path that traverses  high up much of the way across all the High Tatry on the Slovakian side. Although it was fine weather there was mist on the tops, so not a lot to see. The Tatranska magistrala thens drops quite dramatically but with easy walking much of the way, with only one chained section, that I avoided by sliding down smooth rocks. To arrive at the refuge/chata Zelene Pleso. From there I should have just followed the rough road back down to the valley, however I continued on the magistrala to Velke Biele pleso - pleso means lake.* And it then started to pour with rain as the electrical storm was much earlier in the day than usual- let's just say I got wet and so did the stones on the path through the pine forest to the valley. Slipping and a sliding all the way.
There is a problem with beetles in the forest - so many trees are dying or dead and the path was diverted at one point because they are treating the trees with chemicals.
I reached the valley road at Biela Voda just as there was a fresh downpour of rain. Thankfully I did not have to wait too long for a bus back to T. Lomnica

*Actually, talking of the meaning of words. English 'hut', Norwegian 'hytta', Polish 'chata', French 'chateau' - got to have a common origin.
Aren't literal translations great?

From the sublime


Early morning on Gerlach
Gerlachovsky Stit or Gerlach (2654m/P2355). Highest point in the High Tatry/Vysoke Tatry. Highest point in Slovakia. Highest mountain in the Carpathians. Highest European mountain north of the Alps. Twelfth most prominent mountain in Europe. My fifth Ultra and bloody difficult to do.

Tatranska Polianka station
Despite having a working railway station and a nearby hotel that is open, the hamlet of Tatranska Polianka has an air of abandonment about it.
It was very early in the morning that we set off from there to the refuge at Sliezky Dom and into the Velicky Dolina (valley). The route picks its way across some roche moutonnee and then the climbing begins up the steep eastern side of Gerlach, to reach a small notch on the ridge.

Roped up on Gerlach

Looking east down into Velicka Dolina
 From there all the action is on the west side with a series of rising and falling traverses on difficult rock and the occasional permanent artificial aid. Finding the route is difficult, but careful inspection of the rocks shows where others have gone before. There is also evidence of old markings from a former time when the route was open to all - until, apparently, the MRT got fed up of  almost daily rescuing lost and stranded 'walkers'.
The top is graced with a cross and there is just enough room to stand on the very summit. Unfortunately the mist restricted the view down - as ever, the mist cleared afterwards.
Gerlachovsky Stit summit

The descent route was alongside a couloir that leads into the Batizovsky Zlab - it is very steep, with a bit more permanent artificial aids than the ascent routes. Route finding is again quite difficult and however tempting we had to keep out of the couloir itself because of the looseness of the rock.
Going down

Gerlach from Batizovsky Zlab

Descent route
Phew made it, now there is just a long walk back

Batizovska Dolina
It was with a sense of relief when finally reaching the relatively less steep bottom of the Batizovska Dolina and it became a standard Tatry scramble over rocks and boulders to join a tourist path at Batizovske Pleso. Then it was just an hour's walk out to the Sliezky Dom refuge for a celebratory beer.
Down by Batizovske Pleso
The bride's carriage
The refuge itself was being used for a wedding party and it was a bit odd to see men in suits and women in frocks in such a setting. The bride had obviously arrived on a snowplough.
Then there was the weary walk back down to T. Polianka and a large ice-cream.

And, thankfully we did not come across any park rangers so I did not have to try and fool them into thinking my Mountain Bothies Association (MBA) membership card meant I was a member of a climbing club.

Raising the Slovakian flag


Flag of Slovakia.svgOn the Slovakian flag there is a double cross on top of the middle one of three blue mountains. Where can this cross be found? The middle mountain is Krivan (2494m/P400) and on the summit there is such a cross and consequently Krivan is known as Slovakia's national mountain

Krivan's summit cross
 As the campsite was not much dearer than the parking charge in Strbske Pleso, I caught the cog train from Tatranska Strba.

This time I left Strbske Pleso on the red marked track that goes north-west skirting the pleso/lake itself and then through the forested area - or what is left of the forest after the February 2004 Tatranska Bora (katabatic wind) and the subsequent bark beetle infection. Large areas of the forest were devastated in a period of two hours as the wind smashed its way through.
Krivan from the west -with evidence of the Tatranska Bora still showing
 Near the Jamske pleso a blue marked track heads north and this is where the uphill climb starts, initially through forest, then dwarf pine and then on open ground that becomes increasingly steeper and bouldery.
Krivan from the south
 By the time the track reaches Krivan's southern ridge there are a number of sections of scrambling. I was surprised to find that none of these sections had chains as found elsewhere in the Tatry in similar situations - there were a handful of people who were clearly struggling to get up or down in places. It was also the first mountain in the Tatry where there was evidence that people use a variety of different routes to the one that is marked out - presumably in a vain attempt to find an easier way.
Being Slovakia's national mountain I expected it to be more crowded than it was. That could be partly because it is is of less interest to the Poles and partly because I had set out quite late.
The view from the summit was great. The only problem was that I realised that my water bottle was empty and I was thirsty.

Britain's national symbol meets the Slovakian one - laterally.
Looking east from Krivan summit
I used the ascent route as my route of descent. At least this meant I knew how far I had to go before I would reach a water source - which was almost down by the Jamske pleso. After drinking the stream dry, I realised I had 50 minutes to the next cog train which only runs once an hour.  The sign said 75 minutes to Strbske Pleso. Despite pushing a pace that was short of actually running I missed the train by three minutes - for once, the timing on the sign was not as generous as others.
Most of the bars/restaurants in the resort close at 7.00 pm, so it was a bit of a struggle to find one that was still open and have a beer, which is extremely cheap in Slovakia. Quite literally, beer is cheaper than water in the shops and bars.
When I got on the 8.00 pm train I realised I had left my wallet in the bar - it was a mad dash there and back and I only just managed to get  back on it in time. The train was full - full of tired, sunburned, sweaty but happy walkers of all ages - a few I recognised as having met earlier in the day and on previous days.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Taking it Rysy


Goodbye Poland (well sort of) and the West Tatry and hello Slovakia (again, well sort of) and the High/Vysoke Tatry. Strangely enough, today's mission is to reach the highest point in Poland. The true summit of Rysy (2503m/P163) is in Slovakia, however, close by on the border is a lower summit at 2500m. Many of the people who were using the same route as me turned out to be Polish.
Start sign near Strbske Pleso
I started from the resort of Strbske Pleso (1312m) and followed the well constructed red marked path over the Trigan to Popradske Pleso. A left turn up a blue marked path meant I soon met the uphill track at 1620m where the climb really begins. This path has been constructed with tight zigzags so that at times you are barely a few metres higher than you were going the other way - this meant the eventual length of the track on my GPS was a lot longer than the map would imply.

Rysy from near Trigan
Not sure who is carrying the chip-pan
Quite high up at 2250m there is a refuge the Chata pod Rysmi - where everything, including
heavy gas bottles, has to be carried up by human carriers. I passed a number of heavily laden men on the way. Still it meant that I could have a cup of tea whilst looking at the spoof timetable on the nearby bus stop before completing the ascent to the ridge and the two summits.

All food hand -delivered at this Chata

Bus stop with spoof timetable

Polish summit = country top
The Polish summit was quite crowded, whereas the Slovakian one was much quieter. I was one of the few that went to both tops - because as a bagger I wanted to be able to tick both the country top list and the prominence list.
The return route was much the same as the ascent - although at the Chata I had a beer instead of a cup of tea. Not sure that was the wisest decision, but it is something a lot of people do before they go down even the most difficult paths. I am glad I did not have two beers.

Slovakian top = true summit

Writing down the web address for this blog in the  Polish summit logbook

Both Rysy tops

At the Popradske Pleso (lake) I was intrigued by a sign that pointed to a Symbolioky Cintorin about 40 minutes away so I went to have a look. Turned out to be a fairly unremarkable chapel and I could not see why it was considered 'symbolic'. However, amongst the trees around the chapel were a number of erratic boulders with memorial plaques attached. And it looked like a large proportion of them were dedicated to climbers who had been killed on a mountain either locally or elsewhere in the world. Most of the plaques named the mountain and the date of the accident.
Usually when I see a memorial plaque 'official' or homemade stuck on a rock on the hill I  find it irritating. You know the sort of thing - 'Fred Bloggs used to enjoy the view from this point' - well, then why ruin it for the rest of us with your tacky plaque? However, these were discreetly hidden and collectively made sense. I did not recognise any of the names, but I am sure they included some well known ones in the climbing community.

That evening I experienced my first typical late afternoon or evening Vysoke Tatry electrical storm - the thunder and lightning accompanied  torrrential rain for a short while and then just as quickly the skies cleared. I have already been accustomed to this that it only becomes noticeable on the days when there isn't a storm. I wonder how many of the memorial plaques were to climbers who failed to get down before the storms started?

Pilgrimage time

Giewont from Kresanica

The exertions of the two previous days meant that I was looking for something relatively easy to do. Which is a bit hard in the Tatry - bit like saying 'I want a gentle walk on the Cuillins'.
So, Giewont (1895m/P170) became my objective - and, as it turned out, the objective of rather a lot of other people. I will say this for the people in central Europe they do like their hills. Looks like everyone is willing to have a go.
Again I started from the campsite to Kusnice and then up a blue marked path where I paid the entry fee to the Tatranske park , past the Hotel Gorski and on to the Schronisto na Kondratowej Hali  refuge for a cup of tea. From there the path turned from being an amble to a steepish hillwalk to reach a saddle at Kondracka Przelecz. The sign said it was 30 minutes to the top of Giewont so I expected to be up there and back within 40 minutes - until I saw the queue. Despite a one way system, progress was very slow on a series of chains to the summit and cross.

The chain gang
Standing room only
This is where being an 'obsessive hillbagger' becomes a burden. Any normal person would look at the queue and say 'you know, I can't be bothered to wait' but a hillbagger has to touch the summit - there is no choice, freewill or commonsense does not enter into the equation. So I joined the queue and quite literally on the top there was standing room only - indeed most of the people stood there were just the queue for the down route.

Thankfully,going down,  there were sections where I could bypass the chains and avoid waiting for someone to agonisingly slowly lower themselves down half metre steps one minute at a time. More than an hour and a half later I was back down near the saddle. From there I took the red path that dropped steeply down the Grzybowiec that wasn't greasy but slippery at times because the rocks were worn smooth. Then it was back into the forest in the Strazyska Dolina and then I met the Droga pod Reglami near to where my brake caliper had snapped two days previously. Back to the campsite - and not feeling that it was quite an easy day as I had hoped for. But hey, I managed to visit the cross on top of Giewont that is a pilgrimage for so many- and explains why there are so many monks and nuns in Zakopane.
Zakopane from the summit of Giewont

Plenty of Svinica but no salt, please

Svinica from the west
Svinica in chains

Svinica summitteer
No bike brakes meant it was walking all the way. As I had made a late start I did contemplate getting the ski-chairlift from Kuznice to Kasprowy Wierch (1987m). However, when I saw the length of the queue, I realised that it would be as quick to walk rather than the probable three hour wait. Again, it was a long trek through forest to the Schronisko Murowaniec refuge, past some tarns and then zigzags up to the main ridge at Swinicka Przelecz (Pig saddle). There was a fine scramble along the ridge with chains nearer the summit of Svinica (2301m/P351).

If you look carefully you can see my house in Poland from here - Svinica summit
From here to the saddle at Zawrat the route was a series of chains that dropped down and up dramatically - not particularly difficult to follow but tiring. Waiting for someone to come the opposite way gave a welcome chance to have a break, but slowed down progress.
At Zawrat I did consider carrying on the Orla Perc (Eagle's perch) to Kosy Wierch but decided against it as already late afternoon and I would end up descending in the dark. Now I was missing the 24 hour daylight I was getting only a few weeks ago in Norway.

Looking back at Svinica

Looking back up to Zawrat


The blue route from Zawrat was interesting enough in itself - at the beginning it was quite steep, with plenty of chains. On the way down I came across a small herd of wild kosica/mountain goats who did not seem to be troubled by human presence. The kosica is a pretty animal, a lot more attractive than the normal goat - my photo does not really give them justice.

Czarny Staw Gasienicowy

Svinica from CSG
No money exchange, or what?
After the kosica the path just became the standard rough bouldery stumble that I am getting used to. It was quite pleasant to circumnavigate the Czarny Staw Gasienicowy tarn with good retrospective views back up the hill. And then it was a long trek past the Schronisko Murowaniec where there was a chance to have a cup of tea.

When's the next bus?
As I was approaching the Przelecz miedzy Kopami saddle in the late evening daylight I could see a group of people sat down on each side of the track as if they were waiting for a bus. This, foolishly, raised my hopes that there may be such a service. I just could not figure what they were waiting for. As I turned the corner it became clear why. It was so good that I realised when they all looked at me that I must have said 'wow' out loud and not just thought it. The sun was low down and about to set in the gap between Kresanica and the distant Babia Gora - if you are concentrating you will remember both these from previous posts in this blog. That's why there are benches on each side of the path and people wait there. Again, my photo doesn't really give the view justice.

Looking west, so it must be dusk, not dawn
I have been in this situation before, whereby if you sit and watch the sunset whilst still high up on a hill it means that inevitably you are going to end up walking down in the dark. So, the final kilometres were a bit of a stumble in the dark and I was glad to finally reach the road at Kuznice. From there the last couple of kilometres back to the campsite was a doddle despite feeling tired and by now, hungry. But I was by no means the last to get back - I had left behind all the other sunset worshippers and overtaken several other people on the way. Maybe it is only in GB that the hills seem to empty after 3.00 pm and that you rarely meet anyone else on the hill at susnset.

Gerlach from Svinica - see later blog post!