Mountaineering

Slovakia

When we set out for a hike in the Carpathian Mountains, Slovakia, we were expecting a leisurely walk rather than the rock-scaling/mountaineering day we had. We arrived late the night before, after a long afternoon in a shuttle bus. There seemed to be a noticeable change in the landscape as we neared the Polish border with Slovakia, and as we crossed over we saw more lakes, darker greens and most noticeably the awesome jagged mountain ranges.

Our accommodation was a hotel in Tatras Lomnica that dubbed as a tennis centre – Dominic Hrbaty, who was pretty good once upon a time, was cruising around coaching some kids. A ski town, it was mostly made up of accommodation to service the ski area located smack next to the village. It cost about €15 to get up the mountain in a gondola. From the top of the gondola, some of the group were going to dine and head back, and eight of us headed off on the ‘trail’.

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Naturally, I was designated group leader and given the map (our tour leader had a cold, so didn’t join us). Within minutes of this designation, there was discontent in the group and we became scattered all over the mountain like disobedient llamas. Two turned back shortly after we scaled the first hill, then started traversing the large wobbly boulders. Another turned back after we reached the peak. Despite these defections, I was still confident, as we still had the team doctor around (although she had a dodgy ankle). Em was back to being the pretty mountain goat.

From the peak, we could see a jade green lake and small hut – our target for lunch. We naively thought the way down looked to be more of a kept path – not so…

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The descent started ok, but we ran into our first problems when one of our number, who was totally deaf, got quite far ahead and disappeared down the wrong track. Given we couldn’t yell at him, I thought about throwing stones to get his attention, but you’re not really supposed to throw stones at other people.

Soon after this, we came to a nasty bit of rock face that required grappling with a dodgy chain to clamber down. When it was apparent that our deaf friend hadn’t made it to this point, I retraced our steps to try and find him. The path he had taken disappeared at a steep waterfall. As the marked trail involved using the dodgy chain, we figured he probably hadn’t found an easier way down by getting himself lost.

With no choice but to keep going, we clambered down the chain and headed towards the hut for lunch / calling Slovak search and rescue. To our relief, our lost comrade was waiting for us there, apparently having found a better way down?! I drafted up an angry message on the iPhone for him. I was mainly grumpy because it meant we were an hour late for lunch.

All this was partially forgotten in the hut, where we were served piping hot cheese Pirogi. Excellent hearty mountain food. Would be even better on a cold skiing day.

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View from the hut

The rest of the hike went smoothy – the hardest bit of navigation turned out to be finding our hotel once we were back in town. Total walking time was eight hours, so we were all pretty knackered.

The next day, a local on our train to Bratislava informed us that there had been three deaths from bears in that area this year. Pretty glad we didn’t come across these hungry Slovak bears.

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In mountaineering circles, the higher your pants, the more competent you are

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