Walking In The Polish Tatra

High Tatra - Poland - 2003-19-small

This posting is a lightly edited version of a page about our Big Walk in the Polish Tatra mountains in September 2003. It was up on a site I’d forgotten all about (and I’ve now taken down).

The page was first posted on the 12th May 2004, updated in March 2007 and updated again for this posting.

I’m certainly no expert in the Tatras – I’ve only been there three times over a period of about 12 years. But I think the information in here is still very handy if you’re considering a trip – which I would highly recommend!

The High Tatra – The Big Walk for 2003

In 2003 LB and I decided to go to the Polish side of the Tatra mountain range, an area known (in English at least) as the High Tatra. It was our first “Big Walk” (what we’ve started to call our annual stomp around in mountains somewhere).

I’d been to the lower parts on the Slovak side a couple of times before in the early nineties and wanted to go back for years. It also seemed like a very inexpensive place to have a mountain holiday.

It’s a beautiful environment that’s been a protected park for about 200 years (which makes it one of the oldest if not the very oldest park of its type in the world as far as I know). Really wild woods and mountains. And bears – though there have been no bear attacks for years. There are even wolves but you never see them (or the bears!). However we were lucky enough to see some red deer and chamois!

We really enjoyed it. The people were very friendly. The food and beer were excellent and the mountains were stunning.

Getting to Krakow

We flew out of Gatwick. At the time none of the cheap carriers flew there but if you booked far enough in advance it was pretty cheap. We got them for £110 each for a ten day stay.

Our accommodation in Krakow was basic but cheap at the Bursa Jagiellonska Backpackers Hostel. They spoke really good English and lots of other languages!

Before getting on one of the trams, buy a set of tickets at most little shops and stamp it as you get on the tram each time. Don’t forget that shops are shut on Sunday so you might need to buy some in advance.

Then stay in the most beautiful city in eastern Europe for a couple of days.

Getting to the Mountains from Krakow

You don’t hire a car (there are no cars allowed in the park so you’d have to park it for the duration anyhow) but take a coach from Krakow. The coach takes about 2.5 hours and at the time cost us 10 Zloty (less than £2). They go every hour and a half during the day time. Never try to take the train – it’s five hours and is far more expensive.

The Mountains

2003 09 Poland

In the Tatras you have to stay in the huts and stick to the paths because if you don’t, you get fined by park rangers or eaten by bears. And no, I’m not joking (about the rangers…).

We really weren’t keen on sticking to the paths but it’s actually fine because it’s a very big park and you’ve got to get to the next hut. It took us five days (six including a rest day on which we actually walked anyway) just to walk the border between Poland and Slovakia and that’s only about twenty five percent of the park apparently.

There’s plenty of scrambling towards the east of the border. With fixed steel chains to hang on to where there’s no other option and the odd steel ladder on the vertical bits. Some of it is quite hair raising in the higher parts. Though at the time it had almost all been very recently re-bolted with nice shiny Petzl hardware.

We did some of the Orla Perc (Eagle Path) and we only found out later that it’s graded as Via Ferrata. Except that there’s no safety wire that you would expect – it’s all just hanging onto chains and climbing ladders with no safety gear.

However it’s perfectly possible to do only easy terrain if you only walk the western part of the border.

The Huts (Schronisko)

The huts were 25 to 35 Zloty (£5 to £7) a night. They are catered and have bars. Just make sure you get there before 18:30 (although most serve till 19:00).

You’ll need a lightweight sleeping bag for the huts but you generally get a bed so you could gamble and not take a sleeping mat. You always sleep in the hut, even if it’s on the floor, for obvious bear-related reasons.

The Food

The food was gorgeous. Very tasty and wholesome. The huts do breakfast and dinner. I am sure they do sandwiches for lunch but since we don’t eat bread we had to ask them to make up a packed lunch with a random assortment of cheese, hard boiled eggs and sweet peppers. It always worked out fine.

Polish beer… what do I need to say?

Maps and Guides

At the time we found that maps were a little tricky to find but The Map Shop had everything we needed (and has done for every subsequent Big Walk).

The map we used at the time was “Tatra National Park – Tourist Map with GPS Grid” by Mapytatra.net

We got it laminated by posting it to Aqua 3. I’d recommend doing that since the map is pretty thin.

We got some good details from the Cicerone guide “The High Tatra”. The version we had was quite old and rather quaint but its since been updated.

The Route We Followed

We took a bus out of Zakopane, out to the west then walked up the Chocholowska Dolina (Chocholowska Valley) to the Schronisko Chocholowska (Chocholowska hut). Then on along the ridge, dropping down to each hut (but missing out one or two that were a bit too close together). We stayed two nights at the second to last one then walked to the Schronisko Morskim Oku (Eye of the Sea hut) for the last night. Then we walked out to the road (about three or four hours) and caught a random mini-bus cab back to Zakopane.

We had planned to do two nights at Morskie Oko with a walk up and down Rysy (2503M) on the last day. But we were not too sure what the weather would be like at 2500 – we’d been up to 2300+ and that was getting pretty snowy.

As it turned out the weather closed in on the last day so it would have been a Snowdonia style soggy-slog, so we took the right decision there.

When We Went

We think that for most mountains in the northern hemisphere, the best time to go is the first couple of weeks in September. The weather is likely to still be very mild and it’s more likely to be dry.

The thunder storms in the Tatra during the summer are spectacular (I’ve seen them). I also know of someone whose two friends unfortunately died in one (they sheltered in a cave – never do that).

Going earlier than September you will run into the main Polish/Slovak holiday period and it will be packed solid and probably very humid and hot.

Going later and you risk running into full winter mountaineering conditions.

In the spring it might be all right but a lot of the snow might not have melted and it’s more thundery.

We still had a lot of snow to get through in September though. But it was a case of walking in shorts and T-shirt through it.

We really want to go back now!

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