The highlight of our group trip to Poland was definitely the Tatra Mountains. It was also the main event; the group grew from three to eight people as we all met in the foothills of the craggy and wonderfully tall mountains. The peaks are covered with maintained and wide footpaths, serviced with shuttle buses, and feature huts which serve both as accommodation and hiding spots from poor weather, making the outdoor adventure accessible to all.
We started our first full day in this beautiful area in Zakopane, a famous resort town which boast more restaurants per person than could ever be considered necessary. The walk we had chosen was a romp up to Giewant, a peak easily seen from town and which looked exciting because the final section included some scrambling. As would be a theme, the guidebook’s recommended time was not quite accurate for our young legs. We marched up at a breathtaking speed and had reached the summit, sitting below a massive steel cross and looking down at the town below, before it was even lunchtime.
Feeling confident, we expanded our walk, and expanded it again, two include two further peaks. These, although taller, were less craggy, and somehow therefore less impressive. They did offer us a view over the Slovakian border, though, with its breathtaking panorama.
When we did finally have our lunch on one of the crowded peaks, looking towards the west and enjoying the sunshine, we faced a difficult decision. We had already walked around fourteen kilometers, and the way back was no small feat either. I had another mountain day ahead of me, the others had four. And the additional peaks would lead to a less steep way down, but then we would be cutting out more (possibly exciting) scrambling.
Finally we made the call and took the shorter but steeper route back. Somehow this felt like the wrong decision when we reached the bottom with our legs complaining and knees in pain, but it was a decision. And the next day Luke and I added several kilometers more.
It was unfortunate that I was leaving quite a bit earlier, but Luke had agreed to getting up earlier so that I could fill my final day while the others took it a bit easier. So at 6 am we snuck out of the dorm room trying not to wake everyone up, feasted on breakfast, and made our way up the hill. The first destination was the alpine hut where we would meet the others, and where they were staying for several and I for one night.
Having left most of the heavy stuff at the hut, we then continued onward and made a loop towards the Slovakian border. For a lot of the time we actually marched along the border, with the Slovakian crags on our right and the Polish countryside opening up on the left. Along the way we met some fellow scramblers, a herd of chamoix, peacefully eating and enjoying the view. It was really a great experience, one of those ‘aha, this is why I’m pushing myself up a steep incline for hours!’ reward which I really, really enjoyed.
When we decided to have lunch the weather turned on us, and in a matter of minutes it was pouring. We decided not to head up the smooth limestone that made up our next scramble, and instead marched down, back to the hut for some delicious hot chocolate and warm soup to warm us up. The evening was rounded up with cake, card games and friends, a fantastic way to end the trip before I headed back to Italy.