The Carpathians are the epitome of eastern Europe mountains. Its pointy peaks and its rocky valleys make them look like a Dracula film setting or a documentary on climbing, and one of its most stunning parts are the High Tatras. Located on the border between Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic, the High Tatras are visited by thousands of tourists during spring and summer. In wintertime, only accredited and experienced climbers and skiers are allowed to hike there, as the mountains get covered with virgin snow almost every night.
Defy local goats and climb up the High Tatras!
The closest city to the High Tatras is the Slovakian settlement of Poprad, barely 20 km (12 mi) away from the border with Poland. You should consider getting a reservation in any of the local hotels and pensions weeks before your planned climbing; those get booked in no time at all, especially by Czech tourists. If you want to stay closer to the mountains, you can as well stay in any of the multiple hotels in Nový Smokovec, but you should take into account that these get full even faster than those in Poprad, despite being more expensive. Once you get to the bottom of the mountains, you can either take a cable car up to Hrebienok, at 1285 meters (4216 ft) above sea level or just walk next to the cable car tracks, which takes about 40 minutes.
There’s a variety of trails you can take. You can go from a sweet 45-minute promenade next to a crystal-clear river to an exhausting 9-hour trail around various peaks, it all depends on your ability as a hiker. Regardless of your choice, make sure you get to the starting point no later than 9:00 AM, since the trails tend to get especially crowded after 11:00 AM, where the descending early-morning climbers encounter late-sleepers on their way to the top. Besides, the temperature tends to be lower than 15ºC (59 ºF) during the majority of the year, and it gets colder after 2:00 PM, when the sun sets behind the mountains, so make sure you get there in time.
Admire the High Tatras on your way up!
Probably the most popular trail is the one that takes you up to Teryho Chata refuge and back to the cable car station in around 5-6 hours. The walk starts peacefully next to a crystal-clear river crossed by fairy-tale-like wooden bridges. An hour after the start you find a lodge at 1475 MOSL (4839 FOSL) where some long-distance hikers spend the night, and families with children take the first stop to get a hot cup of tea. Afterwards, the trail crosses green and humid forests which gradually turn to stony valleys.
After crossing the magnificent stony valley with the highest peaks of the High Tatras as the perfect background, you’ll get to the most demanding part of the trail. 400 hundred meters of huge rocks piled one over the other in a perfect equilibrium take you up the mountainside, letting you admire the valley from a different perspective. The trail is a bit demanding, since the descent over the huge stones can be a bit tricky but it’s perfectly doable, you don’t even need a rope. Once you’re up, you get to the meseta where the Teryho Chata refuge sits magnificently, facing a couple of small lakes.
The Teryho Chata refuge: a little piece of the Carpathian history
The refuge was built in 1899, and since then it’s been serving meals and hot drinks to climbers from all around the world, as well as accommodation for up to 24 people. Since helicopters can’t easily land over the rocky meseta, food and drink supplies must be brought up to the refuge on foot. A number of professional climbers bring the goods up the way carrying huge stacks of boxes and gas bottles on their backs, while other mountain-climbers prepare delicious, steamy soups and cups of tea in the refuge’s kitchen. Before getting into the refuge, though, make sure you stretch a little bit, or else you might get cramps during the descent. Also it’s a good idea to bring dry and clean clothes to avoid catching a cold on the way down.
See the valley from a totally different perspective on your way down
Once your batteries are fully recharged, you’ll definitely enjoy descending those 400 m of lichen-covered stones. Now you won’t be facing the peaks of the High Tatras but the valley you crossed some time ago. The way down is logically way shorter than the climbing, but it gets quite crowded if you don’t wake up early and it is particularly slippery when it rains, so remember to be careful! Following the same way that took you upwards - but experiencing it in a totally different way - you’ll eventually get to the cable car station. From there, you can walk down if you still feel active enough or take the cable car which leads to Nový Smokovec.
A day of beauty and exercise in the Carpathians
With hiking trails for experienced hikers and neophytes alike, the High Tatras are the perfect spot for a vacation in either Slovakia, Poland or the Czech Republic. Although the highway from Bratislava is still being constructed, the 4-hour drive from the capital is worth it thanks to the stunning landscapes, fresh air and guaranteed days of physical activity you can spend hiking in the High Tatras.
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