Trekking Poles

My intro to trekking on the continent

Trekking in the Polish Tatras

I’ve not ventured as such outside of the UK trekking before, except for my job in Oman for two seasons. Even considering that, surely I should have done more?? Anyway, I haven’t.

So the plan was head to Poland for a taster to see what was on offer, the Cicerone guidebooks do make these places look sexy. So, is it just good publicity and marketing, or are they as good as they say and look. I poured through the book, and having pretty much flicked through from cover to cover, I was sold by one particular feature, the Orla Perć. It did look a slight gorgeous, and something of particular interest.

Arriving in Krakow, me and the then father-in-law, headed by coach to Zakopane, which I would describe as a typical alpine tourist town. What amazed me most about this place was how cheap the food was, and I ate very well the whole week. I think I had fillet steak two nights in a row, and didn’t break the bank.

12th September 2013

On to the trekking, I wanted to get out there, so wandered in to Kuźnice at the start of a lot of trekking paths, and a cable car up on to the ridge at the summit of Kasprowy Wierch. However, I am a ground-up kind of guy, so I headed up the trekking path which ran adjacent to the cable car, and it was great, and the weather was on my side too. Arriving at the ridge I got a great view in to Slovakia.

Heading west I was aiming to descend from Kondracka Kopa to Giewont, which from the map was telling me there was going to be some fixed equipment, i.e. chains, cables, ladders, etc. What I didn’t expect was, that every man and his dog would also be venturing up the peak as well. I took a ticket and got in line.

What I did closely observe though was that I thought the UK was bad for ill-dressed mountain walkers, but I saw people in flip-flops, Toms-like footwear, trainers, skater shoes, and I won’t even get started on the rest of their clothing. It was insane, and the next day would prove that entirely. They weren’t really carrying any bags as such, most just with a bottle of water in hand.

I begun my descent, and I can only assume as I was completely on my Billy-no-mates, that everyone had used the cable car. It was lovely though, I had the whole trail to myself. However, in this peace stepping down off a root, my left knee exploded with pain, I was guessing muscular or tendon, but needless to say it bloody hurt. Eventually I managed to get back in to action, heading down the hill, just wondering what I looked like through a normal persons eyes. I was wildly swinging my somewhat gammy leg out and back in, negotiating rocks and roots, it was exhausting.

I had to stop to attempt a stretch, it was agony. As I stood stretching against a tree I noticed a number of wasps landing and entering the ground via a keyhole in the ground in front of me, I was fascinated. I looked on for about a minute or so, until that fascination turned to shear panic, as I begun running (….sort of) down the path as fast as my right leg would carry me. The wasps had started pouring out of the hole at a rate of knots, and having hit a wasp nest by accident when I was a kid, I was having severe flash backs. Stopping some way down the path, I took a somewhat more sedentary pace to recover from my trauma. Just as I thought I had escaped, I was quickly snapped out of this, when a definite stinger made contact with skin, the adventurous wasp had gone up my shorts leg and stung my left buttock. Frantically I pulled my shorts to the floor, wondering if there might indeed be more of them covertly catching a ride within my shorts. I was so glad I was alone on this section of trail to say the least.

Waddling back in to Kuzniće I’d had a baptism of fire in the world of trekking, but surely it can’t get worse than this.

13th September 2013

I should have had a rest day, but I was an idiot. Heading up from Kuzniće, the target today was Swinica (meaning pig) and to descend via Zawrat. Waddling now to a minimum and riding the wave of analgesia, I wandered relatively comfortably up to the start of Swinica on the ridge. I arrogantly started that day believing that the weather looked fine and that a weather report was not needed. I begun my ascent, which was slow and painful.

Reaching only a km or so along the ridge from Liliowe, the unexpected happened, SNOW!! “John you fool”. Thankfully I had enough kit to keep me warm and food to keep me fed, because my apprenticeship was in British mountains. I began my retreat, and as I did the knee decided to aggravate me, but it was manageable. Analgesia or not, my mind was swiftly taken off the pain, when two people past me on the way up the mountain as opposed to down. They had no visible rucksack, wearing hybrid trainer/sandals and ponchos, they were nice ponchos, but still wholly inappropriate for the prevailing weather.

I continued down the mountain, and was grateful that I did, it looked mean as I looked back up the mountain. As I did, a military/rescue helicopter flew overhead, and straight to Zawrat, I assume someone was injured. I’d been humbled by the mountains that day, and I learned not to stumble/slack on preparation.

15th September 2013

Having taken a rest day and watched a load of movies, I was feeling so much better in the knee. The weather looked great and I was ready to take on the Orla Perć. I decided to take the cable car to the ridge, and arrived up there at about 10am. I was so excited. I cracked on at a good pace, passing various tourists, including one woman in a miniskirt and high heels at about 2,000m. I was now becoming use to Polish mountain apparel, it was pants.

I quickly got past Swinica, and was in to some great terrain making good distance and enjoying all the fixed equipment. I bumped in to two Polish lads who were having a break, and thought this a good a time as any to have one as well. We got chatting and found out they had travelled from Warsaw the day before, and were up at 6am this morning to catch the earliest cable car they could on to the ridge.

Wearing just a helmet, they were baffled as to where all my kit was. I said ‘I am just soloing everything, and taking my time to do so.’ They remarked that I must be completing it a lot quicker than they, with all their via ferrata kit, and asked me what time I set off from the cable car. I think they were a bit gutted when I said 10am, but I quickly told them it isn’t a race, and if I was traveling with a friend, it would definitely be a lot slower. I’d probably also have a lot more photos.

Through the fantastic ridge of ladder rungs, hanging ladders, chains and cables, I was just blown away by the views and the exposure. It was truly a great introduction to the mountains of Poland, even considering my first two days that were reminiscent of a Benny Hill sketch.

Arriving at Skrajny Granat (2225m), I called it a day. I was shattered, and my knee was just starting to cause issues again. I descended slowly back in to the valley. It had been a memorable day, and I was, and still am super keen to go back to redo this ridge and complete the full thing.

Worringly!!

I don’t think I have ever seen so many mountain rescues in 3 days on a mountain in all my life. I used to have a picture of one hovering above me on a pinnacle, air lifting someone who had shattered their leg. I arrived on the pinnacle, him having already been airlifted. Whether it was the same helicopter or not, I must have seen it on the mountain maybe 10-12 times in those 3 days. It’s not surprising considering the attire that people were considering suitable for the mountains, not to mention the imbeciles with dodgy knees.

On reflection though, I love how far I have come since, and the lessons learnt. I am also half way through the International Mountain Leader Award scheme, and hoping to finish that in the next couple of years. Ready to teach people what to wear, and how to look after themselves.

I will be back Poland, and hopefully a winter snowshoe stint as well, as the Tatras look awesome in snow.

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