Stary' Smokovec

Hiking in the High Tatras

October 9, 2005

Today we woke up to a gorgeous day unfolding. We made a quick breakfast and got out the door by 8:00 as we were planning for an 8 hour hike. Since it was a Sunday it seemed as though the entire town had the same thoughts as the street was filled with hikers making their way to the narrow-gauge funicular (electric train). We decided to do the Velicka and Velka' Studena' Dolina Valley path which started out just past our apartment. The hike was to start through a forest and creek area but as we had heard the forest was no longer standing. Evidently a storm with winds gusting over 280km/h came off of the mountain range a year ago and essentially uprooted every tree on the down slope of the range. For the first hour of our hike it was like walking through a tree graveyard and quiet amazing to see massive trees flipped over as if they weighed no less than the leaves on their branches.













The city has obviously put a lot of time and effort into re-marking the hiking trails and clearing the trails. We initially thought we wouldn't be able to find the path as the trees which had the original markings were probably down but the path was pretty clear and soon enough we made our way into the standing forest. As the hike progressed we passed one of the many mountain chalets which was located near a beautiful waterfall and lake.













The trail was getting a bit more difficult as it was large boulders that were covered with loose rocks and sometimes weren't the most secure objects to be walking over.










As we continued upwards to the pass of Pol'sky' hreben (2,200m) the temperature started to dip and the lungs were getting their workout. Right before we reached the top the last 50 feet or so involved using more chains as the cliff edge was somewhat unstable and could be icy and snowy at times. The peak just off to our left already had a light snow covering so I was glad to see the chains there just in case.







Once we reached the top we put on our hats and gloves and ate our lunch while taking in the lakes views from both sides of the pass. Even with the sun shining down on us it was pretty chilly at the top so we got moving again.










The next part of the hike involved descending to the Zamrznute' pleso lake and then ascending to the Prielom pass (2, 288). Both our guide book and another local guide pamphlet noted this was the challenging portion of the hike and not for the "faint hearted." That didn't make us feel overly confident but as we made our way down the occasional snow and icy covered trail we thought it didn't look too daunting. The one thing that was throwing us off though was the sounds of drills that seemed to be coming from the direction we were heading. As we got closer to the pass we realized that there were workers installing more chains in the 100 ft climb to the pass. As we started up the climb we did a bit of scrambling to reach the chains and had to find a safe spot to stop and wait for others to descend. During this time we took advantage of the view and snapped some photos of the men installing the chains.




















At first it didn't seem that they were harnessed in but as we climbed we could see that they had strapped themselves into the existed chains. My thought was that the new chains will help to alleviate some of the traffic jam of climbers trying to ascend and descend at the same time. Once we reached the top Craig climbed a bit higher to get a few more pictures of one of the worker's dogs who had the best seat in the house and even a cushion to protect its body from the rocky edges. It cracked us up that the dog was just relaxing in the sun while his owner made the trails safer for the likes of us.













As we descended again the trail was very desolate and pretty secluded. We passed some hikers on their way up but we were the only ones coming down for a while and we enjoyed the solitude the trail provided.










The next part of the hike wouldn't be as relaxing we found out. Once we made it to the next chalet a number of trails merged and it was a full on traffic jam on the trail for the next 2 hours or so. And these hikers aren't messing around. It was 3:00 and you'd think it was 5:00pm on any major interstate in the world. People would come right behind you and breath down your neck practically until you just stopped off to the side to let them pass. I mean we weren't crawling down the mountain but I wasn't out there to make it a competition sport either. One lady and her husband would stop periodically ahead of us and then as soon as she'd see us they'd start hiking again about 2 feet ahead of us but would never just wait for us to pass them. It was a bit bizarre. Craig and I laughed and chalked it up as another addition in our "people can be strange book" and continued on. The lower we got the prettier the hike became. The trees came into view again and mixed in with the pines were pockets of trees donning their fall colors of red, orange and vibrant yellow.







At the eye level the trail became bordered by beautiful yellow natural grasses and the most vivid green moss. I really tried to best to slow down and take everything in as this hike was visually stunning. We had another hour or so of this great scenery before we reached the funicular where we promptly grabbed a seat in the cafe and waited for the next lift down to Stary' while enjoying a beer. It was a good thing we didn't drink the beer at a high altitude as the alcohol content was 10%!

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