Tatra Hiking

Rysy Rysy Rysy, oh how I felt accomplished and destroyed at the same time! June 2012. I had hiked quite a few different trails in the Polish Tatras but something was nagging at me. Initially I wasn’t interested in Mt Rysy. I was more interested in the valleys, lakes, streams and forests. Rysy was simply that tall mountain that looms over the Morskie oko lake.

The nagging was the same questions over and again; it is Poland highest peak and borders Slovakia, should I just do it? Can I do it in one day? Is it easy to organise? It is safe to say that good old curiosity got the better of me (and nearly killed the cat!) I decided I would look into it and plan something for the later in the season. As it turned out, it was fairly easy to organise, I pored over my maps to get an idea of how long it should take to ascend and descend. I then bought my plane tickets, reserved my room in Zakopane and a bed in the hostel at Morskie oko for 2 nights.

In september 2012 I made my way to the hostel (and the popular starting point for the Rysy hike). The atmosphere was great! The guys I shared the dorm with spoke English (in a fashion) and were seasoned hikers. They insisted I need some Polish medicine to give me strength to hike up the mountain. This medicine came in the guise of various flavoured vodkas! I don’t generally drink much alcohol and I tried to refuse. But try as I might, I succumbed to their offers and drank the medicine. I had nut, herbal, clear and cherry vodka. After about 5 or 6 shots I insisted that I drink no more as I intended on an early start in the morning. Grudgingly the guys relented and let me sleep.

5am the next morning, the rustling of sleeping bags and backpacks, the jingle of camping mugs and the whispering of my room-mates woke me. I briefly looked at my phone for the time and went back to sleep, intending to wake up at 6am. Well, 6am came and went (thanks snooze!) I finally crawled out of bed at nearly 8am! Very groggy from the medicine. I got suited and booted, drank coffee in the dinner hall and began my hike by about 9am. My best laid plans already gone to pot. I had calculated that I needed 9 hours to attain the summit of Rysy and get back to the hostel and hoped for the early start so that I had plenty of daylight hours.

At first I was walked at a leisurely pace, around the lake and to the foot of the mountain. Looking up I must admit, it was a little bewildering (for me anyway) but decided time was against me and to get a move on. Suffice to say that it was kind of a blur on the ascent. I stopped to take photos but didn’t really stop to eat or drink. I did this on the go. Dried ready to kabanos sausages and water kept me going.

Approx 3/4 the way up I saw a small queue of people. Looking at images of Rysy on google told me that there was a chained via ferrata section of Rysy but I assumed it was a short section just like on Mt Giewont. It was actually the best part of an hours work to climb that section. I gained the summit of the Polish section of Rysy and what a view! It was strange and also a first time for me to be stood on the trig point of a highest point of a country and to straddle a border of 2 countries. There were more people ascending the summit from Poland than there were from Slovakia. I saw everybody congratulating each other over their feat of energy and stamina. It was a demanding little climb!

I looked over to my left…what was that over there, a few people sitting on a boulder higher than I was! Oh yeah I remembered! Rysy has a few peaks and them being on either side of the border. The Slovakian peaks are a few meters higher than the Polish peak. Ha! I want to go higher, the problem was there is no defined trail and it was literally a mad scramble over rocks and boulders to get there. After 10 minutes of banging my shins against rocks and sliding about on my backside I got there! I was higher than the people standing on Poland’s highest point! I congratulated myself with a swig of water and my packed lunch. I was a nice sensation to be sitting with my lunch at the same altitude as the flying little birdies which were twittering away all around.

I am not one for sitting around somewhere for too long and soon began my descent, although now I wish to explore these places in more detail but also take to the time to fully absorb my surroundings. I came to to the chained section again. My heart skipped a beat, I was already starting to feel tired from the hike up. Using the chains to go down was trickier (for me anyway) but once I got past them I started bounding down the mountainside. I came to a switchback section where the trail literally hooked more than 90 degrees to the left, unfortunately my backpack didn’t wish to stop as quick as me to make the turn and I was literally pushed by its momentum to the edge of the mountain! My arms windmilled like crazy and I was tiptoeing on a precipice of a very steep drop! With almost a thump the weight of my backpack settled and brought my heels back to the ground where I quickly back pedalled to safety. My heart was thumping in my chest and my breathing erratic! I escaped a plunge to certain death! I took a look around to see if anyone has witnessed my stupidity and sure enough there was a guy smirking away at my misfortune.

I slowed my bounding down to something resembling more of a quick march. It also gave me the chance to actually look around and see the views! The hostel by the lake was just a dot. The lake was a shimmering jewel amongst the Greys and Greens of the mountains. I was amazed by the beauty of it pretty much the whole way down. By the time I got to Morskie oko I knew there was only 30 minutes of hiking left around the lake back to the hostel. I slowed down somewhat and really started to appreciate the fresh air, the cool breeze, everything.

I arrived back at the hostel in the almost twilight, the sun had not actually sunk yet but was hidden behind the peaks surrounding me giving that twilight effect. I stopped in the dinner hall to drink a cup of tea (I am British after all!) I congratulated myself when I checked the time. A hike that should have taken me the best part of 9 hours had only taken me just over 7 and a half! I had smashed the trail times! Well done me. I got up to go to my room and get freshened up and realised my folly. The fast paced hiking and taken its toll already. My legs didn’t move! I actually panicked for a second but then I managed to get them working again. My legs were a lead weight. Painfully stiff. I all but hobbled up the main staircase, clutching to the banister to help pull me up. Every upward step was like a mini Rysy! It was funny for the other guests there, pointing and smiling in a knowing way. A few even asked me… “Byles na Rysy tak?” You were on Rysy yes? I grinned and told them yes.

Well, suffice to say that getting back to my bunk and getting showered took me forever. I almost felt rejuvenated and went to the dinner hall. I drank a celebratory lager (or 2.) Going outside the sun had officially set by then and I was amazed and stunned into immobility by the colours and light playing off the lake. I instantly fell in love with this location. I sat just taking it all in until dusk finally started giving way to night. The effects of 2 pints of lager gave me incentive to stop complaining about my stiff painful legs and off I went for an evening jaunt around the lake. I was aware all the time of how alone I was; hiking at this time of night is against the rules. I stopped about a quarter of the way around the lake and found a big rock a few meters out into the water to sit on and looked back at the hostel. It was like something from an oil painting! I sat there with my camera snapping photos away trying to make the camera immortalise what I was looking at.

Back in my room, I was laying on my bunk when new room mates arrived. we regaled each other with our stories of the day. Theirs was far more interesting, they had been wild camping in slovakia and came across what they thought to be wolves watching them make camp. They abandoned their tents, grabbed their back packs and fled. All in darkness. Later they went running from the dorm excited. I was still too numb from the waste down to move from my bed. When they returned, they told me everybody had gone rushing off to watch a bear catching fish in the river behind the hostel. I missed out on that!

I got up the next morning with very wobbly legs and left Morskie Oko and Rysy. Little did I know at the time that I would be back. In an even more challenging situation…