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Motivated by food – hiking in Tatras

Hiking with friends in the Tatras

Hiking with friends in the Tatras. Guess whose backpack is bigger…

Someone told me once “Justyna, you eat like a horse!” The remark was supposed to be friendly and referred to my big plateful of lunch at work, so I took it with a smile. Well, however one can put it in words, food is extremely important to me; I’m not one of these people who can go on for hours without re-fuelling, especially when hiking “proper” mountains like Polish Tatras. It was a thought of “schabowy” (a Polish-style pork chop in breadcrumbs) with mashed potatoes, which kept me motivated to keep my legs moving with the great speed to get to the mountain hut after quite a difficult hike and scramble.

Tatra mountains (also called Tatras in English or Tatry in Polish) are the highest mountain range in Poland and Slovakia. They are beautiful, majestic and rugged. The easiest way to start exploring Tatras is to go to Zakopane, as there are many trailheads nearby (to read more about Zakopane click here). There is an option of taking a cable lift up the mountain, and continue to the trails if you want to save some time. But if you prefer more exercise (and don’t want to pay for quite an expensive lift), you can just start at the bottom. Unfortunately, due to the Tatra National Park regulations, camping in the mountains is not allowed, which can restrict some options to explore the trails. Saying that, there are 8 mountain huts you can stay in, if you want to spend a few days in the mountains. They are very well located near the trails, making it possible to plan multiple day routes. Years ago, there would always be a place for a hiker in a hut, even if you had to sleep “on the floor”, but the policy changed, and there is a requirement to book a bed ahead. I would really recommend booking accommodation, especially at busier times of the year.

Murowaniec mountain hut, Hala Gasienicowa (Gasienicowa Valley)

Murowaniec mountain hut, Hala Gasienicowa (Gasienicowa Valley)

My friends and I didn’t think too much about booking a hut, as it was a middle of May, and not a bank holiday weekend, but to our surprise, when phoning on the day, we found out that all beds were booked in two of the huts we considered. Luckily, there were still beds in the Murowaniec mountain hut, so in the end we could stay up the mountains! Two trails to the Murowaniec hut start in Kużnice near the Kasprowy Wierch cable lift entrance, to make it more interesting, we took the blue trail up and the yellow one down.

Hot and sunny weather made us almost forget that there’s still some snow and ice on the mountain tops. After getting to the Murowaniec hut and leaving the heaviest stuff in the room (although I always have to hike with quite a big backpack “for photos”), we had a short break and I enjoyed Polish fast food – huge “zapiekanka” (a hot halved baguette with mushrooms and melted cheese on top). And then our adventure began, heading towards Kościelec (2 155m) I could see its steep summit resembling a tripod and I kept thinking how I was going to get there. It’s not like I’m an absolute novice, I’ve climbed higher mountains (to be exact even twice as high Mt Elbert of the Rocky Mountains), but something was telling me it would be quite an effort.

Trail signs, Tatra mountains

Trail signs, Tatra mountains

Getting to the foot of the mountain was quite easy, even with some snowy and sometimes icy patches on the way. But the real climbing started when we got to the steep rocky section. Scrambling was not new to me, but having to climb through some snowy and icy steps made my heart jump a few times. My friend’s story about someone who fell off Kościelec during the climb and died, didn’t help my confidence at all. I felt really exposed trying to reach some slippery handholds and knowing that one mistake could cost so dearly.

Climbing the top of Koscielec, snow in May...

Climbing the top of Koscielec, snow in May…

Views from Koscielec summit

Views from Koscielec summit

Needless to say, I felt very accomplished when finally got to the summit of Kościelec. Taking in the views, and my sense of pride were affected a bit by the thought of climbing down. And then it became official (again) – I was the slowest hiker ever. Being tired and with my mind not working at its best, I was just automatically following my boyfriend’s instructions: “put your hands next to your feet and just lower your body”, you won’t reach this foothold with your feet, so you just have to trust it and slide down a bit”, “watch your feet, it’s slippery like sh..t”. Finally, getting through the last bad section, made me overflow with happiness. My friends suggested a shortcut to the hut, but having enough of steep downhills, I voted for splitting our team up and taking the route known to me. Hiking on an easy terrain felt so wonderful, and the only thought which kept me alive was the hot food in the hut. I had checked earlier the sign in the dining room (everyone has their priorities), which said it was closing at 9p.m. So we were moving as fast as possible to be there on time, “schabowy” on my mind (like Georgia for Ray Charles). Success, we were back in the hut at 8.50p.m.! I ordered my food and heard: “Sorry but at this time we can only offer some soup as the kitchen is closing”… Well, they could stick their soup up their bottoms, so I ordered 2 pints for dinner.

My friend near the summit of Koscielec

My friend near the summit of Koscielec

Climbing Koscielec

Climbing Koscielec, breathtaking views…

Having a rest before getting to the Murowaniec mountain hut

Having a rest before getting to the Murowaniec mountain hut

Getting through the snow...

Getting through the snow…