The Slovakian High Tatras

It’s hot and it’s dry and a taste of chlorinated water lingers in my

mouth. Each hour that I walk, my body loses a gallon of liquid in salty

sweat. It’s exhilarating but it’s also frightening. It’s like watching two hikers or mountain climbers on TV, and cringing each time they take a step because if the rock beneath their foot is loose, they will fall. The difference is we are the mountain climbers this time.

Four days and three nights of my short backpacking trip around Western

Europe I dedicated to the exploration of the unsung High Tatras. I’m a

sucker for falling prey to the unusual and different: qualities that jump out at me with a startling, monumentally sized luminescent label attached reading “I’m yours, baby!”

And so this incurable weakness of mine took me off, on this occasion, to a mysterious section of territory that straddles the Polish-Slovak border. I might add, had I been a wee vulnerable little lamb instead, with an underdeveloped personality, I would have been settling for the sites and proffers of Venice, Zurich or of course, the idolised,

highly eulogised, Interlaken!

But no! Instead, what I entreated myself to was this:

There’s not much to see on this train journey, as far as scenery is concerned it’s rather dull and uninteresting. The land looks uncultivated and impoverished. I feel like I’m in a third world country, lost and worried. I don’t understand anything anyone around me says, and the thing is, there’s probably not one of them that knows how to speak my language either“.

These early, unsettling reflections were not long afterwards dispelled when I saw with my own, wide-open eyes, just how enigmatic this rugged and largely untouched landscape was. In this region that keeps its beauty so selfishly hidden, I felt blissfully contented to be able to walk along the impromptu and stimulating rock littered trails, so comparatively sparse in hikers.

A Great Lake

What a blessing for our tired and aching feet!

The neatly, colour-coded tracks illogically ascend and descend along

death-defying cliff edges and through forests flourishing in luscious

evergreens to lead one blindingly towards a most unpredictably located, yet astonishingly lucid aqua-blue lake. And of course – a lake means a rest, just to enjoy it!

The pleasures and difficulties of the walks are so perfectly interspersed in a way that provides hikers with the motivation to complete their mission. Adrenaline, that “buzzing feeling” enduced by the overwhelming sense of fear and danger, is felt by one and all that rise to the challenges offered by the High Tatras.

I braved the peaks, well equipped and in optimum weather conditions and so did countless, thoughtless others. It would be easy to under-estimate the difficulties of the Tatras before reaching them, and so a thorough

preparation I would say is a definite prerequisite.

A few essentials need to be borne in mind; obvious as they are, it is surprising how many don’t adhere to them for their own safety’s sake.

  • Wear sensible footwear, only hiking boots will do. These alone provide the adequate support needed for the ankles in case of a fall, and for the feet against the many loose and odd shaped rocks.

  • Also wear sensible and light clothing – no jeans! It seems an obvious comment, but I was alarmed at how many people I saw in them, and other general, inappropriate clothes.

  • Travel light, as light as possible, as long hikes make the weight a strain and encumbrance. A heavy load can also be dangerous when climbing over, down and in between the rocks.

  • Carry plenty of water, sunscreen and a hat and DON’T hike alone!

  • Another obvious comment, but one that needs making: don’t attempt such a feat if your physical health is the slightest bit dubious.

    There are three other points that I would like to make, based on my

    experience in the Tatras:

  • The signposts indicating the length of time between one place and another are inaccurate, significantly underestimating the amount of time it takes.

  • The first part of the hike (on the red trail) between Popradskom Plese Chata and Silezky Dom is extremely arduous, demanding and perhaps even life threatening. It’s also scary to those that fear heights (and hikes!). It’s just one huge zigzag of a slog uphill with some mean sized rocks to mount.

    The Red Trail

    The Red Trail

    And I discovered, to my worse luck, that the higher I climbed, the more

    unstable the rocks were. One wrong footing could be fatal. It takes courage, determination and bags full of positive thinking to make it to the top. You’ve been warned!

  • The Chatas (mountain accommodation) were no way near as small and basic as I expected them to be. They’re what might be described as one or two star hotels, for there is certainly plenty of room in them, a restaurant for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as a bar…if you’re lucky!

    To give you an idea of price, a twin room at Chata pri Popradskom Plese set us back a mere £5 p/person, and in the restaurant we were able to eat for about £1.30.

    The controversy surrounding visa requirements, is that English citizens no longer need to purchase one, contrary to what the Thomas Cook ‘European Timetable’ book leads everyone to believe. So that is one hassle saved all round, and one more reason why you shouldn’t be deterred from enjoying this spectacular landscape.

    Furthermore, should you be approaching the High Tatras from Budapest, it’s highly likely that you won’t have to change trains…no, not even once! In theory, the train from Budapest’s Keleti station terminates at Kosice, in Slovakia, but then the train that runs right from the East through to Bratislava and Vienna, passing by Strba, starts in Kosice.

    Strba is where you should alight to approach the Tatras from the West. From here you can take the rack railway up to Strbske Pleso. These trains run about every 45 minutes and cost the equivalent of just 25p

    for a ticket! And if you’ve left it until this late to buy a map of the

    Tatras, you can find them for sale at the station in Strba for 70sk; that’s just over £1.

    Prices in this country we found to be embarrassingly cheap from start to finish. Leaving the Tatras behind after three nights for Vienna, we bought a ticket from Poprad Tatry, for a 370km journey to Bratislava, for a meagre £4!

    So if reading the above has convinced you to make a trip to this unfamiliar part of the globe, and you have any questions, don’t hesitate to e-mail me. I may not know the answers, but if you don’t ask you won’t know!