Slovakia was a welcome change for both of us after 9 days of visiting bustling cities. We concentrated on the great outdoors at 2 places – Slovensky Raj (Slovak Paradise) and Tatra Mountains. What made it more magical for us both was the lack of tourists since it was late Sept / early Oct – not the ideal time to camp or trek around in the cold and wetter climates.
Definitely a country more manageable with a rental car, as public transportation to certain places was less frequent or lacking of. We spent 3-4 hours waiting for buses getting to and out of Podlesok, our basecamp and gateway to Slovak Paradise. Not fantastic when the bus stops were in sleepy small towns – it was pretty hard keeping ourselves amused while staring at the same scenery for hours.
Part 1 – Slovak Paradise
Fantastic playground for outdoor enthusiasts – plenty of trails with differing difficulty levels taking visitors along rivers, waterfalls, hills and natural forests. What makes this area more special was the many sections where technical tools e.g. metal footboards, ladders and wooden footbridges have been created to allow access over rivers & streams, ravines and climbing up alongside waterfalls.
check out http://www.summitpost.org/area/range/311471/slovak-paradise.html for more trails info
Hardest challenge was picking the trails to go on, as we only have 1.5 days to explore the area. Navigation was easy since we had a detailed hiking map and the colour-coded trails were clearly marked out on trees along the way. Day1 – we walked the Blue trail along Hornad river, turning off towards Klastorisko (small hill at 774m) and returning via the red trail. Day2 – enjoyed a slow hike along the classic Sucha Bella trail filled with plenty of waterfalls.
It was at Slovak Paradise that we experienced our coldest night during our 1st night. I was practically shivering inside my sleeping bag the whole time, despite being in thermals. Furthermore, I finally gave in and braved the cold walk towards the toilet in the middle of the night, since I couldn’t torture my bladders anymore. We emerged from our tent the next morning with frost covering the whole campsite grounds. Didn’t feel too bad when we found out from our fellow campers that they were freezing their butts off too – 2 German men cycle-touring around Slovakia and Poland.
Accommodation – Autocamp Podlesok (cheap big camping grounds situated next to many trailheads)
Part 2 – Tatra Mountains
The initial plan was to cross borders from Slovakia into Poland by trekking across the Tatra Mountains. Have chosen the route from Strbske Pleso (about 1,340m) towards Rysy (highest peak on the Polish side at 2499m) and ending at Lysa Polana with an overnight stay at one of the mountain huts. Looking at the lousy wet weather and our huge backpacks, we abandoned the original plan and opted instead to do day hike and return to our warm pension room to sleep.
Our day hike was an attempt to push as far up towards Rysy peak before turning back at 2pm. The walk was alright but not great since it was raining from morning till mid afternoon. The wet conditions also brought in heavy clouds, which obscured much of the mountain scenery around us.
The real adventure started during midday after passing the 1,600m marker. We started seeing clumps of ice along our path, and soon enough we were treading on thick snow and the raindrops turned into snowflakes instead. I was enjoying the change since it was my first experience out walking in such snowy conditions.
Upon reaching 2 frozen ponds at about 1,900m, we decided to give up on our push forward and retraced our steps back. It was due to a combination of worsening weather & visibility, trail markers fast disappearing under the blanket of snow and not properly geared up. Really didn’t expect to see so much snow at this time of year (1st Oct) and elevation. Never liked turning around on a mountain attempt so quickly, but safety came first especially on foreign soil where not many people speak English.
Didn’t have another chance to explore the mountains since we decided to leave the next day after weather forecast was still unfavourable for next few days. With a tinge of sadness and disappointment, I bid farewell to Tatra Mountains and hope that an opportunity will arise one day to return and enjoy its wonderful beauty.
Accommodation – Pension Litvor http://www.litvor.sk (one of our best stays – EUR15/pax for a big room complete with double bed, sofa, TV and ensuite bathroom)