Hiking Poland & Slovakia’s Mountains
By Candyce H. Stapen
Hiking the Carpathian Mountains’ highest range—the Tatra Mountains—proved difficult, but rewarding for me and my husband David. Poland’s Tatra Mountains border Slovakia for nearly 38 miles. On our “walking” vacation with Butterfield & Robinson, we started that day’s trek with what our tour company billed as a “gentle walk.”
David took off with the middle group while I huffed and puffed along with our guide Mariana, assigned to stay with the slowest member. We paced ourselves, going up grassy hills, pausing for photographs. We walked up and then slightly down and up another rise, conquering the foothills.
The last 45-minutes of our seven mile trek wound us past cows, hayfields and storybook white cottages. Finally, I entered the farmhouse to the applause of my comrades who had arrived here so much earlier than I that they had already finished their lunch of grilled kielbasas.
And that was just the morning. In the afternoon our group headed out for more “walks.” For part of the time, B&R based us in Zakopane, a popular ski resort situated at the foot of Mt. Giewont, known as the “Sleeping Knight. The countryside enchants: sylvan woods, gurgling streams and snow-capped mountains. Most everybody eschewed the chairlift so they could hike to the mid-mountain trailhead , but David and I were delighted to ride, saving our energy for the 1 ˝ hour climb ahead. The Tatra Mountains, after all, are known as “the Polish Alps.” Finally, David and I made it up and over the mountain to the inn.
For dinner, B& R hired local folk dancers and fiddlers for the Polish equivalent of a hoedown. Women wearing white peasant blouses, floral vests and flowing skirts and men attired in billowing white shirts and breeches danced to the gorale, upbeat Polish mountain music. After a wisniowka, a cherry vodka, or two, our troop bloomed and everyone danced but me. I almost fell asleep in a plate of pirogis (dumplings).
By the next afternoon, David, a daily gym-goer, hiked with the advanced group. I, of course, took up the rear. But this was a vacation, not a competition, I kept telling myself and going slower made it easier to savor the sylvan landscape of dense, cool woods and crystal creeks.
Again, the trail wound for seven miles and again, I arrived at lunch last, but happy. That afternoon David and I eschewed the six miles of “moderately challenging” trails “with some climbing up to a viewpoint” for massages followed by naps.
David and I ached and groaned, but we progressed. On day five when faced with the high Tatra Mountains of Slovakia , David felt confident and I was determined, if a bit worried. Our trip booklet described this stretch as “our potentially most challenging day’s hike.” I took my time. With Mariana by my side, I hiked five miles uphill before lunch, arriving late. But I did arrive.
After lunch, stretched two miles of even steeper terrain that led to the summit where we were to board the cable car back to town. The problem: the cable car stopped operating in about an hour. If I missed it, I spent the night trapped atop the mountain—no food, no water, no shelter. I could turn around and walk down, but that felt like defeat.
With Mariana’s encouragement, I huffed and puffed, and kept walking, making it to the summit with enough time to savor the view of the high peaks against a blue sky, before boarding the last cable car down. I received another round of applause from David.
Despite aching calves and cauliflower- sized calluses, David and I rated this trip as one of our best. We challenged ourselves and discovered magical landscapes and wonderful people.