The High Tatras are the highest part of the Carpathian mountain range, and for centuries they were Poland’s natural border in the south. Arriving in Poland by air, the granite peaks rear up out of the clouds, slashing the skies like the claws of some mythic beast.
As I write this I recall memories of how I felt with every single step I put on the Tatras short hikes I had, every single gulp of clear air filling my lungs, with every single picture behind my eyes, colorful and clear with stability of the crisp mountain air, yet always magical, bringing the sense of fulfillment.
The High Tatras
The Tatras cover some 785 sq. km three-quarters of which lie in Slovakia. The highest Polish peak is Mount Rysy, which rises to 2499 metres above sea level. However, the most distinctive peak is Giewont, which is known affectionately as the ‘Sleeping Knight’. The lucky and strong ones who do reach the granite alps that sprinkle only with yellow of the lichens topping the Tatra summits, from which one can see the world patrolled by crows and eagles.
Another popular feature of the range is the lakes, most famously the vast Morskie Oko, the ‘Eye of the Sea.’For skiers, the Kasprowy Wierch Peak is serviced by cable-car, and there are chairlifts in the Goryczlowa and Gasienicowa valleys.
The High Tatras
For hikers, there are 250 kilometres of trails in the park, ranging from leisurely strolls to hair-raising ascents for serious climbers. Entrance to the valleys is possible by bus, but from there you must continue on foot to the heart of the Tatras. Mountain bikes are permitted only on a few paths. Owing to the unpredictability of Mother Nature, there are basic safety precautions which are essential to bear in mind.
- get mountain rescue insurance before going on your trip
- have your telephone with you
- keep the mountain rescue service number programmed in your phone (18300 is the current number from a Slovak phone, but be sure to verify that before starting your trip)
- keep a basic first aid kit with you. It will make it easier to handle an emergency.
- have a trail map with you and always know where you are on that trail map, in case you need to evacuate, call for help, or change the originally intended route. Such maps circulate freely and are easy to borrow, inexpensive to buy.
With the collapse of the Iron Curtain, border relations are now freer than ever. Thus for dedicated hikers, the opportunity to explore the region in depth is very much an option. Poles are the first to say how wonderful the Slovakian Tatras are, and it’s well worth bearing this in mind if you want to get a full flavour of this wild region.