Lowland hills

Sometimes, nature can surprise me more than I’d expect. Some places I’d expect to be either flat or lazily rolling hills with no steep parts, yet I can be proven the opposite. I roughly had an idea where I was to go this Saturday – I planned to go there last year at roughly this time, but weather and then other things happened and I had to postpone it, eventually to the next year at least as the place is nice in early April with the flowers blooming.

Warning: long post with lots of photos.

Continue reading

Traveling trouble

This will be a bit different post for 1st April, recollection of some unlucky things that happened to me during my hikes.

2009: Don’t underestimate the weather

17.8.2009, one of the most memorable. One of the most important rule of hiking is: respect the nature and especially weather. Especially in places where safe spots are rare – such as Slovakian Tatra mountains. Yes, by popular belief, third week of August is the most stable with minimal amount of rain. Not a hint of clouds on 15th when we arrived. Hike I had to end 80% to the peak because of my drink supply running low from the immense heat on 16th. 17th seemed to be no different.

It was to be climb of Rysy peak located on border between Slovakia and Poland and the highest point of marked trail system in the mountains (all the higher peaks require outright climbing with appropriate equipment and a permit). At my level of skill those days, I knew that realistically I won’t make it all the way, but I made it to the chalet below the peak itself. After a short break, seeing gathering clouds, I decided to start my descent before something comes.

Too late.

Five minutes later, sudden storm arrived. I was just in a shirt and thus was drenched to the bone in ten minutes. Worse, it was not just rain but hail and the impacts were really painful on my sun-burnt hands. The storm took maybe fifteen minutes, but it was enough to fill my boots with water.

An hour later, I reached the place where my parents were waiting for me, changed to a dry shirt (the only thing I had spare) and we went for the last five kilometers to the pick up point. It took maybe fifteen minutes for the storm to return and that time it lasted for almost two hours. Since then, I carry quite full backpack no matter how stable the weather might be. Ready for anything that can realistically happen.

2010: Train has the right of way

My first “pushing the limits” hike. 27km up and down in merciless summer heat. When I reached the train station, I had two choices: wait two hours for a train going directly where I need, or take a scenic route and depart in twenty minutes, arriving to my destination just a few minutes ahead of the direct option. Being nice day and willing to see different places than those I used for arrival, I chose to shorten my wait, even at though the detour made my ticket almost double price. Also, the scenic route meant no direct train and I had 10 minutes for the transfer.

I chatted with a group of young hikers that took a seat next to me and it went well until we stopped somewhere and remained there for almost forty minutes. Then, we were told that a cyclist was hit by a train a few kilometers ahead of us and the railroad is closed. We had to wait for a backup transport and with some luck, they held a train in my direction for ten minutes (compared to the scheduled departure) so people going that direction could get home with not so much time lost. Still, what was supposed to get me there twenty minutes earlier turned into 70 minutes of delay.

2015: Vertigo

In August 2015, I was attempting to hike Rysy peak again, this time from the Poland side. The trail is almost 10km of slow ascension through the valley followed by quite steep climb, the final part is ~1600 meters long with ~900 meters of vertical ascension. From elevation 2000m ASL onwards (peak at 2503) it’s really close to actual climbing, several passages secured by chains or with steps chiseled into the granite rocks. Still, several people die there each year. To tell something about the difficulty, of the 42 people in our group, only five of us dared this.

How far can you see the path?

Now, I was never one to have fear of heights, at least not when hiking. At some later point, I saw a woman in probably early twenties, clutching the chain in panic, shaking and crying. The finale is quite harsh, maybe thirty meters of pretty much vertical climb with 800 meters of depth behind your back, followed by 10 meters of walk across thin ledge. That was really scary. The view from above was worth it in the end.

Peak elevation: 2503. Upper lake (closer): 1580. Lower lake: 1395. Parking (off sight): 890.

Worst was to come. It took me maybe fifty meters of the descent (down the Slovakian side) and I misstepped, pulling some tendon, muscle or something in my knee. Long story short, after another hundred of meters I gave up and finished the descent on painkillers, glad that the next day had nothing planned. The pain receded on its own overnight, but I was scared of its return for the remaining five days.

By the way, during the extremely hot day and hard climb, my beverage consumption just during the hike neared 8 liters. With the rest (clothes for any situation, as mentioned before), my backpack was really heavy and I had to be extra careful to keep my weight center forward. And as seen on the picture, it was long way down…

2016: Beware of the dog… and cow

That was hike whose most “interesting” part was that to reach the place, not even that interesting, took me almost five hours in bus and train. I chose a trail that was not used much, which was far too obvious at some point. I had to push my way through young spruces, earning a few scratches. Not big deal on its own, but when the salt from sweating gets there, combined with tick repellent, it’s not really pleasant feeling.

I got to the main peak, went down, and prepared for the second part. The trail took me through a valley road, next to which were some houses, probably used as summer houses given the remote locations. Separated from the road by a stream, no fences were needed. A dog rushed to follow me, barking loudly. It was small one, so I stopped to make sure I don’t step on it, but the stop was too sudden and the dog, still barking, hit my leg, giving me another scratch that started to itch quite fast.

Then, I had to cross a field that was used as a pasture. Even though the five cows were some distance away, the idea that I would be run down by them, very well alone, was not a pleasant one and pushed me to the fastest speed I could muster at that point. Nothing happened, but still, combined with the dog just a few minutes before, I was scared.

2006: Mind your diet

My digestive system was in trouble since I was born. I went through complicated surgery when I was five and since then it was slowly getting better, but I still need to be careful. Apart from lactose intolerance, there are some things that could cause trouble, or some combinations. Problem is, some are revealed only by chance. And sometimes, in really bad time and place.

Let’s start that despite being still summer (2.9.2006), the night was cold in the hills and in the north-oriented valley, even around 9:00 it was -2°C. It went up gradually, so I thought it would be nice day. We reached the main peak shortly before noon and after a while there, started the descent.

That is where the problems begun, by quite scary sounds coming from within me. Worst thing? First it was through rocky landscape, then the trail led through shrub pines with no way to step aside. The pressure on my sphincter was increasing each minute, yet I had to keep my backside shut tightly for over five kilometers before I got a change to step off the path.

By that time my legs were shaking so much that I could not really relieve myself and eventually walked as fast as I could down to the valley, hoping for a public restroom at the parking or something like that. In total, around 11 kilometers from the peak. I made it just in time. Since then, I really watch what I eat a day before hike.


And with this quite uncomfortable story, I finish today’s post.

Walker among skiers

The last Wednesday got us some intense snowfall (took around 10 hours and was enough to get quite some snow even in the cities) and so I was decided to go to the hills on Saturday. It took me some thinking to choose the best destination – while I had my preferred pick, I was not really sure I’d be able to do it if there was a lot of powder snow and considered going somewhere else, option I eventually tossed aside for now.

Photo taken from the train some 20 minutes before getting off (~9:10)

When I usually keep closer to home on winter hikes, this time I was to a bit further away and so my preparations were at similar scale as the hardest summer hikes and maybe more than that. I took food that would last me for 24 hours in the worst case and even headlight in case I’d not manage to reach my destination before dark, which fortunately did not happen.

Birch at the ski slope

The main reason I did not back away from my original plan was that I planned to use paths I know, at least in summer. Well, I make mistakes, and this time I made one just one kilometer after starting. I did not notice the turn of the path I knew was “somewhere around here” and instead of going around, I walked right up the ski slope. While ski slopes are quite perfect for going downhill, they are the worst possible way to walk uphill.

 

Good part was that it was side branch of the main ski slope that was not being used much, at least at that moment. For a while, I followed a guy that had mountaineering skis and just used these to go up (I presume to then go ride down somewhere away from the slope).

With heavy breathing and actually surprised how well it went for me (I was not really sure about my condition as the last time I went for serious hike was in late September), I eventually managed to reach the slope’s ski lift mid-station quite fast, even overtaking the guy on skis half-way through the slope. Finally there, I returned to the originally intended path.

Walking up a ski slope, not the best idea…

Back at the trail

From there on, I enjoyed some solitude. I presumed that those going for cross-country skiing on the main trail up there just used the ski lift to save them of the ascent.

The forest’s upper end

Since it was supposed to be around -10°C during the night, I hoped that most of the snow will be frozen through enough to carry my weight on foot (fortunately my weight is not much for an adult). In that, it turned out that I was right.

Shortly after, I was once again surprised how well it went. Short distance from the photo above, the main trail connects, and I was meeting many skiers on the trail. For the short while the path went straight or a bit downwards to the pass, they were faster than I was, and some even surprised what am I doing there in just boots…

The situation changed drastically when the path started ascending to the highest peak of this portion. It’s not that steep, but I guess going uphill on cross-country skis is not that efficient. In the ascension, I was overtaking them easily, to which one woman commented something like “seems he made a good choice not taking skis”.

Photo at the ‘Keprník’ peak (1423 meters)

I took a short 10-15 minute break at the peak, hoping that some of the clouds might go away and allow me to see further, but the opposite happened, so I went on. The descent was quite fast as well. It changed after reaching another pass, after which the path goes on a side of the next peak instead of over it, and the narrow path was quite uncomfortable with all the snow, regardless of what kind of gear were people using.

This part of the trail ends at a place that once hosted a chalet and chapel, but they were destroyed in fire I believe 3-4 decades ago and due to the harsh terrain they were not replaced (though some plans appear every few years).

These days, the only thing here is the small structure looking a bit like chapel that covers the spring there (welcome in summer). This time, as visible on the photo, it was a bit covered by the snow.

Anyway, after another very short break, I continued. The trail changes here from narrow path to wide one, leading towards the ski resort that is some 3,5km away from it and easily reached by car. That fact makes the path overused in summer as the terrain is easy and many people just go to the spring and back.

Fortunately, it’s not that overused in winter, or at least it was not that day. Going from there was relaxing and quite easy as the road’s width made passing others in both directions not an issue. Eventually I reached the last stop of my hike.

‘Červenohorské sedlo’ ski resort

There, I took a bit longer break, having a hot mint tea in one of the restaurants there before going for the descent. For the train I wanted to catch, I had almost 2,5 hours, which was definitely doable unless the terrain would be awful. Again, knowing the path in summer, the only risk would be that it would be completely unused and I’d need to push my way through.

Fortunately, it turned out to be mostly the opposite and the 6 km on continuous downhill trail was quite easy. Enough that I made it much faster than I expected, and managed to catch a train an hour earlier than I presumed.

To sum it up, it was really nice day even with the lack of sunshine, but knowing myself, it was probably better as snow reflects light very well and intense sunshine in snow-covered mountains can be almost blinding even with sunglasses.

Trees by the road

Recently, an article in newspaper took my attention. Since 1752 when the queen of Habsburg empire made the decree, lines of trees were planted around the roads. This had several reasons: it helped with orientation, it prevented erosion of the road (which, at that time, differed vastly from what we know now) and it gave at least partial shelter against the elements to those using the road.

During both world wars, these trees by the road were often left to their own fate and lack of care was problem ever since, despite the fact that they could have their own role even today.

Picture credits: Radosław Drozdziewski (taken from Wikipedia)

Over the years, climate changes made some trees far too vulnerable. Roads became wider and transport faster. While planting trees right next to the road was good in 18th century, it’s not so good today. Partially because their roots can disrupt asphalt, and because the road itself limits their growth. Partially because crashing into a tree is potentially deadly accident. And lastly, because salting roads during winter is not really healthy for the trees.

Yet, many of the positive aspects still preserve. They can act as partial shelter, disrupting the wind, giving pleasant shade in summer and being important landscaping element. Due to how roads and traffic works these days, those who care for the roads say that the optimal distance from the road is (based on allowed speed) 3 to 7 meters, compared to 1 to 1,5 meters used in 18th century. Yet, the buffer line where the land belongs to state (or district, or whoever owns the road) is usually 3 meters, which means planting the trees would need to be done on private property, if they were to be in safe spot…

There are issues, but it seems that landscaping that worked 250+ years in past can still work well in present time. That is, if the choice of tree respects the conditions.

Hike on a rainy day

While the weather is at least decent on most of my hikes, and probably over half of them has weather close to perfect, there are times when my luck just runs out. Sometimes that means just gloomy and misty weather, which is the best of the bad possibilities, but sometimes it gets to outright rain. If it’s my own plan, then I might just delay it, but if it’s during a longer stay or just an event I signed up beforehand, then I just go and take some shorter route, but go anyway. As we say here, there’s no bad weather, only bad equipment.

In the past years, November was usually safe bet for at least gloomy weather if not rain. Compared to the shining colors of early autumn, it usually gets sad in that one month. It’s probably the reason why I have the least photos made in November.

Continue reading

Look back: January hiking

With this winter being quite warm here so far, I am looking back at the previous years. Even then, the experience was vastly different. There was a year when I was hiking a day before Christmas and it was muddy, and two weeks later it was close to a meter of snow. And there were years when it was the exact opposite.

2015

New year had lots of snow. Four days before this photo was taken, I hiked the mountain that is covered in clouds, and there was a lot of snow around, even in these lower portions. Not so much now. Eventually some snow returned in February for one more winter-like walk around, but that was all.

2016

This was pretty much the opposite. The snowfall started pretty much on new year, and it went on for the night after. Even in this place that is pretty much lowlands, the land got quite nice cover of snow. Thin, but still enough for a good winter feeling. Combined with the fact that the temperature was just below zero, it was quite pleasant time.

The original plan was something around 10km, but being in easy terrain, I decided to extend it, ending up at nice 17km. Unfortunately both lookout towers on the way were closed.

 

Two weeks later, I went for another hike. It was place that is normally crowded, and was so during the weekend. Needing to clear my head before exams, I went there on Monday. It was -13°C and there was quite a lot of wind the previous night, which meant I had to push my way knee-deep in snow in the side path I used. It was better on the main path, but I did not stay long there.

If you can’t see the way, make one.

The (almost) circuit ended up at 18km, but in the cold and the fact I was making my own path for most of it, made me quite exhausted. More so than 25km in summer.

2017

I admit I have no clue how the new year looked like. I made some mistake on the day before and my overly sensitive digestion took it very poorly. I had to force myself to eat at least something for the next four days and lost almost 4kg of weight. But I did not want to cancel coming for the planned hike. Fortunately, by Friday I was doing better and so I went for it, despite still feeling quite empty and not having eater seriously since 1st.

The weather was, in a way, perfect. Dry and frozen weather is the best for far sights, if it’s sunny as well, the best for really nice winter photos. There was a small trouble: -22°C and my weakened body. But then, I am long saying that there is one solution that fixes all problems: Go to the hills. It worked. I went on and even with the cold, reached the peak in my usual time around 1h 40 minutes, something many would have trouble in summer.

DSCN4419

Ain’t no mountain cold enough…

Even though it’s place I am visiting pretty much every year, this was something I had to enjoy. Usually very crowded place now being almost empty and with sights I only saw on pictures before. I walked around for almost twenty minutes, just enjoying it and taking some photos here and there, which is not easy in such cold. It’s hard to take them with gloves on, and it’s definitely not comfortable to remove gloves in such cold, even if for a few second. The fact that the gloves I had can uncover just the fingertips helped, but my thin fingers get cold far too easily.

I had a bit of adventure on the way back, as I decided to take different trail than I used to get up. Unfortunately, the snow-covered trees meant the trail marks were invisible and so I just followed some trails. This eventually sent me somewhere into wilderness on steep descent and I was hoping every single moment that I won’t end up tumbling down and that no one will see me as the are is natural reserve and I was not even sure it was legal to be there. Still, in retrospective, it was very nice day and so far my best winter hike (and coldest one.)


I guess I might do such looks back for every month in the future.

Vastly different

Another year begins, and the first weekend of a new year, I usually go for a walk (it’s not always a serious hike). There’s quite some striking difference between the first weekend of 2017 and 2018. While last year, it was cold wave here in the central Europe and I was forced to pile several layers of clothes to stay warm, this year I had the opposite problem.

7.1.2017 – Sunny, lots of snow, -22°C
6.1.2018 – Overcast, windy, +9°C

I guess that the situation reversed with the cold wave in USA and Canada… anyway, let’s see that comparison in pictures.

7.1.2017 – perfect winter

DSCN5923

6.1.2018 – quite sad-looking day

While there is some snow in the hills, it’s melting and very uncomfortable for hiking and that’s for a few weeks already. Forecast these days says that there won’t be much of winter in the near weeks, so I guess I am left with hopes for mid-February, which is usually the time of some colder days even in the years where the year’s beginning was warm.