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.

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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.

April fools’ weather

As another month is coming, I am doing another retrospective look at this time of year. Early spring can be pretty much anything when it comes to it. From cold days to what feels like summer, it can be anything.

2013

This was strange one. Easter were timed pretty much like this year (Monday was 1.4.) and I planned to go to cinema on the Friday or Saturday before (not sure which). One day ahead, I booked the ticket and went to sleep, paying no mind to the light snowfall that just started. “Can’t hold this time of year and can’t be much,” I told myself.

I could not be wrong more. When I woke the next day, it was 30-45cm of fresh snow overnight, even here in suburbs! In the morning, buses were often up to 30 minutes late. It stopped snowing before I got up, but the massive amount of snow that fell that night lasted for almost 10 days before the temperature went up and it started to melt.

April fools joke, weather style

The Saturday after, I went for a hike where I expected to see some flowers blooming but instead it was about snow crunching under my boots.

2014

The exact opposite with extremely warm days. This time I could see some flowers as the weather peaked at 25°C on 4th April.

Willows on the riverbanks, 2014

Flowers, blooming willows on riverbank and generally the expected spring feeling everywhere with summer-like temperature. 25km on pretty much flat terrain, yet I was drenched as my body was not ready for such heat so early.

Willows on the riverbank, 2014

Also, it was just a week or two after I bought my current pocket camera, so it was a nice way to test the macro mode.

2015 and 2016 were very similar in that, the hike on 11th being likewise very warm.

2016

Ants being busy after winter, 2016

In 2016, the two hikes (2nd and 16th) were those I used to try a bit more macro photos, the weather once again proving cooperative for that.

The second one was especially interesting as apart from flowers, there were some caves and lookouts and those who’d see the GPS log of that day’s hike would think I was lost because I zig-zagged around to see all those places. Still, it was great day.

2017

2017 decided to balance things out, being very rainy for my hike days. The one story I can tell from my 8.4.2017 hike was that there was a woman walking her german shepherd, who decided to give me a hug. Being wet dog, she apologized to me for the stain on my hiking jacket, which I just shrugged off with “the rain will wash it away in no time” which was exactly what happened.


I’ll probably post a bit more about April hiking in two weeks or so, aimed at the hikes I’ve done around Earth day. Those are often much more vibrant and the warmer weather allows me to go higher in the hills without wearing too much clothing.

Goodbye, winter… again

Three weeks ago, I made a blog post called “Goodbye, winter” as the weather seemed to be getting closer to spring. The first March weekend was warm and it seemed spring would come early. Nope, weather fooled central Europe (maybe more than just central) again. Snow showers the next week, the weekend around 17th being really cold…

I originally planned to do a March photo look back, but  this month is often spent in lowlands, searching for the first blossoms, often in vain and so there’s not that much to share. Two hikes happened since then, on 10th and 24th, both being similar: remains of snow in landscape that tries to wane into spring but seems to be lacking strength for the final push.

10th March hike

This was return to place I knew from past but in early summer. Short ascension, then a bit of walking on fields partially covered in snow, followed by  most of the hike in forests, hence only a few photos, even less worth sharing.

Still, it was a nice day spent relaxing outdoors.

Not being something that noteworthy, I decided that it won’t get its own blog post and thought that I might leave it for some retrospective that would focus on the area as a whole.

24th March hike

This one was quite close to the first one by distance, starting not so far away, but going in different direction. Despite good forecast the day started with a lot of mist and minimum visibility, not good when the hike starts near a lookout, from which we could not look far away…

I hoped that Murphy’s law would eventually force the weather to the original forecast as I intentionally left my sunglasses at home. Trick I use often when it’s on a verge like this, and one that often works.

This trickery might have a price to it this time as my early parts of the hike were made a bit inconvenient by some digestive trouble, but once that was solved, the rest of the day went really well. Diversity was not missing, early parts in the forest as well as fields, up and down. After a short stop at ski slope where the last skiers were using the very last bits of snow(I’d guess the layer at 10cm or so) before the season ends there (elevation around 500m ASL, above 1000 the skiing season might go on for a week or two more).

Eventually we reached a place that was greatly devastated by harsh winds. Crossing the deforested area took quite a while, it was over 2km, and the area was wide as well. It caused some challenges with marking the trail and I had to use my GPS and intuition to go on. Along the way, it lead me to think about some aspects that make spruce forests vulnerable to winds (especially due to dry years and bark beetle infestation, deadly combo) and the observation that most of those that remained were larches – identified by the tiny cones.

Due to the deforestation, I could look around a bit more, even though the visibility distance was not large. I believe that the photo above is roughly aimed at the place from the first photo, from distance of maybe 10km.

Eventually, the trail led us to a small quarry, abandoned and flooded when the mining went too deep and it was flooded from below. Flooded quarries turned into lakes are frequent, but most of the time it is by being abandoned and letting the rain (and snow) do its work over time, not by being flooded from below. By what we were told by our guide, some fool drowned a car there but being in shade, the lake was covered by a sheet of ice and there was nothing to see that would prove this.

Then followed a descent to the village that was our destination. The lower pace and mixture of warmer passages (fields or deforested + sun) with colder (in forest with snow cooling the air from below) made me drowsy and even a cup of black tea did not seem to rouse me. Having almost three hours left before departure, I decided to improvise and go for a small (original intention) bonus round that eventually raised the total length from 22 to 31 km. It was originally intended to be a stroll around the village but I eventually walked up a hill with transmitter above it, looking down on the village for a short while before taking a scenic route back down.


While I’d like this to be my last “farewell, winter” post this year, I can’t rely on that. There’s no telling what will come in the next month and show in mid-April might be rare yet I’ve seen that too.


Including map this time: orange is 10.3. hike, green is 24.3. original hike, blue is 24.3. bonus round. Zooming recommended for details, the default zoom level is far to make it easy to see both.

Closing thought: I might make a post about abandoned (even if not flooded) quarries in the hills of Czech republic and what kind of scenery can they make at some point in the future. They are not always just a place of devastation, especially if they are small and the nature is left to its own devices afterwards.

Goodbye, winter

February was cold. Compared to January, really cold. At least here in central Europe. But it seems that with the shortest month gone, so will be the winter. On Saturday, even still on Sunday morning, it was around -15°C, as it was for more than a week before. Today, it’s around zero and forecast estimates rise to +15°C by the end of the week. It seems that my coming hikes will be devoid of snow from now on.

Late January, first snow…

Even though the waif for first snow was really long, and even longer for it to be in decent amount, it seems that winter did not give up easily and I eventually had some chances for winter-y photos. Now, I guess my gaze will go down in search for some first blossoms. But before that happens, I’ll repost my most favorite photos of this winter…

More snow up in the hills…

…less of it in the lowlands


That’s it from me for today.

Just behind the city

With almost two weeks delay, I am making a short post of a ‘hike’ – because it was more of a calm walk – that is typical for what I usually do in February (which is now gone, bah). That means, going to places close to the city, yet far enough to be landscape that allows relaxation.

I really liked this sight, snow-covered path and a tree, with mist shrouding the background.

If the weather is like winter, then these are perfect as mountains are covered by a lot of snow and not so easy to walk. This year, February seemed to try hard on catching up with winter as January was slacking a lot.

For this particular day, it started by a while between fields, then going slightly downwards and following a small river, then upwards to another village.

There, we could see this detailed replica of a wooden windmill and even look inside. I wished I could take a bit better picture, but the fence around it prevented me from that.

Then the journey continued on, eventually leading us to an arboretum, which is usually visited in summer. On the other hand, it was not crowded, which is good, and some of the trees, especially the Asian evergreen ones, stood out.

There was also a greenhouse with cactus collection and indoor section with insects. That part was slightly underwhelming as the old greenhouse was suffering from rust and had to be taken down, but the new one is not built in full scope yet.

Calm winter scenery

Truth be told, for me it was mostly about calm relaxation, much unlike the hikes the week before and week later, when I went to the mountains and kept myself at quite fast pace.

Island with willows on partially emptied and frozen pond.

Now, as the cold that gripped Europe hard in the last few day recedes, I’ll wait and see what craziness the weather will do next and as usual, try to make the most of it on my next hike. I guess it won’t have much snow, so this is probably my last mention of it for the coming months…

Snow and wind, walk with me

Another Saturday, another hike, this one close enough to my home I am writing about it on the very same day. What I went for this day was actually ‘plan B’ for pre-last Saturday, and so I spent almost no time planning it.

Also, in my last hiking post, I considered merging post about this hike with the previous one, but since this one is worth solo post, I’ll most likely return to my 17.2. hike on its own soon.

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