After three weeks of idling, I finally got to the hills again. At first, it did not look well. It was raining three or four days before. The rain was not strong, but it was persistent and I know that for some, it’s enough to be a hit on their mood. If I went alone, I would not give it a second thought but this time, I was to bring a loose group of almost fifty people somewhere after four days of rain with a not-so-small chance for more of it that day.
This will be a post that goes a bit into biology even though it’ll include photos and experience from my hikes. It’s about a fact that places I knew (know) are changing before my eyes, and might as well change forever, voluntarily or not.
Since 18th century, spruce forests started to dominate central Europe. The lumber they produce has wide use and they grow fast in the first 20-25 years. Yet, they have several vulnerabilities, the main one in normal conditions is shallow root system.
Spruces here in central Europe have much more problems. Easy to take root, they started to dominate the landscape, but pollution weakened them, making them easy target for bark beetles. Combined with the larger frequency of dry years in the last 10 years, the shallow roots mean the trees are becoming dry due to lack of moisture and even easier target for parasites. And to top them off (literally, in the end), the increasing amount of strong winds that can uproot the weakened trees or snap them in half.
The most memorable of many was the windy night in late 2004. It hit several places, but the devastation in Slovakian High Tatras was most prominent with strip two to five kilometers wide and over fifty kilometers long. The place changed forever, once shady forests below the hill giving space to low plants.
What survived the night in 2004 was not much and most of it was taken down by the following two or three nights that came in 2010s (the second big one was in 2014, almost exactly 10 years later, with several minor in other years). The events, in turn, made the bark beetle infestation even worse as they could use the massive amount of fallen trees to breed even more and make the forests vulnerable for disasters that did not need much time to come.
The problems are even worse in east Czech republic, historically industrial area with pollution problems (even though the situation is getting better). As I mentioned recently, in the last hike I was crossing a place that was formerly spruce forest. Even three years after the 2015 wind, not all the fallen trees were taken away. Infrastructure suffers in turn as the village roads were not planned to carry several trucks with loads of wood every day for months, let alone years. Seeds of other trees are on short supply as the forest owners try to replace the fallen trees with something that would have better chances.
Sometimes, more trees are destroyed before the results of one calamity are dealt with. I can say for sure that hikes when I’d not hear at least distant sounds of chain saw are getting quite rare. Even though making marked trails passable is often done just after clearing the roads, there were times when a trail was closed for three to four months after one windy day.
To make it worse, some places are hard to reach and even clearing the path is complicated, let alone helping the land to recover. The options to get heavy trucks to elevation around 1300 meters when the villages below are around 500 is quite complicated, as the places have roads that can carry an off-road vehicle or snowmobile at most and are used primarily by cyclists.
A few years ago, spruces made up to 90% of trees. The ratio in cultivated areas is decreasing with each harsh wind (I believe that most of the times it was somewhere between 100 and 200 km/h) as its obvious that re-planting spruces would most likely be wasted effort.
Some places change right before my eyes. What will they look like in a decade or two I don’t dare to guess…
This time, I’ll write a bit about a place I like to visit, and one that I found to be great for seeing the seasons change. But as with any mixed forest, it’s autumn when it truly shines. This post will be about the southern part of ‘Rychlebské hory’ mountain range on CZ-PL border, near the Jeseník and Horní Lipová spa towns.
Autumn is quite diverse season. It starts as slightly colder summer, then moves into colorful art for a while before fading to gray. And in the end, it gets a bit white as well. November, by my experience, is one of the worst months for hiking, at least here. Most of the time it’s cloudy and it lacks the color of October. In fact, those are the months I end up returning with my clothes wet and (almost) no photos taken the most, the only decent competition was April 2017. But sometimes it’s not so bad.
I know that astronomically, it’s over for more than a week, but especially in the last years, it’s not like weather cared much for that. Yes, the days are colder, but late September and sometimes even early October are still great time for a hike, especially when it combines the warmth and the autumn colors.
And that’s how my last cross-border hike of 2017 looked like…
Fourth and last day of the early autumn travel, the hike on Tarnica, largest peak of the Polish side. Weather was not to be as close to flawless as the previous day, but it was to be good and I was excitedly waiting for the last hike before departure.
Third day’s plan were the grassy peaks I’ve seen from the previous hikes. After the rainy second day, I considered it quite great deal of luck that my clothes managed to dry overnight, but outside it was still quite misty in the morning. Typical early autumn, I guess. The forecast was optimistic, but I refused to blindly believe it. Also, this time we were using one of the most used trails, so the ticket and souvenir shack was active in that place, meaning no free entry this day.
Second day of the stay, the plan was to reach Krzemieniec, the peak where Polish, Ukrainian and Slovakian borders converge. Just as the first day, the night was rainy and it did not look better for the day, but unlike the first day, now the situation repeated here in the hills, not in the city now far away.
While we boarded the bus in very faint rain, it changed to worse while it carried us some 10 minutes on the main road to reach the start of the trail. It was now raining consistently, though it was still not too bad. This fact probably saved us a bit of coin, as entering the national park (Bieszczadzki Park Narodowy) costs 6 PLN/day (roughly 1,4€ or 1,6$) but in this terible weather and the main hiking season gone, the shack selling tickets and souvenirs was closed.
One month after my return from Slovakia, another trip happened, this time for five days. Needing to cross pretty much half of Poland’s width, the bus journey was quite lengthy and the weather, in the fist part, did not help it much. I spent the first part in power saving mode, interrupted by a stop somewhere behind Krakow.
When we were moving again, I picked up my kindle and started reading, something that kept me occupied through the long journey. Shortly after that break, we left the highway and road quality kept gradually decreasing until we reached the Bieszczady mountains in the south-east corned of Poland. The first hike started in quite late time 13:15 and the plan was some 16 km.
With the seven days in Západné Tatry gone, it was time for the short epilogue, the two limestone valleys that are part of ‘Chočské vrchy’ mountain range. It was to be half-day hike so the other half would be for the return journey. After the farewell given by hotel staff, the bus took us to the lower end of the first valley.