Look back: February hiking

IN my experience so far, January is usually the worst month when it comes to real hiking. It’s usually around zero, which means the uncomfortable mix of snow and mud. There were a few years when mid-February was quite a cold wave – 2006 comes to my mind, when the temperature remained around -20°C day and night for great part of the month, the lowest temperature here in the city being around -25°C during day. Or it’s not as cold, but there’s cold and strong wind. The unpredictability means that for hikes planned by the club, it’s usually short walk near the city where it’s not that hard to make some last-minute adjustments. And it was long before I decided to go out alone in this month.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

Photography look back: fungi

Even though most of my photos are pictures of the magnificent peaks and valleys I visit, I have a special fondness for taking photos of mushrooms. Some, like Amanita muscaria are greatly photogenic on their own, others need a bit of help from their surroundings, like crouching at a tree’s stump, obscured by the grass or growing from a soft moss.

Due to when most of them grows, these photos are usually limited to late summer and most of autumn, before the temperatures drop below zero. Every year, I stop by and take photos of fungi several times, whether they are edible or not. I rarely collect edible ones, mostly because after the long journey home, they’d be in quite bad state (my general rule is to collect them if I can return within 2 hrs of finishing the hike). So, here are few of the best photos I made this year.

As for this year, my biggest surprise was to find this beauty high in the mountains – by my memory, I guess it was in elevation around 1850 meters ASL.

‘They don’t grow high in the hills’. Myth busted.

That was fifth day of my stay in Slovakia, and I had some nice finds the seventh day as well. Even though they were edible, I could not take them with me as that day, I had quite difficult hike ahead where I would need all my four limbs for progress.


It’s sometimes strange feeling to know that probably hundreds of people use the trail daily during the summer, yet overlook them. I doubt that everyone going through there would go as high as I did. Slavic nations are quite into gathering edible fungi and so seeing this just next to the trail is even better feeling.

I would say that Amanita muscaria is my most photographed mushroom, because it’s probably the most photogenic one, and each year I collect more evidence to that claim.

It’s even better in cases like this, when these majestically looking fungi are seen pushing they way through the foliage.


Or, like the right one, when you manage to capture and insect sitting on it. On mushroom that in my language is called ‘fly killer’.

And likewise majestic are photos of fungi that grow out of somewhere with very little space, yet they manage. And unlike me, they don’t have any problem with spider nets – for which I’ll break my initial decision and post two pictures from 2016.


And that’s the photo show (off) from me for this time.