Deforested

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.

Tri studničky, Tatranský Národný Park, Slovakia (2017)

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.

Former forest near Karlovice village, Czech republic (2018, destroyed in 7/2015)

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.

Destroyed forest near Králický Sněžník, Czech republic (2015, a week after the windstorm)

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.

Uprooted spruces, Sušina peak, Czech republic (2016, year after the windstorm)

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…

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.

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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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.