From Wieliczka, we journeyed southwards towards Zakopane. Ted was very keen to try and see some of his friends in the Tatra national park (there’s around 60 bears) and we just fancied a hike in the mountains. Zakopane is Poland’s gateway to the tatras which are an all year round attraction thanks to heaps of snow in the winter and good hiking weather in the summer. We approached expecting a town with lovely log cabins and a fairly small centre but Zakopane is a huge metropolis. Neither of us had ever seen a town with so many hotels and bed and breakfasts, most of which seem to be advertised on bill boards on the main road in. Luckily, we only had to find a campsite and were beating the rush to the mountains by turning up in June. The traffic in main season must be awful because it was bad enough as we arrived.
Our search for a campsite was a little frustrating as we had a choice between two in the town or a few that were 4km away. After the hassle driving through Zakopane we decided staying near the end of the walking trails in town was the best idea. The campsite we drove to first didn’t really have much space for campervans but we squeezed in and decided to make it our base after a Polish lady said we should stay for a week. We got out our map and started planning where to walk and checking the weather forecast. The next day didn’t look great so we came up with a short circuit and planned a larger and higher one for the day after to make the most of the mountain views. We bought a map but later discovered the Tatra trails app which is just as good for planning a route. All the paths in the national park are well signposted and give times rather than distances to reach a destination. We found that we were quite a bit faster than the signposted times but that they were good for working out how difficult a path would be.
So after a good nights sleep we set off late morning to do a short circular walk to a waterfall and then up to around 1377m and back into Zakopane via the lower cable car station. The trail to the waterfall was through a wooded valley but once we left the valley floor it became a steep incline without much respite until we reached the summit of Sarnia Skała. The views were impressive from the rocky outcrop but unfortunately as forecasted the mountains above 1900m were shrouded in clouds. The way down was an easy walk until the dreaded granite cobblestones returned at the bottom. We stopped at the lift station to get information about prices and opening times in case we needed it the next day and discovered the temperature at 1900m was about 1 degree celsius – brrrr! We left hoping it would we warmer when we got there the next day. Walking through Zakopane wasn’t particularly exciting. There are loads of shops and restuarants and a few nice old wooden buildings but its super touristy.
The next day we got up early and set off uphill. We had a plan to reach the summit of the Giewont, hopefully before it got too busy. It was tough going, we walked uphill for about 2 hours, mainly on rocky paths and steps. The highlight of the uphill battle was meeting a small herd of chamoix, one of which was happily walking along the footpath. The summit of the Giewont is a little special. It has a one way system of via ferrata which in peak season can cause long queues and waiting times. The rock is incredibly slippery even when dry which means holding onto the chains is very useful if you want to avoid a nasty fall. Once you reach the top the view is stunning. The chain of the high tatras straddling Poland and Slovakia is in front of you. It certainly makes the long climb and hairy ending worth it. Going down from the summit is slightly less fun and feels much safer sitting on your bottom and hugging the chains.
From the Giewont we walked up further to Kopa Kondracka which is an easy walk up to 2005m where we met the Slovakian border. After this the path narrows and follows a chain of rocky craggs along to the top cable car station and the summit of Kasprowy Wierch. On this path we met all the other tourists who had walked up another valley or cheated and got the cable car. With a little help of a sign at the cable car station it’s easy to identify all of the peaks around you including Polands highest mountian Rysy. The next mountain in the chain is Swinicka which we thought we might climb up but after 5 hours of walking uphill and considering how little Zoë likes cable cars we opted to walk all the way down instead. We reached the bottom with aching knees and stopped for a well deserved coffee before we continued to our campsite. We hadn’t quite realised that our walk would take us up 1890m and around 25km but it was fantastic (sadly no bears).
Unfortunately the weather the following day turned to rain and thunderstorms so we decided to move on and hopefully find some better weather in Slovakia. Following a tip of from fellow campers we had our sights set on a campsite by a thermal baths to soothe our aching muscles.