We visit the Vysoké Tatry/High Tatra Mountains whenever we visit Slovakia. This time around we trek through the country’s greatest mountain range for 5 days, spending each night at a different alpine chalet.
Day 1: Košice to Tatranská Lomnica to Green Tarn Chalet
Trains get progressively smaller as we travel to the trailhead in Tatranská Lomnica.
An easy 3.5-hour hike through the alpine forest recovering from the devastating 2004 windstorm brings us to our first destination: Chata pri Zelenom plese (Green Tarn Chalet, 1,551 meters/5,089 feet above sea level; €17/night). The mountainside and the tarn, which changes green hues by the hour, fill the entire view from the dining-room window. A jaunt to the Veľké Biele pleso (Great White Tarn) finishes us off for the day.
The Chalet manager Tomáš Petrík is one of the three Slovak mountaineers interviewed for the article “Mountains and Death,” about the two Slovak mountain climbers slain by the Pakistani Taliban, in the latest issue of the magazine Týždeň, which I picked up at the Košice train station. I share the mag with him and his co-manager Lenka, and we chat—about Slovakia, about life in America, about the mountains. Later I ask him for a quote for the blog, “What’s the best part of managing an alpine chalet?” With some bewilderment he says, “Everything.” Then he pauses, and adds, counting with his fingers,
“If you do what you want and love doing for a living; make enough money doing it—you know, it isn’t he who has a lot that is rich but he who has enough; if you live in this beautiful nature; and have someone by your side who loves you, you can be happy.”
Day 2: Green Tarn to Boulder Tarn to Zamkovský Chalet
From the Svišťovka Saddle, the Green and Black Tarns look like distant past.
Tomáš’s words ring with me as we climb the nearby Veľká Svišťovka (Great Marmot Mountain, 2,037 meters/6,683 feet) and reach the touristy Boulder Tarn.
I take a chairlift to the Lomnické Saddle. The glorious view, from below the encroaching rain clouds, reveals tomorrow’s destination, the Small Cold Valley to the northwest and the Tatra Basin to the south—it’s well worth the €8 return ride.
We arrive to the cozy Zamkovský Chalet, also known as Zamka (1,475 meters/4,839 feet; €18/night), exhausted after 5 hours of hiking but happy to luck out with a private room, the best Szegedín Goulash I’ve ever had (sorry, mother), and cold cold Staropramen beer. We also meet for the first time two travelers from the Netherlands and a large group of Lithuanians, aged circa 7 to 57; we’ll see them all several times through the rest of the trek.
Day 3: Zamka to Priečne Saddle to Outlaw Chalet
Storm clouds gather from early on over the eastern ridge. Two years ago we got caught in a bad storm so I watch with anxiety as the clouds roll and disperse behind us, then re-gather and creep up on us from each side. We’re thankful for better rain jackets and for bringing backpack covers, but rain in the mountains can be dangerous nonetheless.
We tried to reserve Téryho chata (Téry Chalet, 2,015 meters/6,610 feet; €16/night), the highest year-round service chalet in the Tatras, but even in February it was already too late. The chalet is small and cozy; the herbal tea serves us well before continuing the hike up the Valley.
At the end of the Valley, Lindsay points out rock climbers on the mountainside up ahead. Several minutes later I inform her, “Those aren’t rock climbers, that’s where we’re going.” Lindsay about collapses in terror, but we climb the chains up to the Priečne Saddle (2,352 meters/7,716 feet) with our heads in the clouds and only a few scrapes.
On the other side, the Great Cold Valley looks even more ominous. After a 5-hour hike, we reach the Zbojnícka chata (Outlaw Chalet, 1,960 meter/6,430 feet; €22/night) minutes before a downpour begins. By nightfall, two storms rage outside as we fill our tummies with cabbage soup and grog. A man with his teenage daughter stumbles in; the first storm caught them on the chains, accompanied by a river of water tumbling down the crevasse. Later, the two rock climbers we saw up on the Sharp Tower walk in for a bowl of soup; the first storm caught them at the summit, the second caused them to lose their way on the way down.
After the storms, we venture outside and meet an old chamois. I’ve never seen one; one of the staff tells me a number of them lost their natural shyness and join the morning tourist crowds in front of the chalet.
Day 4: Outlaw Chalet to Štrbské Tarn to Popradské Tarn
No chamois show up in the morning as the sky threatens more rain. For the second time in as many years we are forced to forego the hike to the Prielom Saddle and over the ridge. Instead we descend in the rain to Starý Smokovec, take the mountain train to Štrbské pleso, and hike up to Popradské pleso.
On the way down, we encounter one of Europe’s last sherpas. Reluctantly, he reveals that he’s carrying 75 kilograms/165 pounds of supplies up to the Outlaw Chalet, which he does four times a week.
Just before the Popradské Tarn (1,494 meters/4,902 feet) a display of supplies for the Under Rysy Chalet, recently renovated and the highest there is (2,250 meters/7,383 feet; €16/night), tempts us to become volunteer sherpas ourselves. Little do we know that the so-called Alpine Hotel at the tarn will provide us with a socialist standard for capitalist prices (€28/night—a rip-off).
A stroll through the nearby Symbolic Cemetery, which commemorates many of those “known and unknown” who lost their lives in the High Tatras, provides a solemn period after the trip. The inscription in the chapel, “A memorial to the dead and a warning to the living,” reminds us why we both love and respect these mountains.
We will return.
Day 5: Popradské Tarn to Poprad
The hike out is really just a stroll, albeit with a heavy heart.
At the Tatra Gallery in Poprad, where we stop for lunch, paintings of the mountains by famous Slovak artists bring back the week’s adventures.
We are determined to use the third-time charm to finally climb the Prielom Saddle. We’ll go back to the first three chalets, skip the last one, add others, and stay at each two nights to take advantage of day hikes. As we extend each visit to the Tatra Mountains, perhaps someday we’ll end up living here.
P.S.: Here are the above and all the other photos from the High Tatra trek in a single slideshow: