The most demanding day

Trip Start Nov 15, 2005
Trip End Aug 15, 2008

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Having recognised our mistake, we made sure our next stop was a town we could easily access the mountains from, and ended up in Brezno. Absolutely nothing special to the town, we were fortunate enough to end up on a stunning little campsite a few km out of town, peacefully in the middle of nowhere. Newly opened by a Dutch family seeking a quiet life, staying at Kemping Svedliacky-Dvor seemed more like camping in a friends' garden than at a usual campsite. Every evening, all of us staying there would sit around the campfire and chat with the family. We spent one night before going up to the mountains there and one night after, during which time they kindly looked after most of our gear. When we eventually left, we were presented with some home-made jam as a thank you for staying with them. I like finding places like this!

For the real business of our visit, we stayed a couple of nights in a surprisingly comfortable mountain hut, Chata M. R. Stefanika pod Dumbierom. Located just beneath the highest peak of the park, Dumbier, and at the confluence of five walking trails, it suited us nicely. On our first day, we had a short climb to the hut before exploring the surounding trails for a few hours, during which time it managed to rain quite significantly. I was beginning to worry about what the rest of the weekend would be like, but it soon cleared (not long after we got back to the hut, as it turns out) for a beautiful sunset. When we could actually see something, the area turned out to be really quite gorgeous. Dumbier is 2043m high, so most of the mountainsides are still covered with vegetation and forests in the lower regions, yet there are still significant peaks visible and accessible.

The one full day we had in the park has to be the most demanding one day hike I have ever done, and I wasn't even carrying much! Setting off at a very reasonable 8.30, we started by climbing to the peak of Dumbier. To say the views were outstanding doesn't do them justice. Located pretty much in the centre of the country, and it being a lovely clear day, we could see as far as the boundaries with Hungary, Ukraine and Poland, and would probably have been able to see the Czech and Austrian borders had it not been for the Velky Fatra and Mala Fatra ranges in the way. It was a shame to hit the highlight of the day so early on; it was all downhill from there, both literally and metaphorically.

The next few hours were spent first walking along a scenic ridge trail and through some head-high scrub, then way way way downhill through the forested areas. It seemed quite strange just how much the regions through which we were walking seemed to vary throughout the day. It was somewhere around here that I started having some problems, as we had neglected to bring anywhere near enough water for the day. We did fill up the bottle from the occasional moutain stream, but I was still suffering quite badly during the three hour (and bloody steep) ascent that followed, beautiful as it was.

Usually, I can rely on my walking times being somewhere around 3/4 the guesstimated times offered on maps and park signs. In Slovakia, it seems, they're slightly more realistic about things. Having planned a good 13 hour hike according to the map times, I figured it would take us about 8 or 9 hours - a reasonable days walk. 8 hours into the walk, I had a look at the map and totalled up what we had done and how long they reckoned it should have taken. It should have taken us about 8 hours. I considered this to be a problem, given we still had an estimated 5 hours of walking left and we only had 3.5 hours before sunset.

Setting off at quite a pace, we soon had to slow down for the fact that the trail was so stupidly steep, even going dowhill we couldn't take it too fast. Upon reaching the bottom of this path, we had a 3 hour walk uphill to the hut to do in 1.5 hours. We so nearly made it! Up until the last 3km, we kept a rediculously good pace going considering we had been walking for 10 hours before we even got to this point. It was the last 3km, which took a much steeper path, that did for me. Ending a long hike on a climb is not a good idea. Simon seemed completely unfazed by it, but it seemed like each step was a struggle for me and it was all I could do to just keep moving. I searched for some reserve of energy and found nothing. I could quite easily have just lay down and slept, and not being able to see the hut because of the darkness made it so hard to convince myself we were getting any closer. It was such a blessed relief when, 12 hours after we left, it seemed to appear out of nowhere and invite us in to the warmth.

Collapsing onto a bench on arrival, it took a good 15 minutes to work up the energy just to move into the restaurant in the next room to get something to eat. The langos (sort of like a pizza with a fried dough base) was most welcome, and the spaghetti would have gone down even faster had it not been for the remarkably annoying Austrian girl who decided to talk at us about how she had just done a strenuous 7 hour hike to get there. Excuse me if I'm not that impressed. I decided it best to just let her talk and get straight into the meal; I'm not sure how, but Simon felt it necessary to be polite and actually appear interested in what she had to say, though she seemed perfectly capable of sustaining a conversation on her own. Can you tell that I found her a bit irritating?

Unexpectedly, we both managed to wake up the next day without too much pain in the legs, so instead of taking the shorter route back, we decided to take the ridge walk to the chairlift at Chopok. I had been told this was a stunning walk, and one of the most popular short day hikes to do, so was quite looking forward to it. It was living up to my expectations as far as Demanovska saddle, which (for once) quite justufied the name. Unfortunately, beyond there the clouds came down and we could see very little for the rest of the walk. Slightly disappointing, especially as when we got to Chopok, expecting it to be the end of our hiking in the Tatras, the chairlift wasn't working. After some debate about what to do, we resigned ourselves to the 1.5 hour scramble down a steep path to the bus stop, which didn't do my knee any good and Simon took a bit of a fall somewhere en route. What did surprise me was the number of families with quite young children climbing up. Not something you would see back home! Irritatingly, when we were quite near the bottom, the chairlift started working. It seems they only turn it on at 12, just to annoy those who started the day at a decent hour.

So ended a beautiful couple of days of hiking. It certainly has to be one of the most easily accessible ranges I've come across, yet with some truly spectacular scenery thrown in for good measure. I was happy.
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