The first time after my sabbatical in spring, I returned to Slovakia and with a hiking schedule for the High Tatras mountain range in my backpack.
Before I went by train to Poprad in the Prešov Region where I was going to stay for one week, I spent one day in my second home, the capital Bratislava (I traveled by plane from Nuremberg to Budapest, and from there by train to Pressburg: a convenient and very cheap connection).
Poprad, August 12
The city Poprad-Tatry in the Prešovský kraj (north-eastern Slovakia) suggests itself as a base for hiking tours through the High Tatras due to its location at the south-eastern foothills of the mountain range and its size (50.000 inhabitants). So one will find there not just the usual tourist infrastructure but also bars, supermarkets, and several clothing and shoe shops.
It takes around three and a half hours from Bratislava to Poprad-Tatry with the fast train connection, and the price for a ticket is about twenty Euros.
You’ll search in vain for prominent sights in Poprad, but you’ll find quite a lot of large rather ugly hotel complexes which bear resemblance to the “Paneláks” from the communist era (disregarding their appearance, there is everything fine with the hotels and I made only good experiences: they are a perfect base for hiking or skiing tours, as a matter of fact).
In Poprad exists a convenient train connection directly into the High Tatras: the meter-gauge Tatranské Elektrické Železnice (TEŽ) to Starý Smokovec, Tatranská Lomnica or Štrbské Pleso. Those towns are ideal starting points for climbing the highest peaks in the High Tatras as well as exploring the unique nature and culture in the region.
The High Tatras (Vysoké Tatry in Slovak, vysoké is the plural form of vysoký, -á, -é and the Slovak adjective for “tall” or “high”) – sometimes referred to as “the smallest high altitude mountain range in the world” – extend for the most part over Slovakia, but Poland has shares in them as well (about one fifth belongs to the northern neighbor of Slovakia).
It is without doubt the most popular tourist-destination in Slovakia beside the capital Bratislava.
The Slovakian part of the mountain range is not accessible for visitors from November to June. Environment protection laws prohibit access to higher altitudes in more sensitive areas. Respective trails are marked with a corresponding information sign and cannot be overlooked.
Guidelines for a stay in the High Tatras you can find here: tanap.org.
This restricted access is rather the exception in Slovakia. In other mountain ranges (Low Tatras, for instance) one is generally allowed to hike the whole year if he wants.
And if you want to build up a tent: that is strictly forbidden! According to the tourist info in Starý Smokovec, there exist two camping sites in the High Tatras where you are allowed to camp: one near Štrbské Pleso, and the other in Tatranská Štrba (Horská 40).
Slavkovský štít, August 13
Slavkovský peak (the English word for štít) is 2452 meters AMSL (Above Mean Sea Level; every height stated below is AMSL) high, and one can hike to the peak from Starý Smokovec (1000 meters) on the blue marked path in about four hours.
The ascent itself is not particularly interesting (it resembles a bleak stone desert at times) and the tour might not offer as many good view points and nature experiences as other tours in the High Tatras.
One noteworthy exception is Slavkovská vyhliadka (on 1550 meters), from where you can contemplate the second highest peak in Slovakia, Lomnický štít (2634 meters).
From the Slavkovská vyhliadka view point on, one has the Veľká Studená dolina (“Big cold valley”) on his right hand side, which offers some nice panorama views and good opportunities for taking photos.
The weather was quite erratic during this afternoon (not unusual at all for high altitude mountains), and I was overtaken by a thunderstorm literally minutes after beginning my descent from the peak.
I had a lot of troubles climbing the way down, because it was difficult to keep my footing on the slippery rocks.
I fell down twice, ruined my trousers, but suffered fortunately no major injuries except a few bruises1.
1 please take a look at the weather forecast before you plan a trip in high altitude mountains – thunderstorms can be a deathtrap, near the peak and near via ferratas in particular
Veľká Svišťovka, August 14
The peak Veľká Svišťovka has the height of 2038 meters and is pretty exhausting to ascend.
However, on this tour in the eastern parts of the High Tatras mountain range you hike rather for seeing the gorgeous mountain lakes than for this particular peak, which lies more or less in the middle between the Skalnaté pleso and the Zelené pleso (red marked path).
My starting point was the green trailhead at the train station in Tatranská Lomnica (850 meters), the largest town in the High Tatras. The green marked trail leads directly to the Skalnaté pleso lake, one on the first half comfortable walk.
The weather was really bad and it was raining most of the time, so I encountered almost no other hikers on this August day.
My descent from Veľká Svišťovka, where there wasn’t much to see because of the dense fog, led me towards the Dolina Zeleného plesa valley.
Here the cottage Chata pri Zelenom plese and two of the larger mountain lakes can be visited (Čierny pleso and Zelené pleso).
The exceptionally pretty mountain lake Zelené pleso got its name from its peculiar color, obviously (zelený, -á, -é is the Slovak adjective for green).
Chata pri Zelenom plese, situated next to the lake, is a very popular destination for tourists, and even on this rainy Wednesday most of the tables were occupied.
And so somewhat unexpected after my for the most part solitary tour this place turned out to be a good place for getting in contact with fellow hikers, and I made friends with two girls from Gdansk (Danzig).
From Zelené pleso one also has the opportunity to ascend Jahňací štít, the easternmost peak in the High Tatras (2230 meters). It was quite late in the day, so I headed back to Tatranská Lomnica on the yellow marked trail.
Close to Tatranská Lomnica stretch the Belianske Tatras (Belianske Tatry), a mountain range much smaller and of a different geological composition (limestone rock) compared to the High Tatras (almost entirely granite rock).
The different soil structure leads to a different flora as well, which appears greener and not as barren as the mountain ranges in the east.
Apart from a few exceptions, the Belianske Tatry are not accessible for visitors due to strict nature protection laws. So is the highest peak in the Belianske Tatras, Havran (2152 meters).
Kopské sedlo, a mountain saddle a few kilometers northwards of the Zelené pleso lake, represents the transition between the High Tatras and the Belianske Tatras.
Featured image: Zelené pleso (“Green mountain lake”)