After my sabbatical in spring, I returned to Slovakia with a hiking schedule for the High Tatras mountain range in my backpack.
Before I went by train to Poprad in the Prešov Region (north-eastern Slovakia) where I was going to stay for one week, I spent one day in my favorite city Bratislava (I traveled by plane to Budapest, and from here by train to the capital of Slovakia: a convenient and very cheap connection).
Poprad, August 12
The city Poprad-Tatry in the Prešovský kraj suggests itself more or less 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.
Poprad itself has not many sights, but a lot of large rather ugly hotel complexes which bear resemblance to the “Paneláks” from the communist era (disregarding their appearance, there is nothing wrong with the hotels and I made solely good experiences – I refer to hotels “Satel” and “Tatra”).
In Poprad there exists a very convenient train connection directly into the High Tatras: the metre-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 this region.
On the whole, the infrastructure for hiking or skiing (in the winter season) is excellent around here.
The High Tatras (Vysoké Tatry) – 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.
It is without doubt the most popular tourist-destination in Slovakia.
The Slovakian part of the mountain range is not accessible for visitors from November to June. Environment protection laws prohibit access to higher altitudes, and respective trails are marked with a corresponding information sign.
Guidelines for a stay in the High Tatras you can find here: tanap.org
In other mountain ranges in Slovakia (Great Fatra, Little Fatra, Low Tatras) one is generally allowed to hike the whole year if he wants (with a few exceptions).
And if you want to built 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) high, and one can hike to the peak from Starý Smokovec (1000 meters AMSL) on the blue marked path in about four hours.
The climb itself is not particularly interesting (it resembles a bleak stone desert at times) and the tour might not offer as many good view points as other tours in the High Tatras.
One noteworthy exception is Slavkovská vyhliadka however (on 1550 meters), from where you can contemplate the second highest peak in Slovakia, Lomnický štít.
From the Slavkovská vyhliadka view point on, one has the Veľká Studená dolina (“Big cold valley”) on his right hand side, which offers 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.
I had a lot of troubles climbing my way down, especially because of the slippery rocks. I fell down twice, ruined my trousers, but suffered no injuries except a few bruises fortunately1.
1 please always check the weather forecast before you plan a trip in high altitude mountains – thunderstorms can be a deathtrap
Veľká Svišťovka, August 14
The peak Veľká Svišťovka has the height of 2038 meters AMSL and is quite exhausting to ascend.
However, on this tour in the eastern parts of the High Tatra mountains you hike rather for seeing the gorgeous mountain lakes than for this particular peak, which lies more or less in the middle between Skalnaté and Zelené pleso (red marked path).
My starting point was the green trailhead at the train station in Tatranská Lomnica (850 meters AMSL), the largest town in the High Tatras. The green marked trail leads directly to the Skalnaté pleso lake, one for the most part 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.
Somewhat unexpectedly, Chata pri Zelenom plese turned out later to be a good spot for getting in contact with fellow hikers, and so I made friends with two girls from Gdansk (Danzig).
The descent from Veľká Svišťovka leads one towards Dolina Zeleného plesa. In this valley the refuge and two larger mountain lakes are situated (Čierny pleso and Zelené pleso).
The mammal population density in the High Tatras is comparatively low, and I seldomly spotted animals during my tours like in the following short video2.
2 For the very unlikely case you encounter a brown bear in the High Tatras: stay calm, avoid sudden movements and make a slow-moving retreat
The beautiful small mountain lake Zelené pleso got its name from its peculiar color, obviously (zelený is the Slovak adjective for green).
The refuge situated at the lake is a very popular destination for tourists, and even on this rainy Wednesday most of the seats were occupied.
From Zelené pleso one also has the opportunity to hike to Jahňací štít, the easternmost peak in the High Tatras. It was late in the day, so I headed back to Tatranská Lomnica.
Close to Tatranská Lomnica stretch the Belianske Tatras (Belianske Tatry), a mountain range of a different geological composition compared to the High Tatras.
Apart from a few exceptions, this range is not accessible for visitors due to strict nature protection laws.
Kopské sedlo, a mountain saddle a few kilometers northwards of Zelené pleso, represents the transition between the High Tatras and the Belianske Tatras.
Featured image: Zelené pleso (“Green mountain lake”)