Tatra mountains – from Grzes through Rakon to Volovec

It is 10 PM on Friday and packing to Tatra mountains is still on the way. You are making sandwiches. For many reasons sandwiches taste so much better at the top, where there is a silence, clean air and you know you did your best to deserve them. A thought is circling in your mind “Sleep, you will miss it so much tomorrow”.

The trip starts from Krakow at 5:20 AM to arrive to Siwa Polana Parking at around 7:20 AM. On a way you pass a beautiful sunrise view behind snowy Tatras. The hike from Siwa Polana to Polana Chocholowska takes about 1:30 h, less than expected. Despite the risk of avalanches has been announced as level 3 for the last few days and the weather forecast for Saturday was not very promising, the view presents quite opposite picture – fairy tale sparkling snow and clear blue sky.

A few moments of rest in shelter at Polana Chocholowska, and the hike to Grzes (Lúčna in Slovak) for 1653 m starts. There are many stops on the way, setting your tempo to catch your breath while hiking in snow turns out not an easy task. More experienced hikers consider the route as relatively easy one, doing it without any experience takes a lot of effort. Crampons need to be adjusted every now and then, which makes it a perfect excuse to take yet another break.

It usually takes about 1:40 h to reach Grzes from Polana Chocholowska. From there it is another 1:30 h to Rakon, even though the sign on Grzes shows some 20 minutes less. The route from Grzes to Rakon seems very long. You see the target clearly, but it takes time to actually get there. The closer you approach the more windy it gets, slowing you down. Already at the point of climbing last few meters to Rakon, you take breaks every 180-200 steps. You are counting steps to break down the distance into manageable chunks. At this point you can still make 200 steps in one go. Last 200 steps turned into 215 and you are finally there to enjoy both – the view and hot (still!) mint tea.

The view from Rakon at Volovec is spectacular and scary at the same time. There is one descent, then a narrow path along a steep side going through which present its risks and then a final big climb to reach 2063m to break the limit. It is not far, but you take breaks every 80 steps now. The closer you get, the shorter the distances between the breaks, so you are are stopping every 50 steps eventuallay.

It seems there are lots of 50s ahead. Each one is taking you closer, but not quite close enough. The wind is strong, slapping your cheeks with snow and ice. But there is a friend reminding you to go further little by little, making sure that your 50s do not turn up to be 40s or less instead. Keeping you honest. There is a similar feeling of pure joy in reaching the top as in reaching the last few meters of long distance run. It is a feeling that you are close to the final point and you realise you will make it despite all the hesitation felt along the way. It is a real happiness.

Volovec reached, at 1:26 PM, Saturday, 17.02.108, using one very tired body and one extremely satisfied mind.

First and last pictures by Pawel Owsianka

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