By Konstantin Gridnevskiy
Having just survived the sudden frost and minus temperatures here, in the north of the Netherlands, it seems just appropriate to pay respect to winter hiking and turn our thoughts to one of the adventures we had last winter, just over a year ago. The hike we are going to talk about took place at the end of 2014, between Christmas and the New Year’s Eve, when we dragged our backpacks for 4 days in the south of Poland, covered around 75km at the altitudes between 600-1100m above sea level and just met a few people on the way and in the shelters. That was really fun!
The Starting Point: Krynica- Zdrój
We started our journey by going back in time to the heyday of the development of Polish health resorts in the Beskids Mountain Range as we spoiled ourselves by booking a room with half-board in one of the most famous hotels in Krynica- Zdrój – Hotel Witoldówka.
Very famous in the past, this hotel was still full of elegantly dressed elder people accompanied by their somewhat more casually attired children and grandchildren. Dressed in our hiking clothes, we definitely felt out of place. This feeling was especially strong when we went for the dinner shoeless and just in our socks and faced the other guests in their nightgowns and suits. It was the second day of Christmas after all.
This short encounter with the ‘luxury’ was a good way to say good-bye to the civilization before leaving it all behind and going more to the basics of staying in shared dorms with bunk-beds and struggling to find a working electric socket to charge our mobiles.
Almost all major mountain resorts in the Carpathian’s have historic wooden houses. Some of them are as big and spectacular as our hotel, whereas others are much smaller but equally richly decorated.
Most of these houses were built at the end of the 19th century as holiday guesthouses in the growing mountain health resorts in the South of Poland.
However, that style, known as Swiss or Alpine, was not unique to Poland alone and dominated architecture in most Central European tourist (mountain) towns at the beginning of the 20th century as that was the moment when mass tourism started to boom there.
At that time in the south of Poland, a lot of new hotels, mountain shelters and sanitariums were built in the forms inspired by wooden buildings in the Alps. Until now they add a lot of charm to those small mountain towns all over the Beskids.
Day 1: from Krynica to the shelter at Hala Łabowska (27/12/2014)
When we checked the map, the first part of the track seemed to be rather easy as in this part of the mountain range the Beskids are rather low and do not have much variation in the altitude, with the exception of a few major river valleys, in one of which was our starting point.
After the initial climb from Krynica (which we immediately felt in the winter-lazy muscles of our legs), we went up towards Runek (1080m), which was the highest point of the first two days. Coincidentally it was also the place where we had our lunch, sitting on our bags in the snow and extending our faces to the precious warmth of the winter sun.
After this short lunch break, we went down a bit before starting a long gentle ascent to the shelter on Hala Łabowska (1061m), where we spent our first night on the trail.
All trails are well marked on trees as well as at all crossroads. With that number of blazes and signs, it is almost impossible to stray from the track. Even in a thick fog, which awaited us the next day, we did not have any problems with finding our way.
Even though for most of the time we tried to follow the main Beskids mountain track, marked with the red blazes (a.k.a. “the red track”), we realized that on the first day we would not have enough time before the sun went down to follow it all the way from Krynica. That is why we took a shortcut. Thus, instead of taking the red track and climbing Jaworzyna Krynicka Mountain, from the town center we first followed the yellow and late the blue track up to Runek after which we continued with the main red track.
For most of the navigation, we used Gaia GPS app in combination with a regular map and a paper guidebook Główny Szlak Beskidzki by Agata Hanula (in Polish). We know that it was overkill, but it is better to be safe than sorry.
In general, the weather that day was very pleasant. With lots of sun and blue skies, we really enjoyed the first day of our hike.
That day we were also treated to a special natural phenomenon – a rainbow, created by the light of the evening sun going through the tiny crystals of ice falling off the trees. The spectacle made us stop in our tracks and we stood there mesmerized enjoying its delicate beauty for more than ten minutes.
The terrain was mostly flat and easy to cross. There was not much snow to speak of and we were really happy that we decided not to take our snowshoes with us.
As the mountains along the track are covered in forest, most of the time the swooping views were limited to the snippets that could be seen through the trees. Only at the beginning of the track and on the approach to the final destination for the day did we have an opportunity to see the range in all its glory. But not for long as the night fell and the darkness enveloped us. Even though we tried to make sure that we reached the shelter when it was still light, we had to rely on our trusty Petzl Nao headlamps to continue our journey to the shelter.
On the approach to the shelter, we got a bit confused. We knew it was there. We could see that both on the map and on the Gaia GPS app. But where was it? That we couldn’t see. The track in front of us was dark and uninviting. And so we continued walking, different what-if thoughts coming to our minds. Suddenly, there was some shimmering light in front of us and then we saw the outlines of a building.
But surely that couldn’t be the shelter, the haven of warmth and light in the sea of winter darkness. It must be another house, unmarked and unimportant. So we carefully approached the place, which, to our surprise turned out to be the very thing we were looking for – our shelter. Lit up in candlelight, the main dining hall accommodated a dozen of other travelers, eating their evening meal and washing it down with generous amounts of beer.
A Christmas tree was in the middle of the room with a giant stuffed plush dog the size of St. Bernard lying next to it. We also found an empty table and ordered our food and hot water for tea. The girl, serving the food, explained to us that the shelter does not have regular electricity and that once her boss was back from the village, he would switch on the generator for a couple of hours so that they could heat up the water for showers and the guests could charge their phones.
And indeed, only minutes after we heard the sound of a car coming, the light was on and everything and everyone sprang to life. We got our chargers out and tried to get the juice for the next day, which we hoped was going to be as great as the day we’d just had.
Nothing was further from the truth than that.
Here you can find a map from the trip.
We will publish part 2 and 3 of this trip soon on our blog. In the meantime, you can have a look at our Puszcza Notecka adventure in Poland.