A few weeks ago, Lucy and I spent the weekend at a friend’s house on the edge of Gorce National Park, close to the Tatry Mountains in the south of Poland. The plan was to hike for two days in the high Tatry without the kids and learn some snow-trekking skills, taking advantage of the time of year. However, our mentor friend was sick that weekend, so we left him to suffer in silence at home, packed our day packs and hiked amongst the lower hills of Gorce – husband and wife spending some quality alone time. All very beautiful scenery and enough snow to make the hiking a new experience without getting into too much difficulty. Above: stunning views from many of the trails across the valley onto the snow-capped Tatry range.
We had bought walking sticks with us, but managed to leave them in the car at our friend’s house. Usually we don’t use them so we didn’t think, but on this occasion given the slippery, steep paths, they would have been a useful accessory. 1st lesson learned.
The temperature hung around zero degrees for most of the day which was ideal. Bright sunshine meant that sunglasses were required and the surrounding landscape shone with glittering ice crystals, reflecting the light off the mounds of snow either side of the path. It’s easy to keep spirits high on a day like this. Talking of spirits, my hip flask filled with homemade wisniówka also helped us to keep warm… not that we needed it climbing the hills!
Someway up the mountain, we found ourselves on an old border line. Poland has historical been carved up by surrounding nations for centuries, and in 1769, Austria annexed a small part of Spisz, including the area around Nowy Targ and Nowy Sącz. The park authorities erected this small signboard above to identify where the border used to lie. History that is hard to comprehend.
Local foresters move around these trails with horse and sledge. We met man and beast heading up the trail towards us on their way to the village. The worn and discoloured leather straps around the horse show the aged nature of the equipment. A far and welcome cry from the traffic of Warsaw. A much more tranquil method of transportation.
The coniferous landscape allows colour to remain all year round and birds could be heard in the tree tops. Visitor signboards state bears and wolves roam these lands, but are notoriously elusive and shy, avoiding humans at all costs.
Finally we reached the PTTK shelter near the top of Turbacz, the highest mountain in the Gorce range at 1310m. The shelter has been here since 1958 and sleeps 100 people. We had soup and admired the crowds of people that had arrived by cross-country ski or running shoe. Our hiking boots seemed a little overkill! The surrounding views were stunning and other than losing the path on the way down, we thoroughly enjoyed our 8-hour hike. We will return here in the summer, but hopefully next time head over the valley to the larger hills!