Reminding myself all the epic stories of my friends' winter Tatra trips, including also this year, I was psychologicaly preparing myself for the worst conditions. During the last part of the way through the Poland the weather seemed to confirm my expectations – the dark clouds have covered all the sky and there was a constant drizzle, which sometimes turned into a heavy rain. We have arrived to Zakopane on the 10th of March at about 11.00 p.m. and were welcomed by Ieva - the member of our party, who have arrived a bit earlier from Slovakia, where she was skiing. We have quickly caried all our loads into the guesthouse (we were using a privat accomodation – there are lots of possibilities in Zakopane), had some food and went to sleep, hoping for the best, but getting ready for the worst...
When I had been woked up by the alarm clock next morning, I found all the room to be filled with the rays of Sun. I've got up in a moment and looked in the window... There was a blue sky all over the shiny snow-covered peaks and ridges of Tatra Mountains. “Not a single word about the weather!” - have strictly said our instructor Sigizmund comming into the room. Well, it seemed, that inspite of my expectations the winter Tatras appeared to be welcoming for us...
OK, now let's look back for a moment. The plan was such – our instructor Sigizmund Grohowsky, his collegue Alexander (who was going to have a ski holiday) and us, young roosters, – Vilnis, Maksim and myself will start out of Riga on the 10th of March at 6.00 a.m., while Ieva will come to Zakopane from Slovakia. The “fun” have strated, when Maksim haven't arrived at time. When he was called at 6.30 a.m., he appeared still sleeping, as there was “something wrong with the alarm clock”. It was declared, that we are going, as we couldn't wait because of the strict preplaned timing. Might seem to strict, but that's the way it is done – as I've understood later, time discipline is at the first place for Sigizmund.
So, we were the group ouf four at the begining of our mountaineering trip – Sigizmund, Vilnis, Ieva and me. Accepting the offer of Sigizmund, we have planned to walk up the Giewont peak by the standart route from Zakopane for the first day to warm up for the rest of our climbing week.
Giewont. Warm-upThe 11th of March
We've woke up at 8.00 a.m. I wasn't neccesary to wake up earlier, as climb wouldn't be a long one and it was good to have some sleep after the hard way. So, we've had breakfast and started out. The begininhg of the route, the place named Kuznica, was reached by a bus. The approach was very pleasant, as the road lead through the beautiful winter forest with the rays of Sun shining through the trees. After about an hour of slow walk we have reached the hut under the mountain. We've had some rest there and enjoyed the view over the mountains and rocks surrounding us. It wasn't early, there was much snow and Sun was burning quiet strong, so we were warned about the moderate avalanche danger. Sigizmund have told us to watch the slopes to the right of us all the way and to try not to be too slow until the saddle. So, we have started.
The route to the saddle lead through the snow, which was normaly up to the knee. There was already a track, but snow had kept on melting, so we had to fix the snow steps all the way long, anyway. We've shifted the first one time after time, so nobody was much tired, when we had reached the saddle. After a bit of rest we have aimed for the summit.
The second part of the route through steeper slopes was more interesting. A bit below the summit a nice rocky section have strated, but there was also no problems, as this section was protected by the fixed chains. After about 20 minutes we have reached the summit. The summit cross appeared to be much bigger, then I expected. Again – rest, tea and enjoying the view. I was very impressed by the majestic wall of Small Giewont next to us.
On the descend Sigizmund have shown us a bad sign – the long thin crack in the snow, the sign, that the snow plate can start to move any moment. So, we have hurried down, watching suspicious slopes. Again a bit of rest in the hut and nice walk back home.
Just before the dinner Sigizmund ran into the kitchen very excited and informed everybody, that Maksim have called him, and said that he is in Zakopane! As we've found out later, he have taken a bus from Riga to Warsaw, then to Cracow and finaly a train to Zakopane. So, we were the team of five for tomorrow.
During the dinner it was decided to attempt Swinica. The plan was to reach Kasprowy Wierh by a cable car, traverse the ridge and summit the mountain. Alarm clocks were set to 5.00 a.m.
Swinica. ExhaustionThe 12th of March
After the breakfast we went to Kuznica again and joined the huge line to the cable car. It have taken about an hour to get into the one of them and after about 30 minutes more we were already on the Kasprowy Wierh. Weather was sunny, but windy. Aleksander, who came with us went skiing, and we have went on the route. It was quiet a long traverse until we've reached the saddle just before Swinica, but offering great views over the landscape. All the way we went along the national border, as this ridge divides Poland and Slovakia.
We've had some rest at the saddle and of course some tea. Now it was time for ascend. One polish guy have joined us from this point. There was also track, but it appeared to be a bit physicaly demanding climb all over the steep snow and sometimes icy stones. My curved ice-axe have helped me a lot at the places, where stones had to be passed. Our team had two ropes, for the case if somebody will find, that he feels unsafe on the route. We were going and going, I didn't even look up, as it usualy seems to be much more to go, I've mostly watched the boots of the person in front of me, these were Ieva's boots, as I remeber.
I've had very interesting feeling, when we've appeared to be on the summit at once. I've noticed, that it was summit only about two meters below it. Feeling was great, hard to describe. The wind was blowing pretty strong, so I put my hard-shell jacket on. There was magnificient view on Koscielec and great rest.
Descend was also demanding. We have traveresed the ridge back till about half-way and headed down. One moment I've noticed, that Maksim was far back and stayed to wait for him. While he was coming the rest of the group was gone out of the visibility. I've decided to shortcut (Sigizmund was very unsatisfied by this decision. OK, I understand, that I was wrong!) We went directly down the slope and in the end appeared to be down about the same time, as others. It appeared, that they have waited for us for some time on the route, anyway.
We all were very tired and went to the hut to have dinner and rest. But it was not the end of adventures for me and Maksim. When everybody headed out to town, we have delayed repacking our backpack. I've agreed with others, that we will follow that in 5 minutes. When we have reached the cable car, I've understood, that something is wrong... I've called Sigizmund and have listened to everything he thought about our orientation skills. It appeared, that we've gone the wrong direction. Maksim have offered to take a cable car if we are here, but I have rejected (another stupid decision). My arguments were such – if everybody walked by foot, then we will do the same, because of solidarity. Man, it was a hard way... We appeared home about one and a half hour later totaly exhausted... Anyway, it was funny. I've done some streching to relax the muscles, it helped a lot.
The next day was decided to be the rest day. Okay, if You agree, that the rest is a change of an activity type. We've decided to go to Slovakia to check the ice. If it would be fine, that we would do some ice-climbing, otherwise we'll move to rocks and will have a rock climbing training. I've gone to bed and hardly fell asleep after this crazy day.
Rock Training. RelaxationThe 13th of March
Inspite of Sigizmund's offer to go to rocks at once, we have insisted on going to check the ice. When we came to the area of icefalls, there was only wet rock on the place where ice supposed to be... Sun did its job. Anyway, we have seen the area and it was a useful information for possible future trips.
We came to rocks bit late, Sunlight was already going away from the faces and it was getting colder. We have done some team work trainings on easy routes. In general, it was a relaxation day. After the training we went to have a walk in the center of Zakopane.
When we were discussing plans for tomorrow, me and Ieva have offered to attempt something not too complicated, but technical. Sigizmund thought of two options – Koscielec and Mnich. After a bit of research Koscielec was rejected, as there were dangerous snow conditions, so we've decided to attempt Mnich. The next day was planned for transfer to the hut near the Morskie Oko lake and situation checking and if everithing would be OK, attempt was planned for the day after. Maksim was not sure if he wants to go, so he was asked to think and give answer in the morning.
Morskie Oko. ApproachThe 14th of March
In the morning Maksim have informed us, that he is going to join Alexander in skiing for the rest of the trip, so we were four people aimed for Mnich. It was decided, that we are going to climb in two parallel teams, but exact positions were not discussed yet.
So, we've packed all needed gear and headed out. There was an hour trip by bus to the station on the border of Tatra National Park. From this point, there was a 10 km way to the hut on Morskie Oko with a bit of altitude gain. There were two options – to go by foot or to take a horse cab. We've decided to go, as we needed to warm up a bit after the rest day. After about two hours of a nice walk, we've reached the hut.
Sigizmund have signed in, we've had some rest and made a plan for the day. Us – Vilnis, Ieva and me will go out to check surroundings, while Sigizmund will consult with the rescue service about the current conditions in the area.
We went to Czarny Staw – the lake, wnich is situated a bit higher then Morskie Oko. The Lake was frozen and the tracks were all over, so it seemed safe to cross it. We've reached the upper lake over the steep tracks and while we were watching surrounding rocks, the weather have begun to change very quickly... Black clouds were coming from all around. We've taken so photos and went down.
When we came back Sigizmund have told us, that by information from the rescue service the weather should change back very soon. We've decided to book an additional day anyway for the case if it didn't. But if everything would be OK, we had planned to attempt Rysy the second day on Morskie Oko.
When I went out to check the weather before going to sleep, it seemed much better already – stars were wisible and there was a pleasant chill in the air. Hoping for the best I went to sleep.
Mnich. The ChallengeThe 15th of March
That morning we have started out at 6.00 a.m. The weather was great and the Minch's face was shining in the rays of morning Sun. The approach was over the steep snow, but not difficult. Sigizmund have told us to choose the route ourselves, but only following the main rule – not to split. I have offered a steeper coloir, but after discussion we went a flatter, but longer route. As we found out few minutes after, Sigizmund went over the steep one. During the way I have heart some kind of glassy sounds. After observation these appered to be peaces of ice walling down from warming up rocks. After about two hours (maybe bit less) we have reached the saddle. We've had some rest while waiting for Sigizmund and watched the impressive pyramid of Mnich over us.
When Sigizmund came, we went on about twenty minutes more until we reached a comfortable flat ground and decided to leave all unneeded stuff there. We've had some tea, repacked our backpacks and prepared to go. We have agreed, that I will lead the first team and Ieva will follow, while Vilnis will lead the second team and Sigizmund will go last and control everything we would do.
This was the first time I've tried to climb in mountaineering boots, so it took a while until I've understood and felt how to place my feet correctly. In some places a had to take off the gloves and work with bear hands, as holds were very small in many places. I've quickly understood, that moving over the icy stones covered with snow powder is quite tricky. Sometimes I had to clean off the snow to see where I can safely place my feet.
Sigizmund have told me to choose route myself and of course I went not the best way. My route quickly led me to the crux moment. I've fixed myself to a nut and had some rest. After several minutes I have passed this section mostly holding myself on the rock with an ice-axe. I've made a stance and belayed Ieva. When she came to the crux it got a bit complicated and it was the moment when we made a very stupid decision – she went over another step (she had some nuts too) and I have belayed her from my stance. All this crazy movements end up with a complicated rope jam. I went a bit down on the rope and tried to free it. All in all this shit have been solved after about half an hour of shouting and moving up and down, while Sigizmund was shouting from below and wondering what is going on. He already seemed a bit nervous. When we had fixed the problem, we belayed Vilnis and brought him up. After five minutes Sigizmund was also up. Not saying anything about our clever heads he just told me to keep going forward.
There was one more complicated section, but I've done this pitch without any epic. The only problematic moment was when I had to climb few complicated meters with the last nut left a coulple of meters behind the corner without a possibility to put any pro on the rock. I've done it very accurately and got to the place, where two anchors were installed. It was almost the summit. I've made a stance and belayed Ieva. Vilnis went first using my pro, when he was almost at the stance Ieva began to move. Both of them got to the point with minor difficulties. Vilnis belayed Sigizmund and soon we all were under the summit. We've had some rest there. Sigizmund went to the summit first, then went Vilnis. I went after their team and when I was sitting myself comfortable on the summit (which was about 2 – 3 square meters only), Sigizmund had belayed Ieva, who quickly got up. We've taken some photos and enjoyed the moment.
We had rapelled almost to the bottom of all complicated sections, went a bit back with belaying and got to the place where we started. We had unbelayed, got to the point where we left our stuff, sat down and took a deep breath. This climb was realy an adventure for us. Descend to the hut was quick and unproblematic.
In fact, we were getting ready to get some ass-kicking from Sigizmund for the way we had performed on the route, but he didn't say a word, just congratulated us with the summit. Probably he thought, that we had already made all conclusions ourselves. And he was completely right. We made many mistakes on the route, but it was a great experience and I am sure, that we are not going to repeat them again.
Sigizmund have told us that he is going to leave to Zakopane, as it was planned before and offered us to attempt Rysy ourselves tomorrow. After a dinner and a bit of chating we went to sleep.
Niznie Rysy. ConfusionThe 16th of March
It was planned to start out at 6 a.m., but it appeared, that without the presence of Sigizmund discipline have realy sucked. After all the packing and repacking, we went out at 7 a.m. When we reached Czarni Staw lake it was time to discuss, where to go... Of cource, we were informed, that we have to go up, keeping to the right from the big rock Bula Pod Risiami... Ascent was physicaly demanding and I got tired very quickly. After some time I've appeared to move last in the row. Probably it was the overal exhaustion after these exciting days...
After The Bula Pod Risiami we have kept to the left, following a big steep coloir and aiming for the highest visible point. As we have discovered later, that was the moment, where we made a mistake, as it often happens, the point which was visible wasn't the highest one. It appeared to be Niznie Rysy.
All the way we were moving throught the deep steep snow, which was getting steeper step after step. We were moving from one group of stones, where we had rest, to another... I've had a snack, which have helped, as I wasn't sure if I am able to do the summit at the moment, but after food I felt better at once. I have took myself together and crawled to the place where Ieva and Vilnis were waiting. A cup of hot tea also went very good.
[img:280837:alignright:small:Shoot! :) During the descend]
After all, we have reached the summit. Ieva and Vilnis had to wait for me again there. We've done it in five hours from the hut. We've had some food and drank the rest of the tea. I felt OK now. Studying the map, we have discovered, where actualy we are. There was a group of climbers summiting Rysy at the moment. We have taken some photos of them. None of us was disappointed, as Niznie Rysy is also a remarcable summit and we had a great view on Rysy and much new experience – everybody learns on his own mistakes, anyway!
Descend was rather quick and not so tiring for me. We have received all our stuff at reception, had dinner and moved down to the bus stop to return to Zakopane.
ConclusionAfter all, winter Tatras were very nice for us. The sun was shining almost all the time, the weather was calm and joyful. We have fulfilled all our plans, had realy good time and got much new experience. I would say, that our trip was as good, as it could be.
Special thanks to our instructor Sigizmund Grohowsky for huge help and great patience!