NameThe name Babia Góra (Polish) or Babia hora (Slovak), which can be translated as Old Women's/Witches' Mountain, or just Babia for short, can be used to refer to the following entities:
- the massif that extends from the saddle named Jałowiecka Przełęcz Południowa in the west to Krowiarki pass in the east and has two prominent peaks – Babia Góra/hora at 1725 m and Mała/Malá (Little) Babia Góra/hora (in Poland also known as Cyl) at 1517 m, separated by Brona/Brána saddle at 1408 m
- the part of the massif east of Brona/Brána saddle, i.e. without Little Babia
- the highest summit of the massif
Babia Góra - beautiful and capricious, often referred to as the 'Queen of the Beskids' - was already mentioned in late-medieval chronicles. According to some old legends Babia Góra is a sitting old woman ('baba') turned into stone, or a huge heap of rubbish raised by women visiting a nearby sanctuary. Babia's summit was famous among local people for centuries as a place where witches had their Sabbaths.
The huge, around ten kilometers long, formed mostly of exceptionally hard sandstone massif of Babia Góra straddles the Poland-Slovakia border some forty kilometers northwest of the Tatras. It totally dominates its surroundings and makes the Beskid Żywiecki range (in Slovakia known as Oravské Beskydy: Please see here) the second highest mountain range in Poland and the highest range in all of the Western Beskids (the Flysch belt of the Northwestern Carpathians). Babia Góra has 1071 m of prominence, thus being the second most prominent summit in Poland and third in Slovakia.
Babia Góra massif is asymmetric in shape - its south side is gentle whereas its north side is very steep, occasionally cliffy. The main ridge of the massif extends from Jałowiecka Przełęcz Południowa (a pass at 997 m) in the west to Krowiarki pass (1012 m) in the east, forming an arc convex towards the south. Near the center and the southernmost point of the ridge is its main summit, Diablak at 1725 m. East of it sit the following - far from prominent - summits: Gówniak at 1617 m, Kępa at 1530 m and Sokolica (whose characteristic, cliffy north face is a scarp of a landslide) at 1367 m. To the west of Diablak is a flattish ridge of Kościółki at 1620 m, then Złotnica and Brona/Brána saddle at 1408 m, beyond which rises the peak of Little Babia (1517 m).
Along the western crest of Babia Góra massif runs the Poland-Slovakia border, which takes a sharp turn at Diablak summit to descend the south side of the mountain.
Babia Góra may have been glaciated in the Ice Age, but since its end (and surely before its beginning as well) has been shaped by landslides which destroyed most, if not all, traces of glaciers. Scarps at landslide heads, bulging bulk of displaced rock material and tiny lakes inside hollows within landslide toes dot the northern side of the massif.
Summit Area & ViewsThe summit area rises a couple of hundred meters above the tree line, which runs at approximately 1400 m. Higher up stretches the realm of dwarf mountain pine (Pinus mugo), which was devastated a few centuries ago in order to extend mountain pastures and graze herds of oxen, but is now fighting back. On and around the very summit are talus, some bare rock and alpine meadows. There are also a couple of man-made structures, relatively small in size, such as two rather unsightly monuments (to Archduke Joseph and to Pope John Paul II). However, the biggest structure erected by humans on the summit of Babia Góra is a two meter high wall of stone, which protects hikers from the notorious winds. At the north side of this wall is an inscription carved in situ in 1924, which has sentimental value for many Poles.
Views from the summit are overwhelming. In fact, for some they are the main reason for an ascent of Babia Góra. Quite a few people keep summiting before sunrise, but the best views, especially of the Tatras, can be admired an hour before sunset. The southerly, most interesting panorama encompasses the following mountain ranges: High Tatras, Western Tatras, Chočské vrchy, Veľká Fatra and Malá Fatra. Looking west-southwest Pilsko and Romanka come into sight and just west of Babia rises Little Babia. To the north and east stretch many lower ranges and ridges of the Western Beskids, of which the highest is Polica at 1369 m about nine kilometers to the northeast.
Some of the photographs featured below were taken a bit off the summit, but the scene they show does not differ much from what is seen from the very top.
Getting There, Routes & MapsMany people start an ascent of Babia Gora in the village of Zawoja, the longest village in Poland extending for 18 km along the valley of Skawica creek. Zawoja is easily accessible from Kraków (Cracow) by car or bus, or rather minibus. The minibuses/buses depart from the station located just outside Cracow Central Railway Station. The ticket costs up to 18 zlotys (about 4 euros), the journey takes two hours. Usually, you have to get off at Zawoja-Widły, but if you are lucky your minibus will take you 3.5 km further south, to the entrance to the national park at Zawoja-Markowa.
However, those travelling by car most often choose Krowiarki pass on Road 957 as a start point.
The most interesting stretch of all routes is undoubtedly Perć Akademików, which climbs the steep, north side of Babia. It is the rockiest waymarked path in all of the Flysch Carpathians, which boasts a few chain-assisted sections, including an eight meters high 'bad step' fitted with steel rungs.
The table below lists the shortest, most popular routes to the summit of Babia Góra.
|Ascent from the||Start point||Approx. total elevation gain||Approx. length of hike||Time for walk up||Marks|
|East||Krowiarki pass||715 m||4.5 km||1 hr 50 min||red (via east ridge)|
|South-West||Oravská Polhora||1080 m||10.7 km||3 hr 30 min||red-yellow (via Slaná voda)|
Red Tape & CampingBabia Góra National Park, part of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves. Camping, bivouacking, off-trail hiking and dogs are not permitted. You have to pay an entry fee, which in 2017 was 5 zlotys (a little more than 1 euro).
On Perć Akademików (see chapter 4) only upslope traffic is allowed. (The rule seems to make sense in summer, when traffic can be heavy.) The trail is closed in winter due to avalanche risk.
The Slovak part of the massif is a nature reserve, in which the regulations are as strict as in the Polish territory. No entry fee is collected.
The first Polish hut was built at 1180 m northwest of the summit, at a clearing called Markowe Szczawiny, just a year after the Beskidenverein hut. It lasted over a hundred years and in 2009 was replaced by a modern building. Markowe Szczawiny hut is very popular with individual hikers and school groups, even in the off season. If the hut is fully booked, you can get a place on the floor, which in 2017 cost about €6.
The Polish village of Zawoja at the north foot of Babia Góra offers a wide range of accommodation, which in contrast is rather limited in the Slovak village of Oravská Polhora, which has a few guesthouses and Slaná Voda hut at 750 m.
Over six kilometers northwest of the summit of Babia, just north of the crest of Mędralova/Modrálová (1169 m), outside the national park, sits a shelter which used to be a shepherd hut. Lastly, on the Slaná Voda – Babia Hora trail there are several newly-built shelters, but bear in mind that bivouacking is not allowed there (see chapters 4 and 5).
When To Climb, Rescue & WeatherYou can climb Babia Gora all year round. In July t-storms and fog are common. The best time, when you can count on relatively long spells of good weather and excellent views, seems to be August to October, but in August (and July) huge crowds are the norm.
Mountain rescue team's phone number:
Poland (GOPR) (+48) 601 100 300 or 985
Slovakia (HZS) (+421) 18 300
Warning: In Slovakia - unlike in Poland - those who do not carry commercial insurance, such as the 'Out and Active' (see here), have to pay for any rescue services rendered by Mountain Rescue Service (HZS).