So, when the Tatras ?
The "CAF d'Astaffort", as they call themselves (they are members of my former local Club Alpin, "CAF") are originary from the same eponymous village, Francis Cabrel's town too for the story.
My "spiritual fathers" of Pyreneism, with who I bagged countless peaks of first order during my early mountaineer's years while I lived in France, regardless they are rather the same generation as my parents, are traveling a lot since they retired: Nepal, Kilimanjaro, Moroccan Atlas.
"So, when the Tatras ?" I pointed humorously during some mail exchange. But I did not expect them to fly...
On Saturday, Daniel and Michel landed in Cracow. My former "Mousquetaires", (me being the former young d'Artagnan), unfortunately now two instead of three for tragic reasons, haven't changed. The eye of the "Scrivener" (as Daniel, official writer, enjoys signing his hilarious trip-reports), is still lively as ever and his chatting output is intact. As for the pharmacist Michel, the same mustachioed teasing smile remains, which although a little more grizzled, hides an intact fitness : my hiking mates from Gasconia, addicts of the website "Randonner léger" ("hike light !"), took along backpacks that weight not less than... 19 kgs!
A little later, here we are in Zakopane, the "Luchon" of the Polish Tatras for a few formalities. After a short visit, we bought in advance tickets for the train back, left non-mountain luggage at the baggage room. During the sorting stage, as they undressed from civilian clothes to the hiking ones behind some trees in the Krupówki car park, our friends were warmly welcomed by a first cold shower, just as an omen for the rest !
Meeting other e-hikers
Later, sitting outside a café of the Krupówki street, we drank a beer with Simon Dubuis, a young adventurer who departed early in June from Vienna in order to traverse the whole arc of the Carpathians, and who was by some coincidence here this day (we exchanged by mail and SMSes about weather since his left). Michel and Daniel could see what hiking "really" light was: Simon's bag, whose content was certainly more cutting-edge, weighted only 7 kgs!
As the evening came, we drove to Ždiar, picturesque village near the eastern end of the range, which will be the departure point. We choose a pension almost randomly and were hosted for a very modest fee. In the evening, while eating at the restaurant, Yann, a french hiker member of a club in Toulon, joined us for a beer too. He also contacted me two months ago for some information on a similar trek, and whose dates corresponded by coincidence to theirs of Daniel and Michel. Having felt a genuine mountain fan though the mail exchanges, I went into the game and provided him the same amount of info as for Daniel and Michel, thinking that if the mentalities were compatible, they could possibly join to hike all together. Which would certainly be an advantage for Daniel and Michel who knew very little English.
I didn't expect it to be the start of such a nice friendship: When I left, Michael, Daniel, Yann and Alain seemed to have been an inseparable group of fellows since age, those of Astaffort already talking about some bivouacs in the Pyrenees with them! This was really with lots of regrets I had to abandon atmosphere of this friendly improvised team to get back to work after one long week-end only.
The sandals of the Green Lake
It was above Ždiar, in the steep and photogenic valley Monkova Dolina through the "White Tatras", limestone and dolomitic part of the chain, that the two groups merged. We observed together a group little fearful chamois together, once we reached the Pass where a freezing wind welcomed us. The view revealed the Tatras dusted with fresh snow ! The weather had previously been quite warm and I had suggested that the crampons could stay home, which they fortunately disobeyed...
We arrived quite early at the first refuge, Chata Pri Zelenom Plese ("Refuge of Green Lake"), but that was good as the cloud ceiling lowered in the afternoon. We had plenty of time to enjoy the local beers and liqueurs, while studying the maps during the evening.
Comic anecdote : the refuge being provided with sandals, to ensure that people do not walk in hiking shoes, Michel grabbed a pair of them that looked rather nice. A tall Czech guy with long hair approached him a few hours later: "Excuse me, is it on the shelve above that you found these shoes?". Yes, here exactly, Michel replied proudly in a perfect Oxford English. "Because in fact .. uh ... these are mine! ", the guy nodded, barely audible though our laughter ...
Bread-milling at the brigands hut
The plan was to go through two high saddles, Baranie Sedlo and Priečne Sedlo, but they seemed to be under two layers of snow, one with old firm ice, plus one new made of tender snow that felt yesterday. The Astaffort had the crampons, but not the Toulon duo. Neither they had UIAA licences contrary to my CAF friend to be officially allowed to go offtrails.
A low cloud ceiling confirmed our decision not do do it and opt for the B Plan the next morning: instead we got around the South Massif Lomnica, second highest summit of the chain. Lower but longer route, involving more elevation as well. But it has the advantage for us to enjoy the protection of a strong foehn effect, the clouds arriving from the north. After a coffee in the desert restaurant of the cable station (Lomnica is a kind of local Aiguille du Midi), we turned right into the valley "Veľká Studená Dolina" in whose bottom is located the hut that we should have reached with the original plan. We crossed a pretty blue river. Unfortunately, inside a forest devastated by what appears to be a parasite of the wood. I hid my sleeping bag under dead trees as I would come back by the same route wasn't really willing to carry it for 700m of ascent and descent.
The sunny beginning of the walk into this valley I had never visited revealed a grand landscape of sharp ridges and countless small lakes, fragrant vegetation, and then the forest level gradually yielding place to the dwarf pine zone ("Pinus mugo"), and then the subalpine boulder chaos recalling a lot Pyrenean granite in similar areas. We climbed as much as 1400 that day (although the way down for them was less), and all five stomachs were screaming as the hut was reached. The apparition of "Zbojnícka chata" ("mountain-hut of the brigands") on top of a rocky bump was more than welcome, and we quickly warm ourselves up with a good soup and a main course. Daniel, former miller of his profession discoursed all meal long about appearance of the local bread, delicious but but intriguing manufacturing...
Flying back home prematurely
The Mousquetaires came for the whole week, but I was there only for the long week-end to accompany, help for language issues, and "put them into orbit" for the rest of their trek.
I had then to go back down at this point unfortunately. That was done in less than 3 hours: 1'40 to the place I dug my duvet and 1'20 to Starý Smokovec, nice locality on the piedmont of the range. Luck smiled to me as the bus arrived ten minutes later. And for the first time it wasn't that old public bus that is usually crowded, but the brand new shuttle connecting Zakopane, full of room. I did not ask for so much as I only needed to step down in Ždiar to the place my Ford Focus was waiting since the day before, and inside which I couldn't wait to sit down. The Tatras rolled away in my rear-view mirror, still covered by residual clouds, but blue skies reappeared I drove away from Krakow to the west on the motorway. Good omen, I thought. Big mistake... Internet revealed me a not really rejoicing prediction at 23pm. The rest of the tour of colleagues probably will be tricky...
They eventually SMSed me that the time was not really bad at 7am in the morning, and will try to reach the North mountainside in order to have at least some sort of loop done. The saddle was still full of snowfields according to the hutkeeper. Then I had not news from them but I truted their experience...
As expected, thanks to the the experience of Michel and Daniel, all four fellows managed to pass the Prielom saddle despite Yann and Alain not owning crampons.
The last two, in accordance with their initial plan of spending only 5 days in the Tatras and the rest of the Slovak Paradise, decided to continue walking down the Bielovodská valley. The end of their hike was done under a real monsoon. Eventually, the rest of their holiday was a rainy fiasco so they preferred to advance the date of their flight back to France...
Daniel and Michel managed to reach Poľský Hrebeň before the rain, in very windy conditions. Rain wasn't as strong as on the north as they eventually told it began slowly to fall only after passing the hut Horský Sliezsky Dom. During the long horizontal portion of Tatranska Magistrala, they met Simon Dubuis (see introduction) coming the opposite way and who had passed Rysy the day before in snow ! Simon informed me of that by SMS as we were still keeping contact for weather forecast purposes. Daniel and Michel reached later the Popradské Pleso hut under pouring rain too and gave themselves a day off to dry clothes, and visit Štrbské Pleso as simple tourists. The day after, thanks to a lull of rain they took the decision to attempt Rysy. They reached the hut under the top in cloudy conditions, but rain began to fall again on the Polish side. According to Daniel's trip report, water was flowing down like rivers in the place where chains were pinned in ! They told themselves they were probably the craziest people in the whole Tatras at this time, until they saw Poles going the same way up, wearing only plastic ponchos and sandals ! Without surprise given the weather, they managed to get a space into the Morskie Oko hut in which they slept. Being all wet, the next day was dedicated to the only walk down to Łysa Polana and the autobus back to Zakopane. The rest of the week was dedicated to Cracow old town, like most people flying to the Tatras also do.
You're a "Tatralogue", concluded the Scrivener in the trip-report of his own, while mentioning me for well organizing their trek.
"But you aren't yet the Lord of Weather !"
This trip report is a tribute to all the seniors most of us we wandered with in the mountains, and from who we owe so much of their experience. Thanks Daniel and Michel for coming visiting "my" Tatras while bringing your bit of Gasconian good mood. Despite of the weather this trip cheered me up and made me remember countless nice moments after so many years.
There is an album linked to this trip with landscape pics only.