One of the most conspicuous massifs of the limestone belt of the Lower Tatras (Nízke Tatry), Krakova hoľa sits 5 km north of Ďumbier, their highest peak. Krakova hoľa looks especially attractive from the north, i.e. from the basin of Liptov. (The mountain first beckoned me while I stared at the Lower Tatras from the train.) Krakova hoľa has three distinctive summits, of which you can only set foot legally on the highest, southwestern peak. Even though its summit area is covered by a wonderful sea of dwarf mountain pine (Pinus mugo) up to 2.5m tall, it offers a panoramic view: All mountain ranges surrounding Liptov can be seen.
And just south of the main vantage point on the rim of the bluff, where the southerly view is obscured by the bushes of dwarf pine, one can get the best views of the massif of Ďumbier. Besides being an excellent vantage point, Krakova hoľa is away from the Lower Tatras' main ridge, whose central part is usually packed with people arriving by chair lift (see here). The trail traversing the eastern slopes of Krakova hoľa (blue marks) runs through what can be called the Carpathian wilderness, where – except in July and August – it seems that you are more likely to run into a bear than into another hiker.
Lastly, climbing Krakova hoľa can be a reasonable option for those who are unsure of their walking potential, e.g. for someone recovering from illness or injury - a return would be relatively easy and brief. On the other hand, if you feel like extending your hike, this can be done by ascending Poludnica or Ďumbier on the same day, which would make for a full day of hiking.
TrailsThe trails climbing the slopes of Krakova hoľa are waymarked either blue or yellow. (Please see the online map). The last stretch of an ascent is a short dead-end path from a trail junction named "Pod Krakovou hoľou". The table below compares ascents via - all or most of the time - blue marks with the most convenient starting points in either of the main valleys: Demänovská dolina to the west and Jánska dolina to the east of the long lateral ridge which branches off the main ridge of the Lower Tatras at Krúpova hoľa (at the west end of the Ďumbier Massif) and runs north to Krakova hoľa and then farther on to Poludnica.
|Starting Point||Net Elevation Gain(summit minus start)in metres||Time for Walk Up&YDS Class||Features||Marks|
The summit of Krakova hoľa can also be ascended from the south, via the saddle of Javorie (1479m), with which it is connected by a trail marked yellow. However, a route through this saddle seems to be a better option for a descent, especially when it is about to be getting dark and you are heading for the Jánska Valley. From Javorie the yellow trail runs on south as far as the main ridge (less than 2 hours' walk away), whereas the red marks drop west and east, into the valleys. It should take you about 40 minutes to get from the summit of Krakova hoľa to Javorie. From there you should reach the bus stop at a place called Lúčky (which translates as "little meadows") in the Demänovská Valley in less than five quarters of an hour while a stroll east and then north down the road (a reasonable option after dark) to Liptovský Ján will take about three hours. The shortest round trip to the summit of Krakova hoľa - about four hours' walk - would be: Lúčky-Javorie Saddle-Krakova hoľa-Pusté-Demänovská Cave of Liberty.
MapsThe paper map I used was made by VKÚ Harmanec: Sheet 1, "Nízke Tatry. Rekreačné strediská" (1:25 000)
To see the area and the trails on an online map, type (or copy and paste) Krakova hola in the search box.
Bears (including mine)Fortunately, the bears in these mountains have not been depraved by man yet and despite fairly frequent encounters there have been few accidents. In order to protect both people and bears the B.E.A.R.S. project has been launched by the Slovak Wildlife Society. While browsing the project's website do not miss the pages concerned with safety advice (including this page) and encounters/attacks.
I have had two chance encounters with bears in the area, both on the same day. The first took place late in the afternoon when I was walking up the green waymarked trail towards the saddle between the massifs of Krakova hoľa and Poludnica. Just before reaching a glade (photo on the right), I heard a noise of tree branches being snapped by a big animal. Deer, I thought, and I saw a bear foraging in the bushes about twenty meters away, a bit above the trail and ahead of me. In fact, I could only see the bear's head and back popping up from behind the dense bushes. The wind was blowing in my direction so the bear didn't know I was coming. I hesitated a moment and gave up the option of trying to take a photo as unrealistic. The sun was blinding me, the vegetation was dense. We might have get too close to one another, was there a mother bear with her cubs by any chance? I made a few clicking sounds with my walking poles. Immediately, I heard the bear leave.
The other encounter really was kind of surreal. It was nearly 10 p.m. I had just finished my hike but the night was wonderful, fairly warm, the sky packed with the stars of the Milky Way so I was sitting on a bench by the road within the boundaries of the spa resort of Liptovský Ján. This road is pretty well lit by street lamps. Along this road there is a hotel or inn, or a house every few hundred meters but from my bench I couldn't see any building. I had just called my daughter and told her about my bear sighting that afternoon. Out of a sudden, I heard an unearthly, overwhelming noise behind my back. As if a tank was making its way through the grove or a UFO was landing, breaking the branches of whatever was growing in its way. But in fact I didn't have time to think what it could be, I just turned round and saw three dark shapes: a mama bear and her two cubs the size of a big dog - like a vintage motorcycle with a sidecar on either side - darting about fifteen meters to my left, across the lawn, or rather meadow and then across the road. After they vanished in the bushes on the other side of the road, I still heard them demolishing vegetation for a minute or two. When I investigated the place a few days later, I discovered that they had run into a fence and they'd had to bushwhack around it until they finally got to the river and the ford which made for the entrance to the other side of the valley with its vast forest. They would have had little difficulty getting there had I not stood, or rather sat, in their way.
Red Tape & Warnings
- The Lower Tatra Mountains are protected as a national park.
- Camping within the area in question is not permitted. You are supposed to stick to the waymarked trails.
- If you haven't booked the "Out and Active" insurance (see here), you will have to cover the costs of the rescue operation. The problem is that it is quite difficult to get insured in a little town such as Liptovský Mikulaš. It doesn't seem to be much easier via the Internet either.
- See the previous chapter.
- No water can be found along the trails on the slopes of Krakova hoľa, so it is a good idea to make sure you have enough water in your backpack, especially on a hot summer day.
Getting There & Accommodation
Liptovský Mikulaš, the capital town of the region is easily accessible by both road (D1 motorway) and rail (one of the oldest railway lines in Europe; several Intercity and fast trains a day). The distance between Liptovský Mikulaš and the trailheads is less than a dozen km.
- Timetables for Trains and Buses
- There are hundreds of guesthouses, dozens of hotels, and several campsites in the nearby towns and villages of the Liptov region.