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High Tatras, Winter

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High Tatras, Winter

Postby AKM » Thu Nov 05, 2009 8:13 pm

Dear summitpost members,

I'm after some advice on planning a trip to the High Tatras in Feb '10. I haven't researched exactly where I want to climb yet but it seems like I can't do anything (legally) without a guide?

Is this still the case in winter? Has anyone had experience of just going over, discretely bivying out and climbing off the beaten track?

Any advice would be appreciated.

I'm attracted to the climbing as the country looks beautiful, but I strongly believe in the freedom of the hills, and doing my own thing without having to pay someone to hold my hand. I hope this doesn't come accross as too arogant but I like to just turn up with my small group of two or three friends and climb where our feelings take us.

Regards, Adam
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Re: High Tatras, Winter

Postby visentin » Thu Nov 05, 2009 9:43 pm

Hello Adam,

I use to hike in Tatras despite neither PL or SK is my country of origin (mine is from the Auld Alliance !) ; I also hiked in Scotland and my feelings towards freedom in mountains are about the same as you, so I'll try to give the most possible accurate answer to you and the topics you raised.
First of all, 3 questions:
- In which contry do you plan to go ? Polish or Slovak Tatras. Only Slovak Tatras are closed in winter. Polish not, but you must keep on the marked trails (however, almost all obvious routes are already trails)
- Do you plan just to hike, or to climb ? Tatras in Feb are extremely snowy and avalanchous so you must watch out where you go and the conditions. If you do climb some peak out of the marked places you are supposed to be with a guide, just like for Slovakia.
- Are you member of a club affiliated to UIAA ? (BMC, SMC). If yes the rules are slightly different for you.

Some other points:
Bivying in February, forgot about it. The temperatures have nothing to see with Scotland ! Otherwise in other seasons there are some spots where you can for sure do it discretely, but rather in the uncrowded places on the Slovak side. No fire no headlamp, no visible gear before darkness... Otherwise, even if you don't like mountain huts (which I also used to dislike), you will find those in Poland and Slovakia completely different, the local mountainers behave much less individualized, more open minded, and it's likely that you'll talk all evening with a beer learning millions of things about the local culture instead of sleeping alone. I went many times alone to the Tatras and every time I spent a night in those huts I made friends with who I kept contact each time.

Coming back to your feelings of freedom, no, it doesnt sound arrogant and it's the same inside each of us, but let me explain you few facts about the Tatras to understand a bit better these regulations (most of them are justifed):
-This is the only real mountainous area for 40M of Poles, 15M Czechs, 10M Hungarians, 5M Slovaks, and it's 50km long. Picture yourself that 90% of these people have totally no experience in mountains.
- Tatras are the most avalanchous range in winter.
- all tatras valleys end in jagged granite walls with high saddles which almost all of them require basic climbing skills (not to mention many are featured with chains like Via Ferrata to help..)
- species like the Chamois, and in less proportions eagles, bear, lynx, etc are threatened by the volume of visitors, their winter season is critical for their survival and some other for their reproduction.
- fragile vegetal layer with areas severely damaged, like few scottish mountains like Schiehallion or Stac Pollaidh
After 5 years I got used to these regulations and I still enjoy these mountains as I used to enjoy the pyrenees. To enjoy freedom, the secret is to start as early as possible, like it is obvious for all mountains, but that only very few tourists do. With the same time zone and being more east, the sun really starts early, and the biggest of the crowd tends to start at 11-12am, which leaves you the time of a good hike in the quiet !
Starting very early is also the best way to avoid the rangers who check that the national park rules are respected. And they are numerous ! But starting before sunrise you have reasonnable chances to get rid of them.
That's all !
Don't hesitate to ask, there are a lot of Poles here who will also answer :)
Eric
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Re: High Tatras, Winter

Postby Corax » Thu Nov 05, 2009 11:10 pm

visentin wrote:- Do you plan just to hike, or to climb ? Tatras in Feb are extremely snowy and avalanchous so you must watch out where you go and the conditions.


I was in Poland last week and I visited some friends. One of them, Artur Hajzer was involved in a really bad avalanche accident in the Tatras last year. He, Piotr Pustelnik and three more persons were out trekking and climbing a little and it almost ended with Artur's death. It looked like a normal and easy traverse on a ridge, but a cornice broke and Artur went down with it. It created a huge avalanche and Artur was buried in it. Fortunately, he was found quickly by the mountain rescue team.
We are talking about the man who made the first winter ascent of Annapurna with Kukuczka. His friend Piotr has climbed 13 of the 14 8000ers, so they aren't some amateurs making a beginner's mistake. I saw other photos of crazy avalanches in the area, so be very careful.

The below link is to a PDF about the accident.
http://www.ikar-cisa.org/ikar-cisa/docu ... 000322.pdf
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Postby Petro » Fri Nov 06, 2009 1:35 pm

The regulations are slightly different for Poland and Slovakia.
On both sides of the border there are national parks, so officialy you're not allowed to bivy anywhere you want to. In Poland there's really no need to do that, because there are mountain huts in all valleys. In Slovakia there are some more remote valleys without huts, where a bivy is the only option if you want to climb anything, although it is not permitted. It is no secret that people do bivy in both countries, but it's a bit like playing hide-and-seek with the park rangers - you need to find find a place were you are less likely to be spotted by them. My advice is - don't bivy unless you really have to. Don't try to hide your tent 500m from a hut just to avoid spending night in it.
If you want to climb in Poland:
Like Visentin said, if you're a member of an UIAA affiliated organisation, you can climb without a guide. Actually the problem is not a pemission to climb (because probably nobody is going to check your papers while you're climbing :wink: ) but to go off the marked trail to get to your chosen route. There are two areas open for climbing in the Polish Tatras. One is the Orla Perc area and the other is Morskie Oko. Here you can see a map where those areas are indicated. A good place to start is to go to 'Betlejemka' - the hut of the Polish Mountaineering Association in the Gasienicowa Valley and just get to know some local climbers.

In Slovakia:
Here you can find the park rules in Slovakia. Although (unlike in Poland) the trails are closed for hikers in winter time, climbers are allowed to access the national park (if they go climbing of course).

And both Visentin and Corax are right. Tatras are very dangerous in winter, the avy danger is usually very high until early spring. Most of winter climbing in Tatras is mixed or dry tooling, they say it's similar to Scottish, but I can't tell as I've never been to Scotland. Anyway, expect frozen turf rather than good ice.

Not that I want to discourage you, cause Tatras are really great, but be prepaired that you can get stuck in a hut not being able to do anything serious because of conditions for an extended period of time.

Oh, and if you were coming between 27.02. and 14.03. there is going to be a winter camp of the Warsaw Mountaineering Club in Kiezmarska valley in Slovakia, so you can join us if you want.
Last edited by Petro on Fri Nov 06, 2009 2:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby visentin » Fri Nov 06, 2009 2:02 pm

Petro wrote:My advice is - don't bivy unless you really have to. Don't try to hide your tent 500m from a hut just to avoid spending night in it.

Agree 100%
Petro wrote:If you want to climb in Poland: Like Visentin said, if you're a member of an UIAA affiliated organisation, you can climb without a guide.

As far as I knew, true for Slovakia only. In Poland you must be with a guide or be a guide yourself. Being just a member is not enough.
For Slovakia not all zones are under this rule. Natura 2000 zones are 100% forbidden. These are the pink zones on this map:
http://www.svts.sk/metodika/vyhlaska_ta ... _zakaz.jpg

Petro wrote:(because probably nobody is going to check your papers while you're climbing :wink: )

They do ! And not only rangers. Slovak guides with other customers have the right to "check you" on the way. The fees are not enormous if you are caught, but you have to, and they are stubborn ! Worse, you must turn back and cancel your plan. That's why it's better to start early and be caught on the way down only :)

Petro wrote:A good place to start is to go to 'Betlejemka' - the hut of the Polish Mountaineering Association in the Gasienicowa Valley and just get to know some local climbers.

http://www.summitpost.org/hut/campgroun ... jemka.html


Petro wrote:In Slovakia: Although (unlike in Poland) the trails are closed for hikers in winter time, climbers are allowed to access the national park (if they go climbing of course).

Looks like some place are more or less "tolerated" than others :
http://www.summitpost.org/mountain/rock ... -kopy.html
(see red tape)
The most competent person on SP to inform you about the slovak rules is Tomas Kristofory:
http://www.summitpost.org/user_page.php?user_id=9828
He's not often on SP lately so drop him an email

Petro wrote:And both Visentin and Corax are right. Tatras are very dangerous in winter, the avy danger is usually very high until early spring. Most of winter climbing in Tatras is mixed or dry tooling, they say it's similar to Scottish, but I can't tell as I've never been to Scotland. Anyway, expect frozen turf rather than good ice. Not that I want to discourage you, cause Tatras are really great, but be prepaired that you can get stuck in a hut not being able to do anything serious because of conditions for an extended period of time.


Agree 100%, however I'm not so pessimistic as Pedro. You can get few days of bad weather but if you go for 10 days or 2 weeks in central Europe and spend for example few days in Cracow, you're almost sure to get a reasonnable window with good weather. Indeed, it's difficult to get worse weather than Scotland ;) (I'm joking ;) )
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Postby Petro » Fri Nov 06, 2009 2:19 pm

visentin wrote:
Petro wrote:If you want to climb in Poland: Like Visentin said, if you're a member of an UIAA affiliated organisation, you can climb without a guide.

As far as I knew, true for Slovakia only. In Poland you must be with a guide or be a guide yourself. Being just a member is not enough.


You're wrong, just believe me. Like I wrote, there are two climbing areas in Polish Tatras and both are accessible for individual climbers.

visentin wrote:
Petro wrote:(because probably nobody is going to check your papers while you're climbing :wink: )

They do ! And not only rangers. Slovak guides with other customers have the right to "check you" on the way. The fees are not enormous if you are caught, but you have to, and they are stubborn ! Worse, you must turn back and cancel your plan. That's why it's better to start early and be caught on the way down only :)


You're talking about situations on popular peaks like Gerlachovsky Stit in summer. This is very unlikely to happen in winter, noone is going to chase you while you're climbing, they may check you while you're approaching or descending from a route. Anyway, the conclusion is that you need to have some kind of document stating that you're a member of a climbing organisation.
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Postby visentin » Fri Nov 06, 2009 2:28 pm

Petro wrote:You're wrong, just believe me. Like I wrote, there are two climbing areas in Polish Tatras and both are accessible for individual climbers.

Thanks for the info then ! So you say Orla Perc and Morskie Oko areas only ?

Petro wrote:You're talking about situations on popular peaks like Gerlachovsky Stit in summer. This is very unlikely to happen in winter, noone is going to chase you while you're climbing, they may check you while you're approaching or descending from a route. Anyway, the conclusion is that you need to have some kind of document stating that you're a member of a climbing organisation.

I was "checked" twice, once with success (for the ranger) as I took for 20 meters a wrong trail that I thought to be the right under Zamkovskeho chata. I had to pay 5€.
Once (without success, as I showed the french CAF card, however out of date :) ) going down from Ladové Pleso to Chata Popradské Pleso.
The funny thing in that situation is that me and y friend were hiding behind one rock to avoid being seen by hikers in which we thought they could be one of those guides... while the real guide who checked us suddenly popped behind our back from nowhere !
Anyway they don't come from Polytechnika and don't read many languages, and I have the slight feeling you could almost show your library card in UK and they would believe it's fine...
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Postby Petro » Fri Nov 06, 2009 2:39 pm

visentin wrote:
Petro wrote:You're wrong, just believe me. Like I wrote, there are two climbing areas in Polish Tatras and both are accessible for individual climbers.

Thanks for the info then ! So you say Orla Perc and Morskie Oko areas only?


Right. Plus a minor rock climbing crag in Western Tatras but that's rather irrelevant.

visentin wrote:I was "checked" twice, once with success (for the ranger) as I took for 20 meters a wrong trail that I thought to be the right under Zamkovskeho chata. I had to pay 5€.
Once (without success, as I showed the french CAF card, however out of date :) ) going down from Ladové Pleso to Chata Popradské Pleso.
The funny thing in that situation is that me and y friend were hiding behind one rock to avoid being seen by hikers in which we thought they could be one of those guides... while the real guide who checked us suddenly popped behind our back from nowhere !
Anyway they don't come from Polytechnika and don't read many languages, and I have the slight feeling you could almost show your library card in UK and they would believe it's fine...


You must have a really bad luck having been caught twice already :lol: . But what happened to you applies more to hiking than climbing. I mean, as long as you carry some climbing rack, you know where you're going and you're really leaving the marked trail (of course the definition of a marked trail in winter is quite negotiable) just to get to the base of your climbing route then there should not be any problems.
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Postby Petro » Fri Nov 06, 2009 4:19 pm

His name is Corax, Janne Corax 8)
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Postby AKM » Mon Nov 09, 2009 6:35 pm

Thanks so much for all you replies, I think I will have to ask the other guys what they would like to do but I'm wondering if I might just go for an easier option. The club affiliation and use of guides seems like a lot of hassle but usually the harder something is to do the bigger the reward when completed!

Regards,
Adam
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Postby JScoles » Mon Nov 16, 2009 11:13 pm

Not sure you want to climb in the HT in Feb. The weather, snow and avalanche conditions would not make for a fun trip.

Of course right now in November there is no way to predict what it will be like.

I know when I was active over there the winter was over by late Feb (in terms of accumilation) and things were mostly impassable except a few ski routes (not too much snow just too much melting so you would post~hole the whole route)

Any Idea on which route you want to take or the type of climbing you want to do??

It would also be very wise to get some rescue insurance as like in CH you are on the hook if you have to be picked up.

They also have what I would call a very 'proactive' rescue system if they think you might be in trouble the will come and get you and you have no choice in the matter.

If you get a warm day some of the rock climbing routes can-not be beat for quality of the rock and route and some of the higher routs you can get (close to) by cable car. You just have to dodge the throngs of spend thrift Germans who come here rather than CH. But then again you are Scottish so that would be nothing new.:)


I would worry about the regulations regarding off limit areas and/or guide requirements like others say the rules are enforced and you will be picked up at your expense if you are caught.

It is a very small mountain area and there are always people about.


The main reason why the push the guides so much is just because it is so small. Some of the few ski mountaineering routs are very avalanche prone especially in Feb as the base snow layer will have many many freeze thaw cycles.

There is some ice climbing though it is very ephemeral and most of it is gone ny the end of Jan even high up

What type of mountaineering are you interested in?
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