OverviewThis page does not pretend to present an invention. The idea of crossing mountain ranges on their whole length is as old as the exploration of mountains.
In Europe, two examples stand high above the rest: the famous Via Alpina in the Alps, with all its possible variants (see www.via-alpina.org or http://www.viaalpina.com), and the Pyrenees, which own three of different kind, the french GR10, the spanish GR11, and the international high-level HRP. There are certainly more of these examples across Europe, like the Scottish West Highland Way; For sure some many have done similar crosses in the Appenini, the Scandes or the Dinarics.
The Trans-Carpathian route has already been done in different times and in different ways. But it is far less known than other routes, partly due to the hermetic political divisions that occured in the second half of the 20th century. And which partly subsist nowadays: some countries of the Carpathians are in the Schengen space, some not. Perhaps the same arguments can be raised about the Dinaric Alps.
However, few people still attempt nowadays the Trans-Carpathian trail, and many different projects on this theme are currently ongoing :
- A Via Carpatica project was mentionned on April 25th 2008 in Crakow during a meeting of the six countries of the Carpathian Convention.
- Hungary, a country whose most former borders were delimited by the Carpathian arc, and which has a strong tradition of hiking in these mountains, is running a similar project with the association Kárpát Egyesület.
- A french association named Transcarpates, strongly related with the humanitarian organisation OVF (Opération Villages Roumains), has carried out an exporation of most romanian ranges and planned a future trail on all the Romanian part. There were talks about extending the idea to all countries, but the project is currently in stand-by.
- The Ukrainian organisation Карпатські стежки (Karpatski Stezhky, Ukrainian trails), is undertaking a project of ECTP, an Ukrainian long-distance trail running along the main ridge of the most famous ranges of Ukraine. It is meant to be the equivalent of the "ETC" of former Poland, in the regions that are nowadays located in Ukraine.
- A long distance trail runs across Slovakia, called Cesta Hrdinov SNP (route of the heroes of the national uprising, which designate WW2 partisans mostly based in mountains) and codified "E8", however it doesn't cross major ranges like the Tatras and goes more south.
- Poland owns a red-marked trail that runs along all mountain ranges in the south of Poland, including the Sudetes: the part located in the Carpathians could be called so, but, just like the Slovak E8, it doesn't cross essential ranges. The hermeric border that lasted till the 90s can explain this hermeticity and the fact that the bordering regions are not visited by any of these long distance trails...
Being involved in the earlier mentionned Transcarpates organisation, this conjugated with my passion and little experience of the Northern Carpathians, and despite I haven't walked the whole Carpatians neither planned such project, I felt that such page could be useful, serve for many people who plan such trip. The aim is to synthetize all possible information about the Trans-Carpathian trail. Everyone is welcome to take part in this project, and bring improvements to this page with new information.
Where does the Carpathian trail start and end ?This question is as old as "what are the Carpathians ?".
It all depends on the definition we give to the expression "mountain range": geologic, or topographic. Few technical issues need to be discussed.
When looking at the map, a "topographic" look makes almost no doubt that the Carpathians start at the Danube and end into the Danube.
However, speaking geologically :
- Austrians claim that the limestone hill called Hundsheimer Berge, facing Slovakia's Devin cliffs on the Danube, is a part of the Carpathians. The reason of this is that Hundsheimer Berge clearly does not belong to the Alps, and stands in the continuity of the Maly Karpaty, south end of the Carpathians. However, from a pragmatic point of view, it makes almost no sense for a hiker to climb this hill, and bothering to cross both the Danube and the Morava via remote bridges.
- Serbia also claims, far more seriously, to have a much more significant part of the Carpathians. This is a mountainous zone that connects to the Stara Planina range, more commonly called the Balkans, in the depression of the region of the town Niš, Serbia's second largent. The most touristic region of this range is the Đerdap national park, facing the Porţile de Fier ("Iron Gate") of Romania, the "canyon" of the Danube. But the rest of the range is said to be quite wild, and finding informations about marked trails is not easy. However, walking this part is a challenge that few might find interesting, equally with crossing Ukraine, because of the use of Cyrillic alphabet, administrative formalties (Serbia does not belong to the UE), and the lack of information concerning logistics (shops, accomodations).
Usually, Bratislava, Slovakia's capital, or the Devin Castle just nearby, is choosen for the north end, and the "Iron Gate", mentioned earlier, for the southern.
Bratislava is a beautiful city, located close to Wien, the not less famous capital of Austria, usually considered as the starting point to cross the Alps via the Via Alpina. Both cities can be linked by train (5€, 1h) or more romantically by boat on the Danube.
Some may find interesting to choose Belgrade, Serbian capital and also attractive city, to make the other end and thus a junction between two European capitals via mountains. But one must be aware that Belgrad is not exactly at the foot of the hills, but some 30km behind, separated by the region Deliblatska Peščara (Deliblato Sand), not mountainous but anyway interesting since said to be Europe's largest sandy region. Some may prefer public transports to reach directly the Romanian border, but it would mean a lot of administrative hassle (visa, etc) just for being symbolically in Serbia.
A last question remains: in which direction ? North to South or the opposite ? Those who made the Via Alpina or the HRP will assure you it is better to walk with the sun behind, in the back, then East to West as hikers tend to walk during mornings. But here we are, Carpathians are a big curve, like an inverted C, going from South to North, and both directions concerning the longitude. However, sun is rather in the south during the day, and the East-West portion into the northern Carpathians is more significant than the West-East portion in the south.
Another not neglectible argument may be raised for this choice: many Carpathian high ranges are covered with snow until late in the year, especially the Tatras, where some high routes can be just impossible. Romanian high ranges like the Făgăraş are almost as high, but being more south they receive more sun. Considering that walking the Carpathians takes almost a whole season, one might prefer crossing the Tatras during the late summer or autumn. Walking the low southern Serbian and Romanian mountains is possible from the spring, and higher areas like Făgăraş are reasonably possible from late May or June, with a bit of late snow.
Issues with international bordersOne big problem of the Trans-Carpathian route is borders.
Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Hungary (despite not on the mountainous route), are in the European Union since 2004, and the Schengen space since 2008, then crossing borders is totally free.
Ukraine, which separates the northern Carpathians and the southern Carpathians, is neither in the EU nor Schengen, and then obliges to cross twice the Schengen border at designated road points. It is said to be very prohibited and risky to hike along the Ukrainian borders in the mountains. However, since the Orange revolution, the government of Viktor Yushchenko has decided to drop the Visa obligations (but not passports) for most of the western countries since 2007, in order to ease the visit of foreigners to the event of the Eurovision, and the forthcoming organisation of the Euro 2012. It is also said that new points are likely to be opened in this occasion on the Polish border. For example Wołosate, the only one conveniently located in mountains; but this project is strongly disapproved by several Polish ecologic organisations, who fear to see huge queues of lorries at the foot of the national park of the Bieszczady. Rumours of a compromise of opening it only as a touristic border cross are regularly rising.
Romania is a member of the EU, but does not belong (yet ?) to the Schengen space. However, crossing from EU to Romania is quite flexible and easy. Crossing from Romania to Ukraine is the opposite. Before 2006, it was possible in Sighet/Solotvino only for locals, but was extended for tourists from this date. It is also possible to cross in Valea Vişeului but only taking the train. There are talks about making this point open also to cars and tourists on foot. The Ukrainian organisation Карпатські стежки is willing to negociate an extra crossing point located more in the heart of the mountains, but the chances are small.
For those who decide to include Serbia into the Carpathian traverse, the border will also be an issue and one must cross at the designated points. However, passports are not asked for EU citizens since the beginning of 2010, and a simple identity card is enough. Then, crossing from/into Serbia should be now quite easy, either from Romania or Hungary.
Summarizing the only possible crossing points from and into non-Schengen countries in the background of the Trans-Carpathian trail:
- The closest point, from Poland to Ukraine, is only in Krościenko/Smolnica, which involves a very long diversion out of mountains.
- Crossing from Slovakia to Ukraine is the best in Ubľa/Malyj Bereznyj, significantly closer to mountains, then so far the best point on the northern border of Ukraine (unless Wołosate opens one day)
- Crossing on foot from Romania to Ukraine is possible only in Sighet/Solotvino, not exactly on the main Carpatian ridge, but still in mountains. Valea, possible by train, allows shortening a bit this diversion, but not significantly. Hiking down the Rodnei mountains to Sighet involves crossing the historical and beautiful county of the Romanian Maramureş, which is certainly not unpleasant. However, it is strongly not advised to hike from Solotvino to the south end of the Chornohora Ukrainian rangen, which involves hiking along the border. Instead, it is adviseable to reach more usual routes like via Rakhiv.
- The Serbian Carpathains and the Romanian Carpathians face themselves over a 100km long section of the Danube, on the Iron Gates, with few bridges between both countries. Near the Đerdap national park, one can cross at Drobeta-Turnu Severin / Novi Sip. Near the Iron Gates power station, two dams (1 & 2) and one pedestrian bridge (Ostrovul Mare). Near Belgrade, one can cross at Kaluderovo / Naidăş, but crossing the Danube on this side is made only in Smederevo, a remote bridge. In Veliko Gradište, a ferry crossing the border links Moldova Nouă and Pojejena. In Orşova operates antother ferry.
Logistics and equipmentFew particularities of the Carpathians must be underlined here in order to start talking about preparation.
First of all, there are huge contrast between countries and regions concerning accomodation (huts in mountains, shleters, but also accomodations in villages and valleys), shopping facilities and other touristic features.
While one will feel the same density of touristic features in some regions the Polish and Slovak Tatras, or in the region of Braşov in Romania, there are some huge no-man's lands to be crossed in some parts, mostly in Ukraine and the Romanian Eastern Carpathians.
This leads us to the fact that walking with a tent is almost mandatory in Romania and Ukraine, if we want to stick to the main mountainous areas. In some, one will find basic shelters but will still need basic equipement like a duvet and a gaz. On the other hand, we can reasonably say that walking across the whole Poland and Slovakia is possible using local accomodations: guarded mountain huts in mountains, and cheap rooms in villages into the valleys. As for Serbia, too few information is available at the present time; however these mountains are not very high and reasonably densely with villages where "green tourism" is promoted.
As a conclusion, the hiker who undertakes a cross of the whole Carpathian arc might choose to start with a bivouac equipement, and get rid of it somehow as soon as he enters the Northern Carpatians.
Another characteristic of the Carpathians that can be raised is that there are some long regions to be crossed made of small and round-shaped mountains, covered with forests. These regions are :
- The north-west end of the Carpathians near Bratislava: Biele karpaty and Maly Karpaty.
- The depression separating the Northern Carpathians and the Eastern Carpathians, called the "Low Beskid" (Beskid Niski)
- The Eastern Carpathians, north from the Ciucaş and south from the Călimani.
- The Southenmost Romanian Carpathians and Serbian Carpathians.
Some lovers of high mountains can find it somehow monotonous, and choose to drop them, or cross them quicker. Many of these areas are densely covered with wood, then strewn with forestry tracks, which make as many biking path. Some secondary asphalted roads also run across mountains and make possible routes. Consequently, those who have the possibility to set up such logistic might prefer to cross them by bicycle.
We can add that since recently, the Danube is featured with a continuous cycling path from the source to the end. After crossing the Carpathians, one can get back this way to the starting point...
- www.donauradweg.at (Austria)
- Dunajská cyklistická trasa (Slovakia)
- Duna menti kerékpárút (Hungary)
- www.danube-info.org (eastern Europe)
Markings and lack of maked areasAs an element of comparison :
- All official routes of the Via Alpina have a specific marking on the terrain.
- The HRP is not marked on any specific way on the terrain, neither follows marked routes in many areas. It is only described in several guidebooks with pages decribing the route for each stage, with orientation guidelines.
It appears that the Transcarpathian, if it started to exist, in the nearest fruture at least, would be none of this, but something a bit between.
For many reasons, adopting a common marking system between each country would face many obstacles.
Each country has its own walking federation with its own standards. Serbia uses the Knafelc marking standard. Romania is managed with Salvamont organisation, Ukraine with Karpatski Stezhky, Poland with PTTK and Slovakia with KST.
The marking systems are already quite elabored in Poland and Slovakia, superposing several systems: walking signs, skiing signs, cycling signs, educative signs, each with its own standard. Adding one more would certainly be subject to a long procedure.
On the other hand, Karpatski Stezhky in Ukraine and Salvamont in Romania are struggling, mostly with financial issues, in order to maintain their own normal marking to a decent state. Karpatski Stezhky is particularly active, not only marking trails but also builing new huts and renovating the existing ones. Salvamont is facing disparities, some regions being much more advanced than others concerning marking.
From this constatation, it appears compeltely odd to talk about a common specific marking while some countries are still working to maintain their their own classic network.
In short, if the Trans-Carpathian trail started to exist officially, the most probable is that it would be based on already existing marking systems, a reacheable goal in the short term, but the description of the general route would need to be supported by the mean of an additional documentation, just like for the HRP.
The aim of the present page is to summarize the main lines of what such book should be, assuming that the described trail visit all most characteristic areas of the Carpathians.
View Serbian Carpathians in a larger map
Poland, Slovakia, Czech RepublicThe following map was done with a GPS file that was realized from positions of existing trails the map, and not on the terrain. Its accuracy is limited, but since the trails are marked this shouldn't be a problem. The goal is to give a general direction.
If you are browsing with Firefox, you may be able to visualize the route on the portal TuristickaMapa.sk
(unfortunately, a bug prevents to make it work with IE or Opera)
A reflexion about the general direction of the Transcarpathian trail is necessary in order to start the Northern Carpathians. As mentionned in the Overview, Poland is featured with a red-marked long-distance trail, running from the SE corner. In the part East from the Tatras, this trail is particularly convenient, because it was already elaborated by Polish experts in order to cross the most interesting mountains of the region, the maximum cultural objects, and use most of the possible huts and accomodations.
This part is entierely located in Poland, and some may ask why not going through Slovakia, or over the main border ridge. The Slovak side owns two major ranges: the Čergov and the Levočské vrchy, both situated south from the Polish Beskid Sądecki, both significantly interesting, but also less featured with huts. Also, south from the Polish Beskid Niski is located a vast non-mountainous depression, near the city of Bardejov. Despite this might sound politically incorrect, hikers planning a traverse, and then possibly bivouaquing in these regions, might find unsafe to do it some the regions of Slovakia amongst the most populated with gypsies, where robberies are said to occur quite often.
Poland appears then to be the best side to start crossing this part of the Carpathians, and a logic counterpart to the western end of the trail, which will be mainly in Slovakia.
But here we are, as mentionned above, the only current point where one can cross from Ukraine is Ubľa, which is in Slovakia (However we will discuss the possibility through Wołosate later). Ubľa is located into the region called "Bukovské vrchy", which is the small southern half of the more known Polish Bieszczady. The region is very wild, and the trail marking almost absent, the most important of such unmarked regions in Slovakia in the background of this trail.
In order to reach the Polish border and mountains from Ubľa, the most logic is to aim the mountain Kremenec at the convergence of the three borders, and served in Slovakia by a red-marked trail from the village Nová Sedlica. It is connected with the villages of Zboj, Uličské Krivé, and Ulič, where beautiful historical wooden church are located in each of them. From one can reach Brezovec by the road, but there is a hill between Brezovec and Ulič. The map shows unmarked forestry trails, and following north, Ulič should not be complicated to reach. Beware however not to enter the Ukrainian border, very close, by mistake.
From the top of Kremenec, once in Poland, we reach the mountain Wielka Rawka, via the yellow and green marked trails, and reach the main Polish trans-carpathian red-marked trail on Połonina Caryńska. From now, and until the Pieniny, that trail will be followed to the West.
Coming (hypothetically) from Wołosate, the same main route is catched more on the east, by climbing the mountain Tarnica via the blue trail.
The whole Bieszczady, Beskid Niski, Beskid Sądecki are crossed the following weeks keeping the main red trail, visiting on the way the innumerous wooden churches, other monuments, and natural spas of these regions.
But here come the Pieniny and the Tatras, a must-see in the Carpathians, and the red trail must be left in order to plunge more south and visit these wonders of the nature. The direction change occurs on the top of the peak Radziejowa
Persons who undertook the TC- Krisztian Racziu, a hungarian hiker from the Hungarian association Kárpát Egyesület completed the tour in 2004 and published a book about it. The book, only in Hungarian, is available by contacting this association by email.
- Martine Bedoc (martine.bedoc[@]gmail.com), a french woman from Marseille, undertook it solo in 2007, but did not complete it till the end, only till the Tatras. See the diaporama (only in French)
- Sebastian Kosmala, from UK, and his team (with members of Polish and Romanian nationality) is planning the expedition for 2010. The official website is www.carpathianexplorer.com (however recently out of service for some reason)