Zakopane sits at the foot of the Tatra Mountains about 100 km south of Kraków, where there is an international airport. (The city of Kraków certainly boasts one of the most interesting old towns in East Central Europe.)
It should take you less than two hours to drive from Kraków to Zakopane, but at weekends or in high season it often takes more than 3.5hrs, which is more or less how long a journey by train lasts. As for the buses, check out this website. (The station adjoins the central railway station "Kraków Główny".)
In Tichá dolina
Access from Slovakia makes much less sense, although it is possible. The Slovak trail to Tomanowa Pass has been closed in order to prevent crowds from visiting the Tichá dolina (Silent Valley, where a great many bears live) so you have to make a terribly long detour.
GlossaryNoclegi/Kwatery/Zakwaterowanie - Accommodation
Apartamenty – self-catering flats/apartments
Domki - chalets
Ośrodki wypoczynkowe – lower standard hotels/guesthouses/holiday camps
Pola namiotowe – rudimentary campsites
Wille – B&B/guesthouses
Campingi - campsites
Motele – motels
Pensjonaty – B&B/guesthouses
Wynajem pokoi – guesthouses
Hotele – hotels (varied standard)Considering the crowds and prices in Zakopane, especially if you happen to have to go in peak season, it may be a better idea to stay in one of the numerous villages in the Podhale area, just north of the Tatras.
Mountain Conditions & Rescue
Czerwone Wierchy seem to be incapable of creating any problems but several dozen people have perished on them. Most of the accidents have happened in wintry conditions (which does not necessarily mean winter, summer snow occasionally occurs too), but the summer fog has led to fatal accidents also as some people have fallen down the northern craggy walls after taking the wrong turn while trying to descend.
Mountain rescue team's phone number: (+48) 601 100 300
In Poland, you have to pay for entry to the Tatra Mountains National Park – the fee is currently (2018) a bit more than an equivalent of €1 per day. The park rules are quite strict. In a nutshell, you are only allowed to walk along the marked trails. Rock climbing in the Western Tatras is forbidden for nature conservation reasons.
Glossary (Polish/Slovak = English): wierch/vrch = peak, turnia = crag, grzbiet/hrebeň = ridge, przełęcz/sedlo = saddle, dolina = valley, potok = creek, żleb = couloir
Czerwone Wierchy (Polish)Červené vrchy (Slovak) Vörös-hegyek (Hungarian) (Red Peaks in English)
The massif of Czerwone Wierchy is made up of three summits at around 2,100m each - Krzesanica at 2,122m, Małołączniak and Ciemniak at 2,096m each - plus an easternmost outlier named Kopa Kondracka at 2,005m. The name Czerwony Wierch (singular) was originally used for Małołączniak whereas today Czerwone Wierchy (plural) is the name of the four-summit massif between the Dolina Kościeliska in the west and Tomanowa Przełęcz/Tomanovské sedlo (1686m) in the southwest, and two passes north and east of Kopa Kondracka in the east. All the red in the toponyms here, albeit indirectly, is connected with the rock type. But this time the colour does not indicate the usual suspect, the rusty iron compounds, despite iron ore having been mined in the sides of the massif a couple of centuries ago. On the limestone and dolomite rocks that form the bulk of the Red Peaks lies a granitoid, acidic cap of Małołączniak, which yields poor soil, only good enough for some hardy grasses, such as highland rush and the endemic Oreochloa disticha, which turn red easily and early, already in July. Except for the granitoid patch the massif is full of caves, including the largest cave system in the Tatras.
Peaks & Trails
Slovak name: Kresanica
Hungarian name: Vésett-kő
In mid-C19 in Poland known as Zadni Upłaz
Krzesanica is the highest limestone summit within the territory of Poland. Its finest feature is its northwestern, vertical face which forms the headwall of the Mułowa Dolina. There are cliffs on its northeastern flank too, and southerly, into the Slovak territory, Krzesanica sends a craggy spur called Rozpadlý grúň, which looks fairly similar to the Czerwony Grzbiet of Małołączniak. To summit Krzesanica you have to climb either Małołączniak or Ciemniak first.
Kresanica (centre) from SE
S Ridge (Rozpadlý grúň)
Top from W
Slovak name: Malolúčniak
Hungarian name: Kis-réti-hegy
In mid-C19 in Poland known as Czerwony Wirch, i.e. Red Peak
Małołączniak sits just east of Krzesanica. The lateral ridge it sends to the northwest has kept its old name Czerwony Grzbiet (Red Ridge). The ridge slopes rather gently to the northwest for several hundred metres to suddenly drop, partly vertically a few hundred metres down. Of the cliffy walls Wielka Turnia (Great Crag) - 1847m high and approximately 350m tall - is especially impressive. Plunging into the Dolina Małej Łąki (Valley of Little Meadow) from the northeast edge of the Red Ridge, it offers fun winter climbing, unfortunately forbidden recently. Along the Red Ridge runs probably the most interesting of the trails that lead to the tops of Czerwone Wierchy, waymarked with blue stripes. This trail is my favourite route within the massif. It is less frequented than the other trails in the area and has extraordinary views, a decent couloir and chamois.
Wlk. Świstówka from blue trail
Little Meadow Valley
Red Ridge from E
Blue MarksDistance: 7.5kmTime: 3.5h (up)Elevation Gain: 1,170mExtra elevation gain on Małołączniak-Krzesanica-Ciemniak: total 110m (time: 0.5h)
Back down to bus stop/car park from Ciemniak/Małołączniak: 2.5h
While in Zakopane, get on any of the frequently running minibuses heading for Dolina Kościeliska/Chochołowska and get off at the stop called Gronik. The trailhead is a couple of hundred metres back in the direction of Zakopane. If you come by car, you can park it right at the trailhead, which is at the mouth of the Valley of Mała Łąka (Little Meadow).
The trail leads rather gently up the stream until after about 20 minutes you get to the junction with the yellow trail. Then a steeper part follows, which takes you to a broad pass named Przysłop Miętusi, where two trails intersect in the middle of a clearing. The place is watched over by the characteristic Eljaszowa Turnia (Eljasz's Crag). Przysłop Miętusi is a good spot to have a snack (two rest spots with a wooden table and benches: one in the middle picture above and the other at the edge of the forest) and admire a dramatic view of the north, craggy walls of Czerwone Wierchy. To the west, there is an interesting view of Kominiarski Wierch.
Having left Przysłop Miętusi the blue trail turns into a narrow path, which sticks to the eastern flank of the Miętusia Valley and runs more or less along the contour line of 1200m, through a spruce forest. It is now really hard to imagine but in the 19th century this part of the trail served the miners who excavated iron ore in the tunnels dug into the rock below your feet. The iron was then smelted where today the lower cable car station stands. An alternate name of our blue trail is the Miner Track... After three quarters of an hour our trail climbs up the slope a little, still less than a hundred metres, then again continues almost horizontally. Spectacular views open up towards the huge, glacially moulded steps of the Litworowa and Mułowa valleys, which form the headwall of the Miętusia Valley that is called Wielka Świstówka. All the three cirques are devoid of tarns as this is karst terrain.
Nearing tree line
NW bluffs of Red Ridge
Core part of ascent
But our trail, unfortunately, doesn't go up the steps leading to the cirques (that would be more than YDS class 4), but turns left to enter a wide couloir named Kobylarzowy Żleb (Kobylarz's Couloir), just like the rib and the crag on its left. There's lots of scree, some interesting flora in the early summer, and even about twenty metres of steel chain to secure your passage by the only point en route where it is impossible to proceed without using your hands. But for the chains, this steep and rather slick slab of limestone (approximately a dozen metres tall) would make for a Class 4 (YDS) climb. But the chains have converted this point into just a Class 3 problem. While walking above the upper end of the chains, be careful not to kick a stone on someone climbing down there.
The chained slab
At the top of the couloir
Having hiked around 3 hours, you finally reach the gently sloping top of Czerwony Grzbiet (Red Ridge). Another nice place to have a little rest and an interesting view of the nearby Giewont across the Little Meadow Valley. On the other side of the ridge, several kilometres to the west, beyond the Polish-Slovak border rises the grand ridge of the so called Orawa Tatras, in Slovakia known as the Roháče.
Looking east: Giewont
Above the couloir
Orawa Tatras (labelled)
The last - rather gentle although about 250m up anyway and a bit tiring - section of the trail will take you over the Red Ridge to the very summit of Małołączniak in less than half an hour. The summit offers an outstanding panorama of the Slovak High Tatras.
The uppermost stretch of the blue trail with the summit of Małołączniak
The High Tatras viewed from the summit of Małołączniak
An hour or two before sunset, when almost all hikers have gone, encounters with chamois are highly likely. (Once I was lucky to face a bold young buck that barred the trail, hissing at me and kicking the ground with his front hoof so that I wouldn't dare get closer to his two female companions.)
Slovak name: Temniak
Hungarian name: Sötét-hegy
In mid-C19 in Poland known as Czerwony Wirch Upłaziański
The west face from across Dolina Kościeliska. Tomanowa Pass to the right.
The red trail runs along the shoulder left of the summit - photo by Visentin
Ciemniak is ascended by two trails from the Kościeliska Valley. The red trail begins around a mile from the mouth of the valley and runs up the northwest shoulder of Ciemniak. The green one leads up the valley as far as Ornak Hut, turns east along Tomanowy Creek, then - instead of reaching the nearby main ridge of the Tatras - turns north crossing the western slopes of Ciemniak to connect to the red trail about a kilometre from the summit.
Seen from W
On the red trail
Nearing the summit
Summit view, December
Slovak name: Kondratova kopa
Hungarian name: Konrád-púp
In mid-C19 in Poland known as Kondratowa
Kopa Kondracka shot from the trail to Giewont - photo by Henryk
From the upper station of the cable car at Kasprowy Wierch, it takes less than two hours to hike (via red marks) to the summit of Kopa Kondracka via a pretty scenic part of the Tatras' main ridge. However, unless you go off season, trying to get a ticket can be difficult and time-consuming, or simply put a waste of time. Kopa Kondracka can also be climbed via Kondracka Pass. Such a hike is usually combined with an ascent of Giewont. Kondracka Pass is reached either through the scenic valley of Mała Łąka (yellow marks) or the Kondratowa Valley (blue marks, trailhead in Kuźnice at the base station of the cable car).
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