Czerwone Wierchy Červené vrchy Vörös-hegyek (Hungarian) (Red Peaks in English) Glossary: wierch/vrch = peak
turnia = crag
grzbiet/hrebeň = ridge
przełęcz/sedlo = saddle
dolina = valley
żleb = couloir
Against the highest
summit's NW wall
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.
The north face of Czerwone Wierchy:
Wielka Turnia (Great Crag, far left); Czerwony Grzbiet (Red Ridge) & Małołączniak left of centre; centre: Krzesanica; top right: Ciemniak - photo by Konrad Sus.
Slovak name: Malolúčniak
Hungarian name: Kis-réti-hegy
In mid-C19 in Poland known as Czerwony Wirch, i.e. Red Peak
Czerwony Grzbiet (Red Ridge)
The walls of Wielka Turnia, literally Great Crag (right), plunge into Dolina Małej Łąki (Valley of Little Meadow) from the NE edge of the Red Ridge, whose top gently rises towards the summit of Małołączniak. Wielka Turnia is 1847m high, approx. 350m tall, and offers fun, especially winter climbing - unfortunately forbidden recently.
This trail, waymarked with blue stripes up to the summit of Małołączniak, is my favourite route to the highest summits of the Czerwone Wierchy. It is less frequented than the other trails in the area and has extraordinary views, a decent couloir and chamois.
Distance: 7.5km Time: 3.5h (up) Elevation Gain: 1,170m Extra 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: 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, Kresanica sends a craggy spur called Rozpadlý grúň, which looks fairly similar to the Czerwony Grzbiet of Małołączniak.
Kresanica (centre) from SE
S Ridge (Rozpadlý grúň)
Top from W
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 Przełęcz on the right.
The red trail runs all the way along the shoulder left of the summit - photo by Visentin
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
Zakopane cable car
Kopa Kondracka on the left
From the upper station of the cable car at Kasprowy Wierch, it takes less than two hours' hike to get 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.
Zakopane sits at the foot of the Tatra Mountains about 100 km south of Kraków, where there's an international airport. BTW The city of Kraków certainly boasts one of the most interesting old towns in East Central Europe: Hopefully all you need to know about Kraków.
It should take you less than two hours to drive from Kraków to Zakopane, but at the weekend or in high season, it often takes more than 3.5 hours, which is how long a journey by train lasts. As for the buses, check out this website. (The station adjoins the central railway station "Kraków Główny".)
Czerwone Wierchy from Tichá dolina, Slovakia
Halfway from cable car
W face of Red Ridge from red trail, mid-1990's
Apart from the options depicted in the above chapter, from the outskirts of the town of Zakopane - the Polish, bigger version of Chamonix - a few marked trails lead to the tops of Czerwone Wierchy. In my view, the most interesting – scenic and with relatively little traffic – is the blue trail. But the yellow trail through the compact glacial trough of Dolina Małej Łąki (Valley of Little Meadow) is hardly less attractive in terms of scenery. From Dolina Kościeliska a red trail toils up along the divide between the Kościeliska and Miętusia valleys, to the summit of Ciemniak. There is also a longer, all green variant – see the map – which is a bit more interesting. (I would recommend it for the first half of the hike whereas the shorter route is fine for a quick descent.)
On the spur running north from Ciemniak (red marks - see Ciemniak chapter)
Access from Slovakia doesn't make much sense, although it is possible. The marked route was designed in order to discourage you from crossing the border with Poland (now no problem any more) and takes a terribly long detour.
There is also a good, older (before the Schengen pact embraced Poland and Slovakia) Polish map to be seen online, which has info on the times needed to walk the trails. You can purchase its latest paper version here.
A westerly view from the summit of Małołączniak - photo by PiotrB
In Poland, you have to pay for entry to the Tatra Mountains National Park – the fee is currently (year 2015) 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.
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
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.
Neighbourhoods of Zakopane
More External Links
Dolina Małej Łąki (Little Meadow Valley) at twilight
Czerwone Wierchy from the north - from right to left: Ciemniak, Krzesanica, Małołączniak and the craggy bluffs of the Red Ridge in front of it just to the right of the centre, Kopa Kondracka, Giewont - photo by Visentin.