Gerlach is the highest peak in what has been call the “Smallest High Range in the World” and believe me it is true. The “High Tatra” (Vysoké Tatry) is the last major outcropping of the Carpathian Mountains and Gerlach is the highest peak in that rather long range as well for you peak baggers out there it is the highest peak in Slovakia.
Looking like a great pyramid when viewed from the valley far below Gerlach is an impressive mountain. It looks much taller than it is, as the vertical rise from the valley floor is well over 2000m and it sits further away from neaby mountains giveing a rather massif appeance to this peak.
The High Tatra is truly an alpine rock climber’s paradise since there are no nasty glaciers about and the snow is mostly gone by June, though it may linger in some of the shaded valleys until late August. There are literally hundreds of alpine rock and face climbs here and most of them have never been done by westerners even 10 years after the fall of the wall. Most importaly the rock quality is on a par with Yosemite and the routes are well established and protected.
Technically only a grade II to III climb when not snow covered it benefits greatly from a very well maintained mountain trail (Bergpfad) that leads to the summit along a standard route.
Most climbers using the more-technical route start from the Sliezskly Dom (Hut) and up and along the green trail until it reaches a lake about ½ way up the col. The path to the summit is on the opposite side of this lake and is marked with cairns. It basically follows a rather rough skree pile up to the main summit ridge and then easy ridge climbing to the top.
Once can then cross over the summit and meet up with another path comming up from the opposit valley. This route is more for the novice and guide as it is protected in places by chains and at one time ladders.
One thing that is nice about doing this climb is how quickly it seems to go. No sooner are you into the skree pile then you are out of it and on the ridge and then suddenly you are on top. It is no more that a 5km round trip.
Be warned, this is an alpine environment expect snow any time of the year and I found that the weather here closes in much faster that any other area that I have climbed in. It can be nice one moment but then minutes later you can be in the middle of a thunderstorm blowing up from the valley.
Another thing that will throw you a bit are the deceiving lines I clearly remember looking up a ridge and thinking there would be a nice walk along the top on it. When I got to it, it was a knife-edge with a 400m drop off the other side. Needless to say I went back to the marked trail. Because of the short distances involved it is very easy to climb yourself into trouble very quickly sometimes with no retreat possible.
Treat this peak and all of the others in the Tatras with respect and you will have a great time. Just think of them as very short 4kers. Treat them like 2000m hills and you will come to grief guaranteed.
The best way to get to the High Tatra is to head in from Bratislava (Vienna) or Pragh by taking the train to Poprad which is the major city in the area some 25km away. There is very good bus and rail service from this city to the Tatra and it is cheap.
Head for Starý Smokovec or Tatranská Polianka two small villages near differing trailheads for the Sliezskly Dom.
There are plenty of cheap hotels, pensions and huts in the area.
The “High Tatra” is a National park, UN Bioheritage area and a Eourpean BioHheritage area and very proudly so. It is one of the last wild places is Central Europe were a glimpse of an Ibex, Steenbok, or Chamois is the norm rather than the exception. I have seen bears in the open, which to us NAs is nothing great, but a very very rare site in Europe.
Why is it like this? Mainly because of very very strict regulation and a very very strong local ethic. For example, you are not allowed to even step off a trail and there are no exceptions to this rule. You will get a fine if caught or worse a scolding in Slovak by any local who catches you.
This said the only official climbing that is allowed is under the direction of a guide or by someone who has “certification from a national mountaineering organization”. Basically anyone who is a member of the UIAA, I used my Alpine Club of Canada card and was OK.
There are areas that are out of bounds even with a guide and they are as follows
“The Javorinska Siroka mountain to Zabi vrch, Javorovy vrch, the Rovienky and Svistova valleys, the mouth of the Bielovodská valley and the Mlynar mountain including the Zaba valley. The southern border of this area is described by the line from the Velky Zabi peak, the tarn Ceské pleso, the Hviezdoslav waterfall, the tarn Litvorové pleso and Prielom. “
Check out the Section on Climbing regulation for more exact details.
The red tape also makes a good deal of sense since they have an excellent record for safety and have lost very few tourists over the years. They simply do not allow the inexperienced into the peaks making it a much safer place for all of us.
That said the people are friendly and helpful just respect their park.
Late June and early August as there are heavy storms in late summer. Earlier than this there is poor snow on top.
The actual best season is early to mid October just before the snow arrives.
In winter it is a true alpine climb with some avalanche danger but very challenging with mixed climbing all the way.
Absolutely no camping is permitted in the park.
There are campsites lower down the mountain in designated areas.
In the Belovodska Valley, near Polana Pod Vysokou, there is a camp site reserved just for members of UIAA clubs.
The name comes from the simple fact that a village named Gerlachov once sat at its foot.
What I can tell you is, the peak has a very odd history. For the longest time it was not coincided the highest peak in the range, there is still the odd atlas out there today that has it wrong.
It was not until 1838 that a local Gamekeeper named L'udovy Greiner took a barometer reading from near the summit that it was discovered to be the highest in the range. The scientific community largely discredited this and it wasn't until 1868 that an Austrian Army Survey Party proved it was the highest peak when they made the first ‘official’ climb of the mountain.
Even then an accurate measurement was not actually made until 1927 when the original 1838 (2652) estimate was found to be surprisingly accurate at when compaired to the accepted height of 2655.
I think it is also the peak that has been the highest point of more countries than any other in the last century.
It started as the highest point in Hungary (Austria-Hungary I know) until 1918, then it became the highest point in the first Czechoslovakia until it was very briefly the highest point in Poland from 1938-39, next it was the highest point in the Government General until after the war in 1945. It was again the highest point in Czechoslovakia, until 1968 when it became the highest point in the Czech and Slovak Socialist Republic, then in 1990 it was the highest point in the Czech and Slovak Federated Republic and finally it rounded out the century as the highest point in Slovakia in 1993.
Mountains and boarders you have to love them.
Here is a better update which I got from a climbing parnter in slovakia
The following rules apply for all climbers in all parts of TANAP (Tatra Nation Park) in both Slovakia and Poland.
It is now possible to get good quality (both accurate and standardized) topo and hiking~trail maps of Slovakia. A good series of maps can be obtained from
VKU. There are no English maps yet but a few are in German and all have multilingual legends. Both 1:50000 and 1:25000 maps are available for a reasonable price.