Skalnik is the highest mountain in the Rudawy Janowickie range. It is a broad, forested massif with two peaks, which – according to a little research carried out recently by Patryk Charydczak – have almost identical elevations of 944 or 945 metres. It turns out that the southwestern peak is nearly ten metres higher than commonly thought and what you see on hiking maps of today. The error must have stemmed from the fact that the elevation of the benchmark stone that sits some fifty metres from the highest rock on the SW peak (936m) was once ascribed to the top of the rock, whose elevation on a 1:25,000 German map made in 1939 is 945.1m. According to measurements made by Mr Charydczak himself as well as new data from the Head Office of Geodesy and Cartography (GUGiK), the SW peak is actually a few dozen centimetres higher than the NE peak which has been regarded as the main summit for decades. The SW peak, whose highest rock is unofficially called Ostra Mała, is much more attractive than the NE one, so if it really is the actual highpoint of the whole masssif, this would be the icing on the cake.
Given the unimpressive elevation of Skalnik, its mundane shape and dense forest cover, it would seem that it is not worth hiking, and I must admit I had tended to think so until I turned sixty. Then, while on a two-day mini-trek in the east of the Western Sudetes, one summer evening I reached what is regarded as Skalnik’s SW summit and known as Ostra Mała or Mała Ostra (meaning the Little Sharp) at 935m. It is the highest rock within the summit area of the SW peak - a literal summit block, which gives spectacular views, including a panorama of the nearby Karkonosze, i.e. the Giant Mountains, formed of the same granite as Skalnik, but several hundred metres higher. Towards the end of the 19th century Riesengebirgsverein built a stairway to the top of the rock and secured this natural viewing platform with a railing. I climbed the stone steps, watched the sunset and then the sunrise and I was pleased with the views and the place. In fact the name of the mountain comes from these rocks (‘skała’ means ‘rock’ in Polish). It seems that in the 19th century the mountain remained unnamed. (My guess is that it was called the same as the ridge it is the highest part of, i.e. then the Landeshuter Kamm – today the Rudawy Janowickie Mountains.) But several interesting rocks scattered on its SW peak did have a name – they were called the Friesensteine, which translates as the Stones of the Frisians. Later on the highest of those rocks (today’s Ostra Mała) was named Freie Koppe.
An off-trail attraction for those looking for something wilder and rougher is a talus field that lies about 300m northwest of the main summit, covering a few acres of the uppermost part of the slope of Skalnik. It is a quite unique phenomenon in this area. The nearby Giant Mountains have many more talus fields, but all of them lie above the tree line, which runs at about 1250m there. The first time I tried to get to Skalnik’s blockfield from the NE summit I had decided to make a long detour and follow a path, marked on my map, that appeared to cut down bushwhacking. It didn’t work well as the path vanished quickly, I did have to bushwhack a while and was actually on the verge of giving up when I found myself on the edge of the blockfield. There I discovered yellow marks on tree trunks, which I guessed led to the main summit, so on my way back I eagerly followed them to avoid a bushwhack back. In a few minutes, thanks to those unofficial marks, I got to the main summit indeed.
Skalnik is readily accessible from several villages or towns around it. The nearest town is Kowary. It lies just a few kilometres west of the summits of Skalnik, about 17km southeast of the city of Jelenia Góra, with which it is connected by Road 367. Buses/minibuses from Jelenia Góra to the nearby resort town of Karpacz run through Kowary. Jelenia Góra has good train and bus links with Wrocław, the capital of Lower Silesia. There is also a direct bus service between Wrocław and Kowary.
If you set off in the centre of Kowary, your elevation gain on reaching the summits will be less than 500m. If you park your car at the pass past the northeast fringe of Kowary, known as Przełęcz pod Średnicą, the elevation gain will be less than 350m (and the distance less than 4km). If you feel like a little challenge (some mud, track getting overgrown in places), you can start walking at the village of Strużnica, north of the summit, and follow the trail blazed by the Scouts from their campground south of Strużnica to the official waymarked trail linking Przełęcz pod Średnicą and Ostra Mała.