It was supposed to be a warm-up walk, a test to see if I could hike with plantar fasciitis in both feet. It was conveniently close to the lovely “chalet” where we were staying, so off Larry and I headed out into the cool, foggy morning of a mid-July day. I was excited to see what our first hike in the High Tatras of the Carpathian Mountains had to offer.
We were on the Polish side of the mountain chain that forms the Polish border with Slovakia, staying in the colorful resort town of Zakopane. Sure the town is touristy, popular during ski and hiking seasons, but it’s also beautiful. The architecture alone is worth the visit.
The first thing I noticed on the Strazyska Valley Trail, built in the late 1800s and named for the stalls for milking sheep, was people. A river of people flowing down the trail, families with kids toted on their backs and mothers holding tight to an older child’s hand every step of the way. I’d thought when the receptionist at our chalet told us thousands hike on most trails every day in the Tatra National Park she was exaggerating. She was not.
The second thing I noticed was that constantly underfoot were a type of rock I hadn’t seen hiking before. The rocks were pinkish-gray, and not very kind to injured feet. They had the smooth slipperiness of polished marble, and the damp from the night’s thunderous deluge made them even more treacherous. Strazyska Creek chattered beside us, with numerous tiny cacades and rivulets.
The third thing I noticed was that the mountains were cloaked in mist, looming silver and mysterious.
We hiked upward bypassing knots of families. We soon came to Mylinska Meadow, home to a ranger cabin. Not long afterward, we passed a novel sight, for US hikers anyway: a snack bar with gorgeous pastries. As the gradient steepened and we huffed along, a teenager and her father came crashing down toward us as they slid off the rocks, grabbing passing trees not to fall or knock over those of us climbing up. I silently vowed we would not descend this trail.
Meanwhile I marveled at the constant stream of people, undeterred by the weather or the footing, and at the tall dark Tatra spruces that brooded in thick forests beside the trail. My feet stopped hurting. Perhaps the athletic tape I’d wrapped around them was taking hold along with the scenery.
After a while, we arrived at a huge sitting area, log benches set up in a rough circle that easily accommodated fifty people. As we ate a snack, we decided to climb up the trail that led to the top of Deer Peak (Sarnia Skala) 4,472 feet high, after observing that most folks weren’t choosing to go there.
In less than a mile, we broke into the open at the foot of a rocky mound that looked like a drip castle a giant had made on a beach and then turned to stone. For the first time, I could clearly see, and feel, that we were ringed by mountains. A beautiful spot that grew only more wonderful as we joined the line climbing up the mound of rock. It was steep. Because of the numbers of people, some kids and some adults, who didn’t care about pushing past or into other folks, it was also somewhat dangerous. We were lucky to make it to the top without mishap and hang around enjoying at the views.
Coming down was worse, but at least it was quick.
(That’s Zakopane in the valley over the ridge.)
Larry was willing to do a loop so off we went through the forest to turn down a very pleasant, mostly dirt trail with footing I swooned over.
Eventually another splendid stream, White Stream (Bialy Potok), ran beside us, again offering lovely small cataracts and even a pool that children were taking advantage of.
Our trial walk went much longer than we’d intended. We wound up hiking 7.8 miles, not so great for the plantar fasciitis, but a thoroughly enjoyable introduction to the Tatras.