“ Country: Poland / World Region: Europe „
Kasprowy Wierch, Tatra Mountains, Poland.
Back in July we took a trip to the Tatra Mountains in the South of Poland. This mountain range is on the Polish border with Slovakia and is home to some of the most beautiful views I have ever seen... even though it was very cloudy and wet!
Located 1988 metres above sea level Kasprowy Wierch is popular with skiers and snowboarders during the winter months and walkers, hikers and climbers during the Spring, Summer and Autumn and this was our planned destination for the weekend so after arriving in Zakopane we took a mini bus for 3zl (Polish Zloty) from the city centre to Kuznice and the entrance to the Tatras National Park.
When we arrived at the park we had 2 options for reaching the top, cable car or walk. We had already decided that we wanted to walk there so after studying our map to see which trail we needed to follow we set off in the direction of Hala Gasienicowa. This was our halfway point where we planned to stop for half an hour to take a break and have some lunch as we knew there is the Murowaniec hostel/shelter here and having heard a lot of good things about it we thought it would be nice to include it in our day.
To enter the National Park we needed to pay a 4zl fee at the little shed near the car park and read the warning signs about possible rock avalanches and what to do if you meet a bear during your walk!
A Forest Walk to Hala Gasienicowa
To reach Hala Gasienicowa we followed the blue trail through a mainly forest area. To begin with the path was quite rocky and uneven underfoot and also rather steep but this didn't matter as we were full of enthusiasm and ready to conquer a mountain! As the weather was a bit rainy and cold we had set out in warm clothes and waterproof jackets however after only 10 minutes of walking the waterproof was in my bag along with the hoody and I was happily walking in the drizzle in my t-shirt. The forest we walked through was very pretty and a lovely bright shade of green, ok, this may sound obvious that a forest is green but I never expected to see a green so bright in the rain!
After around 30 minutes of walking we reached our first view point. This was an opening in the trees which looks out over the Tatras. Obviously at this point we were still quite low in the mountains but it was still fantastic to look across the valley and be able to look up and see the tops of the nearby mountains. Little did we know that this was going to be one of the last chances to see the tops of the mountains as the clouds were beginning to close in on us and visibility was soon to be minimal! After a 5 minute stop at the view point and a quick cuppa from the Thermos we continued on our way.
From the view point the path became a little more rocky and slightly less foresty but still plenty of bushes and greenery. The higher we got the less trees there were and the more open the view of the surrounding mountains was becoming. Unfortunately due to the weather our views were quite cloudy and the tops of the mountains almost impossible to see. Nevertheless I still really enjoyed the views as I thought the clouds moving across the mountains looked amazing!
Within a few minutes of admiring these clouds I found myself walking through one with visibility down to a bare minimum and I was unable to see more than 50 yards ahead of me. We could hear other people in front or behind us but it was almost impossible to see them other than a vague outline. As we could see our path clearly we decided to continue on our adventure and at least make it to the halfway point.
The first half of our walk was very busy and we met a lot of people walking, I would say they were mainly tourists as most of them were in jeans and trainers with no bags or waterproofs. For reaching Hala Gasienicowa I would say this is fine as the path is generally ok just a little uneven and rocky with a few steep areas.
As we approached Hala Gasienicowa we came across a couple of large shelters for climbers before we eventually reached the Murowaniec shelter.
Our original plan had been to get to Murowaniec shelter and stop for a 30 minute rest and lunch. However, when we got here the place was overloaded with tourists and inside the shelter was packed so we decided to cut out 30 minutes down to 15. The shelter itself did look really nice and inside was lovely and cosy and a nice source of warmth after the rain. To use the toilet you needed to pay 1zl. They also had some souvenirs available to purchase if you wished.
Outside the shelter was quite a few tables and chairs and a warning sign about bears being in the area.
The Rocky Road to Kasprowy Wierch
As we left the half way point our journey began to follow the yellow trail and the path became notably more rocky and I really began to feel the steep incline in my legs! Regardless of this we continued towards the top, still walking in a cloud so unable to take in any of the views. The further we went the less people we met and for me this was great as I wanted to escape the tourists! Ok, I know I was a tourist myself but I wanted the feeling of being alone in the mountains and like I was on a proper expedition!
The path we were now following briefly crosses onto the border of Slovakia so we had to stop for photos with the sign in Slovakian. After this view point of clouds we continued on what I have now re-named as the "road to no where" as it seemed to go on for so long and every time I thought we were near the top we seemed to turn another corner! This path was very rocky with huge rocks forming steps to climb up. I amused myself on this path by singing the road to no-where song until I drove myself insane!
There isn't much I can say about this part of our adventure other than "rocky", "wet" and "hard work". I can honestly say I was very grateful for my walking boots as I think there is no way I would have managed to do this in my trainers. Due to the weather the rocks became quite slippy in places and also because of the weather the views were minimal with just the close surrounding areas to look at. This made the walk quite hard as we knew that when we reached the top of the mountain the view was going to be almost non-existent, but this was a challenge and we had to complete it!
Kasprowy Wierch... Conquered!
After almost 4 hours of walking and at some points climbing in very tough and wet conditions we finally reached the summit of Kasprowy Wierch! We knew we had made it when suddenly a load of tourists were coming into view and we could see the cable car station where they had gotten off. The summit of Kasprowy Wierch is located up some more stairs above the cable car station so with a final heave ho we managed to climb the stairs and pose for photos with the Kasprowy Wierch summit sign.
The top of the mountain is also home to the weather station which I have been informed was built there before the World Wars and is one of the famous landmarks of the mountains.
An Hour as a Tourist
After all that hard work we decided to take a break in the cable car station at the top of the mountain. In here we found a Dominium Pizza restaurant where we sat drinking hot chocolate to warm us up as we were freezing and soaked through! The hot chocolate came at a cost of 8.50zl. While we were here I sent my mum a text to tell her I was on the top of a mountain! Yep... I even got a phone signal at almost 2000 metres above sea level!
Following our hot chocolate we had a quick look at the souvenirs which I decided were mainly quite tacky and overpriced, yet I still found myself purchasing a beaded bracelet made of wooden beads and a leather cord for my little brother just so he can say he has something from the top of a mountain.
To come back down the mountain we decided to take the green trail in the hope that we would have some variation in scenery even with the constant cloud we were in. I thought that coming back down was going to be the easy part of this adventure, however I didn't count on my knee giving into the constant pressure it was being put under with the strain of the steep downwards slope and as a result of this I would say this was one rather painful trip down a mountain!
The green trail down Kasprowy Wierch was pretty much rocks all the way and we took the first 30 minutes of our descent rather slowly as the drop on either side of the not to wide path was rather steep and obviously extremely high! The terrain around us was a mixture of large boulders, rocks with some greenery and steep drops, we really had to be careful here. Me and my clever ideas of taking a different route down!
After the first 30 minutes the path became a little easier, still very rocky but the surrounding area was a little greener and not quite so steep. Our path was now much more winding but with it being downhill I could still feel the pressure on my knee. Regardless of this I was still loving our day here and wanted to continue on our way. For the first half of our journey down we met only about 2 or 3 people and we felt very alone and secluded which was a fantastic feeling. For sometime the only sound we could hear was our own footsteps and the occasional bird tweeting. It was still raining but this didn't seem to matter too much... I think by this time we had become pretty immune!
About halfway down, the path started to move back into the forest area and I felt a slight relief that we had almost made it. Walking through the forest was much easier and the paths were not so steep. It was lovely to be back in the trees and I could hear a waterfall running somewhere alongside us.
The Cable Car Bear!
Not long after we had left the half way point I had drifted into my own world when I heard a loud rumbling/growling sound. My first thought was "oh **** BEAR!" and I don't think I was alone in this thought as we both instantly looked at each other and quickened our pace while frantically looking around for the bear! It was only a few moments later when we heard the sound again that we realised it wasn't a bear at all and it was actually the cable car passing overhead and the rumbling/growling sound had been when it passed over the wheels on the overhead wire!
Oh how stupid we felt! Not really for mistaking the sound for a bear because we knew this was possible... very rare but still possible, but no we felt stupid because the bear warning sign we had read at the bottom of the mountain had told us that if we did happen to see a bear then we shouldn't panic and under no circumstances should we make any sudden movements but instead walk calmly in the other direction! Oops!
Waterfalls and A Return to Civilisation
After our cable car bear incident we continued on our way and enjoyed the beautiful views once again as the clouds had cleared. We saw a gorgeous waterfall and a couple of squirrels playing in the trees. Eventually, a very long 10 hours after we had set out we arrived back at our starting point in Kuznice where we simply sat, looked at each other and realised we had done it!
So, Should You Climb Kasprowy Wierch?
If you have a good pair of walking boots and are physically fit then definitely yes. The first part of our trip was a little too touristy for me and when we reached the top we were again over run with tourists, however the adventure from the half way point and then the walk back down the mountain was a peaceful and thoroughly enjoyable experience which I would recommend to anyone!
For those of you who would prefer to take the cable cars to the top, firstly you need to be prepared for the queues and secondly, the price is currently 39zl to go up and 29zl to come back down again! I would say at these prices you should only bother to do this if the weather is good so you will at least get some decent views for your money... unless you simply want the cable car ride and to say you've been on top of a mountain!
Overall a great and tiring experience which I would definitely do all over again!
Thanks for reading! :)
KASPROWY WIERCH - WHERE ON EARTH ARE WE?
Unless you happen to be Polish, from the Tatra region of Slovakia, or have holidayed in the mountain resort of Zakopane, there is no earthly reason why you would be expected to have heard of this particular location.
Yes, in case you are still guessing, I am reviewing a mountain here, Poland's most popular ski mountain at that!
In order get your bearings, let me explain that Mount Kasprowy Wierch is located immediately to the south of Zakopane, the most popular winter resort in Poland. Its' summit actually forms part of the Polish / Slovakian border along the High Tatras in the south east of Poland.
In turn, Zakopane is located about two hours south of Krakow by road or rail, which in all likelihood, if visiting the area, is where you will have landed, having flown there.
This particular area of the Tatra Mountains is the most accessible, both for Polish tourists and others visiting the region. Consequently, summer or winter, this is not an area in which to escape from the maddening crowds. If that is your intention and the Tatras' are your desire, then I would recommend trying the Slovakian side of the border, it is quieter there, although the slopes, being south facing, are covered in snow for less of the year. That hardly represents the spirit of this review though!
PONY & TRAP or SHANK'S PONY?
OK, so you find yourself in Zakopane and want to see the sites. Kasprowy Wierch will appear in all the tourist guides, assuming that, having read them and indeed this review, you wish to visit, then how do you find it?
Zakopane is not a big town; it is quite possible to see everything you need to there on foot. Sign posting is very good and you will also find the locals helpful, most speak surprisingly good English too - they have after all made a living out of tourism since Victorian times. During the summer you will hear as much (American) English spoken on the streets there as Polish. Therefore asking someone how to get to Kasprowy Wierch need not be feared.
Cheap and good maps are also available from vendors in the town centre.
You have a choice of three ways of doing this, in ascending order of cost: on foot, by taxi or mini-bus or by horse and cart. Whichever you choose you will, unless going VERY early in the morning (before 7.30am), end up at the back of a long queue upon reaching the cable car station.
Visiting Zakopane in 2007 and 2008, we actually left our car in the hotel car park and, with map in hand, merely followed the tide of hikers straight up the hill from Krupowki, Zakopane's famous main street, in the centre of town.
Be warned though, especially if you are not physically fit, this is a long - 2.5 kilometre - and increasingly strenuous - up-hill walk to the cable car station at the foot of the mountain.
Kuznice (the name of the road) leading up to the cable car station, is only open for licensed traffic, there is a large, guarded, on street car park at the bottom, from where the taxi's charge 10PLN (about £2) each to take you the 2.5km to the cable car station. In 2008 we did just that, walked to the car park and hopped aboard a mini-bus which sped us to the end of the road.
THREE CHOICES REDUCE TO TWO
Arriving at the end of the road by foot, taxi or carriage, you are now at the foot of the mountain and can either, if suitably equipped and shod, carry on climbing, or join the queue for the cable car.
In 2007 we arrived here over-heated and tired from the climb, only to join the back of a very long queue, we did not stay long however! Those coming out of the cable car were advising that it was a complete waste of time and money - the whole mountain was buried in cloud, there was no view from the top! We decided to leave it for another day.
That day arrived in spring last year (28.04.08), a late spring at that in the Tatras, from our hotel in Zab, overlooking the impressive range behind Zakopane we could see that the north facing slopes were still covered in snow. We finished breakfast as early as we could and, to save time, jumping the queue on the walkers, took a mini-bus to the cable car station. Even soon after 8.30am there was a very long queue, we waited around an hour to board the cable car. An hour should be regarded as a very short wait, most here queue literally for hours on end.
RICHADA'S NEW EXPERIENCE OF THE DAY
I did not say too much beforehand to my (Polish) wife about the cable car, however she was aware that this was going to be my first such experience at the age of 45. As a child my parents regularly took me on holiday to Austria, Italy and even Switzerland, however my father, being terrified of heights, always made sure that we never got anywhere near a cable car!
Heights affect me in different ways on different days, whilst not knowing just what I would make of the cable car I was strangely relaxed about the whole experience, even having shuffled along in that queue for an hour.
Whilst my wife actually carried out the ticket purchasing in Polish - it is usually quicker that way, English interpretations are posted at the kiosk window. The cashiers also speak some English.
Having paid, that is not the end of your queuing; now it's a further twenty minute slow shuffle up the many steps and around the corner onto the cable car "platform". For those of you who have never boarded a cable car, this is like a railway station in miniature, the suspended car pulls up at a platform level with the floor of the car, you enter through a sliding door.
In summer 2006, our first visit to Zakopane, the cable car service was not running, the reason being that the whole apparatus, including the cars themselves, were being replaced. Personally, especially in view of the ramshackle appearance of the old cars, I was very glad of this, and had no fears on safety grounds at all.
UP, UP AND AWAY
You may not give it a second thought as you swiftly and silently glide away from the platform, marvelling both at the scenery and at the modern car in which you are travelling, but, when started in August 1935, this was a major feat of engineering.
Nearly all the construction work had to be carried out manually, 600 men were employed in the building of the line. Due to the topography, everything had to be carried from a point half way to the top, the men worked between 14 and 16 hours day, much of it in the dark through the winter, very dangerous and uncomfortable construction work. Incredibly by March 1936 it was open to the first fare paying passengers. One of the first passengers was Ignacy Mościcki, the then President of Poland.
The journey to the top of Mount Kasprowy takes approximately 12 minutes and is in two stages, which, when getting on the car, we were not aware of. At 1325metres (4347ft) above sea level, there is a change station at Myslenickie Turnie. This works like clockwork, as your car reaches this point, the descending one is just pulling into the station. You merely step out of one, walk around the corner and onto the "up" platform and step into the other, identical, cable car.
The cars themselves are still very new and smart. Strictly standing room only, there are straps to hang onto if you wish; this is an extraordinarily comfortable ride. You admire increasingly breathtaking views through huge windows and there is a roof-light too, presumably doubling as an emergency escape hatch.
The two cars are manned, although it occurred to me that the staff have a rather long and boring day, operating the car involves no more than pressing a lift type button. As is usual in Poland you will find that the radio (RMF, the Krakow based commercial station) is playing constantly, although it is not loud enough to drown out the increasingly excited hubbub of your fellow 59 passengers - yes these cars carry 60 passengers at a time!
We were lucky in that at the end of April last year there was still a lot of snow on the Tatra Mountains, approximately half way between the transfer station and the summit we reached the snow line, changing the scenery altogether. This made sun glasses a necessity, especially under the stunning bright blue sky with which we were blessed on the day.
For those interested in a few more technical details:
Length of line: 4291.59 metres
"Base" station at Kuznice: 1027 metres above sea level
Summit station at Kasprowy Wierch: 1959m.a.s.l.
Maximum rate of climb: 22%
Summit of the mountain: 1987m.a.s.l. (6519ft)
WAS ALL THAT QUEUING WORTH IT?......
......Yes, undoubtedly it was, the view, and indeed the whole experience, at least on the day that we did it, was breathtaking. Whilst recognising that this review will be a lot less graphic in black and white, I will attempt to describe here in words what this trip was all about for us, as non-skiers.
I also have to say there was an element of 'no it wasn't', but that is really due to the crowds, I always envisage mountain summits at remote, lonely, even spiritual places - none of that applies here, thanks to the commercialism of the place and facilities that you would simply not expect to find at the peak of a mountain in the Tatras.
We came here primarily for the views and NOTHING could detract from the fact that they were stunning. The resulting photographs, the best mountain ones that I and Mrs R have ever taken, speak for themselves. At just over 6500ft Kasprowy Wierch cannot exactly be counted as a high mountain, however, what it lacks in height, it more than makes up for in terms of beauty and position. It is very much centred in the Tatra Mountains, offering views to the east and west, a panorama of the Slovakian Tatras to the south, as well as to the north over the huge Polish Podhale Plain below.
For views alone, nothing that we saw from the top of much higher Swiss Alps could compare in beauty to this.
A far as I personally was concerned however, physically at the top of Kasprowy Wierch I was feeling most unwell. A combination of factors, the incredibly blue sky, the burning hot sun and deep frozen snow under my booted feet made me feel quite sick. Without decent boots you are unable to walk at all up there as the snow is constantly packed to ice by the throngs of visitors. Since breaking my leg and ankle on just such a surface in Poland three years ago I am also unduly wary of my safety in such conditions.
Mrs R left me sitting on my waterproof in order to climb right to the very summit and take the photographs, I was simply feeling too sick and scared to attempt climbing any higher than we already had. Sitting here for maybe half an hour I was able to observe the thousands of people around me. Nearly all appeared to be Polish, a small minority had brought skis and were skiing down the mountain and returning on one of the two chair lifts, but extraordinarily the majority appeared to have come up here to strip off and get a quick sun tan! Surely a sun bed in Zakopane would be a less expensive way of doing that!
Photographs taken, view admired and re-united with my wife, we still had approximately forty minutes to kill before making the cable car descent. Incidentally, if you are more adventurous than we, you can walk down the mountain; it will take approximately two and a half hours.
MOUNTAIN TOP FACILITIES
There are two substantial stone buildings here. The higher of the two is the weather station, Poland's highest altitude building - it is not open to the public. Below it is the cable car station, which has been extended into a large building containing a two storey pizza restaurant, shop, comprehensive toilet and shower facilities and, reportedly, some guest rooms, which I have to say that I have never seen advertised.
On a day such as the one we had, it seemed a shame not to have a bite to eat in the restaurant, where we consumed very good pizza, albeit at an (understandably) inflated cost. Strangely it did settle my stomach somewhat and being indoors admiring the view out of the burning sun was a relief.
The toilets were good, immaculately clean, but again, understandably in this instance, charged for. Everything that comes here to be sold eaten, or indeed removed, has to be done by the cable car itself, the logistics of running such facilities are expensive - and fascinating at the same time!
The shop was less than impressive, the same touristy items as on sale in dozens of shops in Zakopane and for less money at that.
BACK DOWN TO EARTH, WITHOUT THE BUMP
At the appointed time your ticket is passed through the machine and you step onto the platform for the descent.
The return journey on the cable car is somehow more sombre, that sense of anticipation has gone. Whilst still taking photographs one is aware of the radio playing now in the back ground. The view now facing you is of the vast plain to the north of Zakopane. Twelve minutes after leaving you are back to the Kuźnice base station.
ROUNDING OFF A VERY INTERESTING EXPERIENCE
Rather than merely walking, or boarding a taxi, for our return trip. into Zakopane, we had a stroll down through the beautiful woods adjacent to the road. In a sense I actually enjoyed this more than being on top of the mountain. We were at last alone with nature, a bubbling mountain stream, little ponds and bird song surrounding us.
It took us just over an hour to get back into town, in all a morning well spent, with the exception of the queues, which as we left the cable car were very long indeed!
JUST A PASSING THOUGHT.......
A while ago I reviewed a neighbouring "attraction" - Morskie Oko, which, in terms of sheer tourist numbers, is probably the only similarly popular (read crowded) attraction in the area.
Poland, although far from short of beautiful scenery, is not well served for tourist attractions in the sense that we know them in the UK, consequently there is almost unbearable pressure on the ones that do exist. As at Morskie Oko, so too here at Mount Kasprowy Wierch, to my eyes at least, the pressure of visitor numbers is so great that it is severely impacting the very environment that those visitors have come to admire.
SEASONS & PRICES (CABLE CAR):
As prices are constantly changing I would suggest checking the following link, apologies for the Polish language, but the only up to date prices appear to be on this site:
I will however interpret it for you for future reference!
Sezon = season / Poza sezonem = out of season
The current "in" season runs until 30.09.09, the out of season from 1.10.09 to 19.12.09
(zl = PLN = Polish zloty. Today, 18.04.09, £1.00 = 4.88 zl)
normalny (gora) = normal ticket (going up) - 30zl / 24zl
ulgowy (gora) = concessionary ticket (going up) - 25zl / 19zl
normalny w dół = normal ticket (down only) - 19zl / 15zl
normalny (gora-dol) = normal return - 40zl / 34zl.
Return tickets are strictly "timed", once at the summit you have an hour and forty minutes before joining the cable car for the descent.
(Prices correct as at 18.04.09)
The ticket structure is complex and there are various concessionary fares for guides and skiing instructors. The information that I have given you here should allow you to at least to make sense of the fares.
Richada / Dooyoo © May 2009
The most popular ski mountain in Poland, 1987m above sea level.