Hiking up the West Tatra Mountains in Slovakia

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I’ve visited the town of Liptovský Mikuláš, Slovakia, three times now and each time I’ve found it harder to leave. 

Liptovský Mikuláš is situated in Northen Slovakia, around 28km from the capital, Bratislava. Surrounded by the Tatra Mountains, this small town is an absolute gem if you love the quiet, mountain lifestyle. Although tourism is high, you can still feel isolated when visiting some of the stunning areas this little town has to offer.  The one thing that I couldn’t wait to see were the Tatra mountains. Forming a natural border between Slovakia and Poland, the Tatra mountains peak at 2,655m for High Tatras, and 2,248m for Western Tatras, well above the Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the UK (if you don’t count Mount Hope).

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(The Snow Covered Trek up the West Tatras Mountains)

My first visit to this stunning town came early January during the winter break, where I visited my partners family for the first time. Covered in deep snow, the place looked like a winter wonderland surrounded by mountains. With it being winter, we used our two weeks to Snowboard and visit spars to cure our aches and pains, in true holiday fashion. With all our time focused on early wake-ups on and late evenings in front of the fire, we limited ourselves and never fully explored this incredible place. When we had a couple of days out of nailing ourselves on the slopes, we headed for a mini hike up West Tatras Mountains.

We knew because of the weather that we couldn’t hike completely up to the peak, but it was a surreal experience nonetheless. The trees were covered in snow, forming a wall of white and grey all around you. As we walked 8km to the base of the mountain, the icy mist starting to form and we knew we had to trek back soon, which was great because I had the worst blisters on my feet. When our trip came to an end, I couldn’t stop thinking about the mountains. I wanted to hike up and get a taste first hand of what it was like to be at the peak, which was a first for me because I’m from St.Ives, where the biggest ‘Mountain’ we have is the hill from the beach to home…

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(From one Extreme to another. The Western Tatras Mountains in Summer.)

Before we set out on our next visit, we had a clear plan to reach the peak this time, but damn, did I underestimate it. Yes, 100 times yes.

We arrived in Liptovský Mikuláš on Monday where we enjoyed a chilled, relaxing days seeing family and eating goulash, which has to be the best thing I’ve ever tasted I might add. We sat around the fire planning out our route and times. We knew that if we set off the following morning, we’d have plenty of time to reach the top, take it all in and be back in front of the fire to tell the stories, but we didn’t want that. We wanted to really experience it, and that meant either;

A) Hiking VERY early in the morning through the dark Bear infested woods to see the sunrise, which is a bad idea as I’m an incredibly bad morning person.

B) We set off around 3 pm and make it to the first peak by sunset, then sleep under the stars and wake up just as the sun rises.

If we were smart, we’d go for the option to hike during the day and back during the eve, but we didn’t, we chose option B. If you’re planning to do this and unsure of what to take, then make sure you have at least some of the following;

What to bring hiking?

  1. Down Sleeping bag because it gets incredibly cold when that sun goes down.
  2. Thermal clothing, hats and a spare change of clothes.
  3. Plenty of water as you can quickly dehydrate hiking up the endless mountain.
  4. Food. We had cheese, noodles and sugary snacks with us that were quick and filling, providing energy when we needed it. 
  5. Either play music, make noise or carry a bell with you to warn off Bears. 
  6. Coffee, because you bloody need it when you wake up that early!
  7. Loo roll because when you gotta go, you gotta go. (thankfully we didn’t need to ‘go’)
  8. Tatra Tea! This is a must because you can’t enjoy a good sunset without it, right? 

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(Our view at the first stop of our hike up Western Tatras.)

Bags packed and bells attached to our fingers, we finally set off on our hike up Western Tatras like two excited kids on Christmas. To be fair, I was doing quite well.. for the first 10 minutes. Why didn’t anyone tell me climbing up the Tatra mountains was so hard!? We reached our first water stop after climbing what seemed like ages, only to realise we were still in view of the cabin at the base, seen in the image above. We powered on through and started making to pick up the pace, reaching our resting spot with a solid hour to spare. After climbing above the treeline, we decided to set up camp just below the first peak, out of the wind and sight on Bears. Normal people would take a tent, although normal people may not even do this in the first place. We unpacked our bags, lit the gas fire and started making the perfect herbal/ Tatra tea combo.

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(Setting up Camp on West Tatras Mountains)

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(Michaela preparing Tatra Tea)

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(Enjoying the Sunset View)

A few sips and the strength of the Tatra Tea started to hit us. We felt ourselves moving closer to our sleeping bags as the sun set over the stunning mountain landscape. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect, the fear of sleeping out in the open without any protection isn’t something that settles the nerves. I remember waking up around 1 am and looking directly up at the stars. There were thousands and thousands of them, with more appearing the longer I stare. The lack of light pollution meant you could see every shooting star, every spark and satellite, it definitely calmed my nerves and took my mind off any potential Bear Threat.

My alarm went off around 3:45 am, perfectly set to wake Michaela up form her deep snoring sleep and prepare coffee and breakfast. It’s a weird feeling waking up on top of the Tatra mountains, especially when you’re in that half asleep state. The cold hits you like an ice bath when you leave your sleeping bag and everything just seems surreal. You don’t really start appreciating where you are until that sun starts to rise from above the mountains. The first hit of the sun on your skin is the best feeling, all the coldness disappears and you’re left with this feeling of anything is possible, it’s hard to explain but when you’re sitting there, that high up watching the sunrise directly in front of you, you sit in awe!

 

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(What a View eh? (Heart eyes)

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(Michaela Preparing the coffee (she won’t let me do it)

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(Morning Coffee watching the Sunrise)

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(Michaela enjoying the perfect view)

 

Although you may read this and think how stupid we were to camp there overnight, with no protection, permission or really any experience of sleeping on top of the Tatra Mountains before, one thing is for sure, I would do it all again in a heartbeat!.. minus the agonising pain it had on my body..

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