How to find Narnia in Poland, what to do when water freezes in the bottles and why Tatra mountains are the best in winter?
(More explanation for the trails, that we’ve done and practical tips at the bottom of the article)
Tatra mountains is a part of Carpathians and the highest mountain range in Poland. Zakopane is the closest biggest town, from where you can access the peaks. Even though I’ve been to Himalayas, those Polish mountains are still my favourites (but maybe I’m biased ;)).
This time we were in Poland only for 10 days, with very tight schedule. I tried in all the possible ways, to fit at least a couple of days in the mountains in between a meeting with friends and the second piece of cake at my auntie’s.
It was Alex’s first trip to my home country, so I wanted to show him the best parts of it. Mountains, sounds of snow squeaking under every step, hot mead and oscypki (traditional mountain smoked cheese) – what else do you need?
Where to stay in Zakopane?
While warming ourselves up over the Korean tea Wooricha, (specially fermented and roasted on small pans – worth to try!) in „Czajownia” – great tea place in Jewish district in Krakow, we decided that we are going to finish the tea and catch the bus to Zakopane.
But where to stay? I’ve called all places that I knew about– everything was booked. Fortunately we were saved by the message from my friend Adam:“Lukas, our old good friend from hitch-hiking group works in one hostel in Zakopane, contact him”.
Couple of minutes, few messages and everything was sorted. We are meeting him on the bus station and staying in Basecamp!
Zakopane’s Basecamp 2 (because there are two) is a wooden mountain style house with 5 rooms inside, located by the entrance to the Strazyska Valley. We got a big double bedroom in the ground floor, with massive balcony and the view of Giewont (one of the most significant mountains in the area) – amazing!
Lukas offered us very good price (they start already from around 31zl (£6) as you can see on a website), and a great company. It’s a place with nice atmosphere, mini kitchen and two shared bathrooms – perfect for a base for your mountain trips around Zakopane!
We arrived in the late evening,it was -25 outside and the frost was painting on the windows. The stars were shining in the black sky hanging over the majestic mountains. We sat in the warm room, with a bottle of plum vodka in front of us, talking about life and the hiking plans for the next day. Ah, life is good.
Where to go in difficult winter conditions?
What to do when there are very low temperatures – it was still -17 during the day, avalanche risk just came down from grade 3 to 2 (so from “don’t even think about going up without 100 years of winter experience in the mountains and ton of equipment” to “watch out at what you’re doing and you may be ok”), you don’t have crampons nor ice axe with you (we didn’t have enough space in our luggage for everything), and your partner has never been in the higher mountains in winter before, but you still want to see nice views and enjoy your time in the hills?
We chose a walk to Hala Gasienicowa, to Murowaniec mountain hut. Then maybe hike to Kasprowy Wierch mountain (you can also take a cable car to get to the top), if the conditions are good.
The path was leading us through the fairytale landscape. The snowy empty forest, where you couldn’t hear anything apart from the snow squeaking under our shoes, and everything was covered in the cosy winter fluff.
We chose blue trail through Boczan (more info at the bottom of the article), in case there was avalanche problem in the valley. After short time we saw the view opening into the Jaworzynka valley and the city covered in clouds.
My favourite part on that trail, is where you walk through the pass into the flatter area and can see the massive mountains of High Tatras towering just in front of you. This time they were initially in the clouds, but closer to the hut, the clouds went away and the valley was flooded with the sun light.
In the Murowaniec hut, you can have your own lunch, or you can buy something (it’s usually quite pricey – it’s in the middle of the mountains!). We had instant soup and sandwiches with Polish pate (it’s a tradition to eat bread with pate and tinned meat in the mountains )
Day light is much shorter in winter and we were running out of time. The Kasprowy was in the clouds and the people who we met on their way down suggested that we probably need crampons if we want to go there.
Resigning from it then (the views there in winter are very beautiful but it’s better on a clear day and I remember one icy walk down some years ago that I wouldn’t like to repeat without the proper equipment), we went to the Black Lake nearby in order to have a look at the frozen water and the mountains towering above it (more practical info at the bottom of article).
Zakopane – where to eat and drink?
We came back to the city just before the sunset. Minus million degrees had an effect on our bodies – even water froze in the bottles, so we started looking for something to quickly warm us up.
The best medicine for that in the mountains is obviously a hot mead – it’s an alcoholic beverage made from honey and spices, quite strong and delicious.
We were in the famous part of town- Krupowki – prices in that area are not low at all, but our bellies dramatically wanted some hot food and frost was getting stronger, so we came into the first traditionally looking restaurant for dinner.
It turned out, that we chose quite well.
Pork knuckle, singing and home made vodka
There was a huge fireplace with a table next to it, that we immediately took. Wooden interior and traditional design. We ordered Polish beer “Okocim” and local dish – beer marinated pork knuckle with roasted potatoes and salads. To be honest, I have never tried it before (I used to stay mostly in the huts in the mountains, so the food there was rather basic – but then you had amazing views and mountains all around you – you can’t have it all). I didn’t expect it to be THAT good. I can highly recommend “Stodola” restaurant (no, they don’t pay me for advertising, although I wouldn’t mind some pork knuckles sent to me from time to time haha).
Later on, there was also live traditional music with local band. After Lukas has joined us, we went to another place, where we were greeted by very very strong homemade vodka “przekurnwica”, also called in Polish “bimber”. I had a headache even two days later, so better watch out!
Narnia – Strazyska Valley and a frozen waterfall
The next day in the morning we decided to go for small stroll in the morning before leaving the city – we decided to visit Strazyska Valley, which is very close to the Basecamp 2 hostel.
Strazyska Valley goes until it reaches the glade, where you have an amazing view of Giewont – one of the most famous mountains. Few steps further, there is a big waterfall Siklawica – normally producing big noise of falling water, but this time it was entirely frozen and looked magical.
Alex concluded, that the views are like from Narnia, and we felt again like in a fairytale. Snow hats were sitting on the rocks, trees bending under the cold weights, twigs looking like chubby barrels dressed in the white snowy fluff – so pretty.
On the way we encountered one more interesting sight – halo – a rainbow around the sun. It is an optical phenomena produced by light interacting with ice crystals captured in the clouds. I’ve never seen it before, so it was new experience for me.
It was a great trip! Beautiful views, unspoiled snow, and most of it exclusively for us. That’s why I prefer Tatras in winter. They are majestic, breathtakingly beautiful, a bit more adventurous, requiring more effort and preparations – but they are empty! Because crowds in the mountains is the last thing, that I want to experience myself.
Go and visit that beautiful place, but first of all – be safe!
Some useful tips to remember before going to the mountains in winter:
- If you don’t have experience in winter hiking with appropriate equipment, better don’t go to the more difficult trails, especially the ones with deep snow, any avalanche risk or ice.
- Remember, that the weather in the mountains can change in the matter of minutes and sunny day can turn in a snowy blizzard. Fresh, not tied snow can be more prone to avalanche risk and make finding the trail much harder.
- In winter, the days are shorter, in the forest the dusk comes much earlier – remember about it when planning your trips and always take a headtorch with you.
- In Poland every trail has specific colour, that is marked on trees and wooden arrows through the whole way – ay attention to it, as it will help you to find the correct path.
- Estimated time for specific trails in winter is usually longer than the same places in summer, because of snow and ice. Keep it in mind!
- Always have a map and preferably also a compass with you.
- Always take enough water and food with you, don’t forget about appropriate clothing! Good hiking shoes with hard soles is a must, breathable, water and wind proof jacket, hat, scarf and gloves. Good idea is also to take sunglasses – sun reflection in the snow can be very harmful for your eyes. Wind and cold will make you feel cold very quickly, so it will be good to have some warm tea with you as well.
- Remember and have written down the emergency numbers: 112 or 985 or 600-100-300 or for mountain rescue. Have your phone fully charged.
- Trails, that we covered:
- To get to Murowaniec mountains hut, you need to get to Kuznice first. It’s just a short bus ride from the main bus station in Zakopane and it costs 3 zloty. From there you can take blue trail through Boczan or yellow one through the Jaworzynka Valley. Both of them take around 1,5-2 h. They are fairly easy, but there are some steeper parts, so be aware.
- Blue trail to the Black Lake from the Gasienicowa Hall takes around 30 minutes one way. However, in the deep snow and icy path, it might take longer and be more difficult so check it before.
- If you want to stay in the mountain hut Murowaniec for the night, it’s the best to book it in advance. It’s one of the few mountains huts that don’t allow people to sleep on the floor either. Prices start from 30-40 zl per person.
- The path in Strazyska Valley is quite flat, so it’s accessible to more people, even with no previous experience in the mountains. From the entrance to the National Park until the end of the valley it’s around 30-40 min walk. From there, after 5 more minutes you can reach Siklawica waterfall. It’s worth to remember, that to get into the National Park you need to pay for entrance, which is 5 zl (£1).