Orava, Babia Góra, Western Beskidy Mountains in Poland are the words that were firing up my imagination for the past few months. Orava is a region partly in Slovakia, partly in Poland where nature is still pristine and scenic and people live like in the past. It’s not touristy, it’s not crowded, it’s where you can remain cut off from internet for many days if you choose to. It’s also where the Babia Góra massif is situated with the highest peak being 1725 meters (Diablak – Devil’s Peak). Zubrzyca Górna is a tiny village at the foot of the Babia Góra where my boyfriend and I decided to spend the long weekend this year.
Orava region in Poland – some facts
Orava region is special for many reasons. Babia Góra is practically the only massif in the neighbourhood, thanks to which it attracts all the bad weather and has been called the Mother of Bad Weather (Matka Niepogód). It’s also the region in Poland famous for its fogs, rains, and temperature on average slightly lover than in the rest of the country. It’s also known for the hospitality of the locals. But in order to experience it, you have to get to know them first. It’s a place where the time stopped years ago and life continues to be just like in the past. Babia Góra is where you can run into bear, wolf or lynx. There are many rare plant species too and part of the region was included into the Babiogórski National Park.
Getting from Poznań to the Western Beskidy Mountains
Travelling across Poland is sometimes a challenge. Or is “often” a challenge I shall write to be more accurate. Once you get on the long-haul train, all should be fine. But very often connections get delayed and if you need to travel to small towns or – heaven forbid – villages, things get a bit more tricky.
Poznań is in central-west Poland, while the Western Beskidy Mountains and Babia Góra are in the very south of Poland, just at the boarder with Slovakia. I was travelling with my boyfriend, Wojtek and we basically had to devote nearly a whole day to get to Zakamionek – part of the Zubrzyca Górna village where we had our accommodation.
First, we travelled by train from Poland to Kraków. That part was quite easy and also comfortable. Then we had roughly an hour to change for a mini bus from Kraków to Jabłonka. In Jabłonka, a friend of Wojtek’s mom picked us up and took to Zakamionek. We started our journey early in the morning and arrived at Zakamionek in late afternoon.
The place we stayed at isn’t for rent. We could stay in a lovely wooden house with a balcony overlooking the Tatra Mountains only thanks to the fact, that Wojtek knew the owner of the house – a warmhearted, charming lady who agreed to rent us the place for the whole week.
Zakamionek itself is just a few houses, a few dozen of inhabitants, some dogs, some cats, and hundreds of square meters of thick forests which breathe fogs each morning. You can see the Tatra Mountains during good weather on one side, and the Babia Góra from the other side. Zakamionek is also a place where you’ll see gas bottles. I didn’t even know there were still places without gas in Poland. What is more, nearly in each house you’ll see some animals. Dogs, cats, chickens, hens, cows. Do you know what it means? It means that you can get fresh milk, eggs, and butter that taste like nowhere else.
After chatting with Mrs O., we unpacked, drunk some tea, refreshed ourselves and went on the first walk around the neighbourhood. What surprised me was the nature. When we left Poznań, trees already had green leaves, while Orava was still looking more like in the winter rather than in the spring. It was rather rainy and foggy – I instantly felt the mysterious atmosphere of the Orava region. The paths we walked on were very muddy. The rivers were still deep and fast from the melting snow and frequent rainfalls. It was really beautiful.
In the evening, my friends Roksana and Mateusz were supposed to join us. They live in Kraków and despite that, don’t really visit the mountains very often. This was a good chance to change that as we were planning to climb the Babia Góra the next day.
Through the mud – the first phase of climbing Babia Góra from Zakamionek to Krowiarki
We woke up in the morning to see rising fogs and beams of sunshine shining through the trees. It was a pleasant change after a very cold night. If we hadn’t had a heater, the temperature in the house would have been 12 degrees. It was going to be a sunny and warm, actually the only one when the weather was good enough to climb Babia Góra.
We had breakfast in our small, white kitchen in the house: scrambled eggs from hens walking freely in the meadows, coffee, fresh bread. We set off around 10 am.
The beginning of the trail to Babia Góra, from Zakamionek to Krowiarki, can be described in three words: mud, mud, mud. We were basically walking up a path that turned into a river due to melting snow. We were walking in the mud, the mud was making our clothes dirty, we had to jump over mud ponds.
I also crossed one river barefoot and ended in the mud. I could have possibly jump over the stones, like Wojtek, Roksana and Mateusz did, but I wasn’t confident about my balance skills. ;-)
That’s me crossing the river. Watch those photographs in a sequence. Beginning was still cool, I felt nicely refreshed. Just when I was in the middle of the river, I started to feel acute cold. ;-)
Through the snow, climbing Babia Góra phase two, from Krowiarki to Sokolica
Krowiarki is the official beginning of the trail and that’s where we made the first longer break. We drunk tea, ate sandwiches, bought entrance tickets. After some 30 minutes, we were back on the trail. It didn’t take us long to notice that mud was being replaced with snow. This part of the trail, from Krowiarki to Sokolica is an easy one – it’s basically walking up the stone stairs. That time, however, they were covered with thick, wet, slippery snow.
At one point, I even decided to put my camera back into my back pack for fear of falling down and destroying it. Roksana was walking up pretty fast, with a charm of a gazelle. Wojtek was walking slowly but steadily. Mateusz got into some philosophical mood and was wondering what would happen if he stopped moving at all – would he just slide down or not? I was walking rather slowly and carefully, trying to control my legs which were moving independently into all directions.
That part of the trail was also pretty crowded. Since it was the easiest one too, there were a lot of people enjoying good weather during the long weekend. Some of them were wearing normal city shoes, some were wearing Decathlons (us), or Salomons (the richer ones :D). Some people were even wearing jeans or tracksuits, which amazed me. When you come to Poland, you would be surprised to see how sometimes irresponsibly people dress for outdoor sports.
At the first little peak of our trail, Sokolica, we did another stop, mostly because the views were getting more and more spectacular. In front of us, there were hectares of forests becoming green, and the Babia Góra was visible in the distance on the left.
The most charming part of the trail to Babia Góra – from Sokolica to Kępa
Luckily, the part from Sokolica to Kępa was way less crowded. All the Sunday hikers stopped at Sokolica. This part was the most charming one: we were walking through high bushes on an even level. This was a good change to regain some of the lost energy and also see the views.
The steep part: from Kępa to Diablak, aka. Babia Góra
The last part of the trail, from Kępa to Diablak (another name for Babia Góra) was the steepest. We had to hike up a steep wall all covered in thick snow. There were some people running up the wall, some people were taking a break, some were nearly flying down. It was tiring, but pretty short.
When we reached the summit, the first thing that struck me was the smoke of cigarettes. I don’t smoke and being a passive smoker is not something I am glad about. It annoyed me to such an extent that I even said something. Wojtek later told me that the woman who was smoking so much turned red.
W tym momencie nastąpił przełom tej wycieczki. Nie mam praktycznie żadnych zdjęć, bo aparat dla bezpieczeństwa był ciągle schowany. Zaczął się tak zwany hardkor.
Sliding down Babia Góra to Markowe Szczawiny
The first few hundreds from the summit were easy. There was no snow and the stones, although they were quite steep, were easy to walk on. The real challenge started later on when the path was again covered in snow and so slippery, it was virtually impossible to walk.
In fact, for the safety’s sake, I preferred to just get down on my butt and slide down instead of try to hike on such a steep and slippery surface. I wasn’t the only one. Actually, many people decided to just slide down on parts of the trial. The snow was very wet and thick, and we ended up having soaked trousers in the nick of time. Luckily, the weather was very good and despite wet clothes, I didn’t feel any cold.
Initially, I was trying to manoeuvre while sliding down with my hands, but it turned out to be a very bad and stupid idea. I didn’t manage to control my body at such speed with hands and I only got hurt. It was much better when I was manoeuvring with my legs.
I had my camera im my backpack at all times as I was afraid I would fall down and smash it. Wojtek, however, is a much agile and courageous human being than I am, and he was filming us during that descent. There’s one dialog in Polish, but it won’t prevent you from understanding what we did there. ;-) Put the voice on.
Chasing after sausages and beer – from Markowe Szczawiny to Krowiarki
This sliding down was actually very exhausting. When we reached the shelter at Markowe Szczawiny, instead of taking a break, we hit the trail with doubled pace. Each of us wanted to be home as soon as possible and prepare bonfire with sausages and beer. This part of the trail was quite pleasant. Although we walked very fast, it was actually flat.
The most dramatic part of the trail – from Krowiarki to Zakamionek
All was going well until then. We were tired, we wanted to get home soon, but none of us was really complaining. We were still happy enough to chat and joke. And then Wojtek joked and said that when we reached home, we would be sp tired, that instead of making a bonfire, we would just prepare sausages on a frying pan.
This literally took the wind out of our sails. Mateusz threatened that he would turn the self-destruction mode, Roksana lost all power, my knees started to hurt. When we finally reached Zakamionek, each of us just sat down tired and didn’t move, while Wojtek disappeared somewhere. As we later found out, he actually organised the bonfire. The extent of his joke must have frightened him and he wanted to “save” that evening. :D
Some 40 minutes later we were sitting by the fire, eating sausages and drinking beer. The skies were clear and all starts well visible. This was when we again started to enjoy the fact that we covered 25 (!!!) kilometres that day and as you know – hiking in the mountains is more tiring than hiking on a flat surface.
The next day woke us up with fogs. I was really glad we went up the Babia Góra the day before. It wouldn’t be possible on any other day. I was feeling really good – nothing hurt me which means going to the gym WORKS. I regret, though, that I didn’t take a picture of Mateusz getting into the car around midday. His muscles were so sore he could barely move – this was his and Roksana’s first time in the mountains and it was a tough one. Congratulations to both of them!
I am still smiling when I recall that day and I want to climb Babia Góra in the summer or in the autumn but taking the most difficult trail where you actually have to scramble on chains.