Kekes (5,256ft) – Highest Mountain in Hungary
Eric and Matthew Gilbertson, with Nadine Muller-Dittmann
August 15, 2014
Kekes is one of only a handful of country highpoints in the world where it is actually possible to tag the summit without leaving your car. It joins the ranks of Barbados, Monaco, Luxemburg, Moldova, and perhaps a few others. But while not physically demanding, Kekes is still a fun peak with great views of the Hungarian countryside from the top.
Matthew and I were in Europe on a two-week road trip climbing a bunch of mountains to celebrate me handing in my PhD thesis. We had just narrowly summited Gerlachovsky Stit, the Slovakia highpoint, between two rainstorms and by the afternoon of August 14 were safely back at our car at the Vysny Hagy trailhead.
We could each use a rest day after 1.5 weeks of almost nonstop mountain climbing, and luckily summitting Kekes, the next mountain on our agenda, basically counted as a rest day because we could drive just about to the summit.
I took the wheel and started driving east on E50 to Presov, then headed south toward Hungary. At one point I saw a parked police car on the roadside ahead of me with what looked like a radar gun, and he held out a small little red circle on a stick while motioning for me to pull over. I had been going well under the speed limit, so was confused what the problem was.
I pulled over and rolled down the window, and he said we were in trouble for driving without a toll sticker. Apparently in some European countries instead of paying a toll when entering toll roads, drivers are expected to purchase a little sticker for their windshield, and policemen can use some sort of radar gun to detect if you have the sticker or not. We hadn’t passed any road signs saying we needed this sticker, so were pretty confused about the situation.
“Where are you from?” the officer asked, speaking English.
“We’re just visiting from the United States,” I replied.
“Oh, my brother lives in the United States, in Key West,” he said. “Have you ever been there?”
“No, but I’d definitely like to!” I replied.
“Well, I’m supposed to give you a 150 euro fine, but since you’ve come all the way from the US and didn’t know, I’ll just give you a warning. You need to buy the sticker at a gas station. If I catch you again without it, I’ll have to charge you the fine,” he said.
“Thank you very much! We’ll definitely get the sticker,” I said.
I immediately drove to the next gas station, and indeed they sold me a little sticker for 10 euros. We then continued south, crossing into Hungary a little after sunset. We drove southwest through the towns of Miskolc, Mezokovesd, Gyongyos, before starting to think about finding a place to sleep.
Our plan was to meet up with our German friend Nadine at the train station in Budapest the next morning, and then we’d hit a few mountains together over the weekend. Budapest definitely would not have any free camping opportunities, though, and in general Hungary appeared to be mostly farmland with few good campable forests. (We thought of it as the Ohio of Europe). We did know for certain, though, that there were woods and hiking trails near Kekes, and we were actually pretty close to Kekes in the town of Gyongyos. Woods and hiking trails meant free camping. So we decided to just camp near the summit, then drive to Budapest in the morning and return to Kekes with Nadine. There would be no harm in summitting twice.
We left the main M3 road at Gyongyos, heading north on 24 to the town of Matrahaza, then turned right following signs to Kekesteto. We kept driving higher and higher, until we passed a large parking lot and the road turned to gravel. We drove all the way up to where a sign in the road made it look like we weren’t allowed to go any farther. We parked right in the road there (it was midnight, so nobody would care), and strolled for 1 minute farther until we found the big painted rock that marked the summit.
We realized we really could have driven all the way up there, but were ok with doing a tiny bit of exercise. Having successfully scouted the route to the summit, we returned to the car and tried to find a place to
sleep. The parking lot lower down was really big with no other cars in it, but it wasn’t very flat, and we worried people might start arriving at sunrise in a few hours and wake us up.
Instead, we continued farther down the road and found a small dirt side-road. After driving into the woods for a few minutes we pulled off on an even smaller tertiary dirt road, and stopped there for the night. This met our gold standard for stealth camping – a secondary road into the woods followed by a tertiary road. We knew nobody would bother us here, so we pitched the tent and went to bed.
Early the next morning we drove back down to Gyongyos, then another hour in to Budapest. Nadine was right on time at the train station, having taken an overnight train from Germany to meet up with us for the weekend. We piled all the gear into the car and drove back to Kekes.
This time the parking lot was completely packed, and we just barely found a spot to park. We hiked up a short trail underneath a ski lift this time, and reached the summit stone again by mid morning. There isn’t actually any view from the stone since it’s in the trees, but the Hungarians have built an enormous observation tower nearby that pokes out above the trees. We each paid a few euros to get into the tower, and were treated to amazing views of the countryside from the top.
Hungary is actually a very flat country, but there were some more hills around Kekes. After an hour at the summit we got back into the car to head to our next mountain, Triglav, the highpoint of Slovenia.