Rysy (8,199ft) – Highest Mountain in Poland
Eric and Matthew Gilbertson
August 13, 2014
Matthew and I left Snezka, the Czech Republic highpoint, on the afternoon of August 12 and headed towards our next destination of Rysy, the Poland highpoint. Rysys is located on the Poland-Slovakia border, and has routes to the top starting from either country. Coincidentally, the route from the Slovakian side shares basically the same trailhead as the route up Gerlachovsky Stit, the Slovakian highpoint. We were eventually planning to climb both, so decided to climb Rysy from the south, in Slovakia.
We drove across the border into Poland, then headed east on A4 through flat farmlands. We passed through Wroclaw, Katowice, and Krakow before heading south toward Slovakia. Darkness caught us near the Slovakian border, and fortunately the border was in a densely wooded area. We luckily found a dirt pullout just on the Polish side and slept in the car for the night.
The next morning dawned rainy – the first rain in the past week on our road trip through Europe. We hadn’t decided yet which mountain to climb first, Rysy, the Poland highpoint, or Gerlachovsky Stit, the Slovakia highpoint. But Gerlachovsky Stit required some technical rock climbing while Rysy was merely a hike. So the choice was made for us – hike Rysy today, and hope for drier weather the next day.
We descended into Slovakia and soon reached the trailhead at Strbske Pleso. There was a large hotel and restaurant nearby, but no real town, and this must cater to all the hikers and climbers in the area. Indeed, there is a large protected area of mountains around Rysy, with numerous trails and mountain huts.
The rain was unrelenting, but we loaded up our backpacks with food and water and started walking up a paved road to Popradske Lake. This road is driveable, but hikers are technically asked to park at the base of the road because there is not much parking at the lake.
When we reached the edge of the lake, the pavement ended and we transitioned to a normal dirt and rock trail. Interestingly, there was a pile of full propane tanks here. A sign asked hikers to carry the tanks up to one of the huts, and said they would be rewarded with tea and cookies if they did. I was tempted to haul one up, but didn’t want to be slowed down with the extra 15 pounds of weight. I had enough food anyways, and neither of us actually liked tea.
The trail soon left the trees and we had to scramble up some steep rocky sections. Amazingly, we passed a man with an extremely tall and overloaded pack carefully descending a sketchy section. It turned out he was a hut worker transporting something back down to the valley. He must have travelled that route quite a few times to be comfortable enough to carry such a huge load where a risk of falling was very real.
Clouds enveloped us and the hard, cold rain continued as we passed by Zabia Lakes, and reached the Chata Pod Rysmi Hut. Our hands were numb with cold and we were hungry after a few hours of hiking, so we stepped inside to take a break. While we had only passed one or groups hiking outside, inside the hut was literally overflowing with people. Men were playing guitars, people were eating and playing cards, and everyone looked in high spirits. They also all looked like they really didn’t want to venture outside into the cold rain.
Matthew and I managed to find the last seats on a bench, and sat down to eat our granola and trail mix. Our hands gradually warmed up, and our bodies appreciated the calories. We looked over our map and it looked like we were only 250m below the summit.
We hung out in the hut longer and longer, hoping the rain would let up. But eventually we got bored, so ventured back outside. The rain was still hard and cold, but at least our journey was uphill so we would be warm.
A big piece of plywood outside had “Rysy ->” painted in red, which clearly showed us which way to go. Matthew led the way as we quickly scrambled up rocks higher and higher. We passed one group of hikers descending, but otherwise had the whole mountain above the hut to ourselves. Within an hour we reached the summit, and were the highest people in Poland. A big white and red column marked the top. To the north the summit dropped steeply down into Poland, but our ascent route was relatively easy. Unfortunately we were still stuck in the clouds and pouring rain, so were not treated to any views.
I snapped a few quick pictures, then quickly stuck my numb hands in my pockets. We would normally not hike in such weather on a weekend trip in the US, since it’s actually pretty uncomfortable, but with limited time in Europe we didn’t want to waste any days not climbing mountains. Climbing Rysy in these conditions made it feel like much more of an accomplishment, at least.
We soon started heading back down. This time when we reached the hut we decided to continue on without stopping inside. As long as we kept moving we would stay warm, but we were worried that if we stopped inside while we were soaking wet, we could get really cold quite quickly.
In a few hours we were back at our car, and eagerly hopped inside and turned the heat on full blast. We changed into dry clothes, put down the back seats, and unfurled our sleeping bags. Our next mountain would be Gerlachovsky Stit, and we hoped the weather would be much drier for the rock climbing sections coming up.