Grześ - 1653m
Rákoň - 1879m

Wołoviec (Volovec) - 2064m

Wednesday 8th September 2010

Weather/Conditions: Like a Scottish winter - windy, wet and cold. Not many views and cloud building over the peaks. But it made the big mountains look astonishing. The first I've seen mountains like this (for real)
Distance/Ascent/Time: 15km / 1400m / 8h 20m
Accompanying: Iain Alcock, Dougie Blyth, Colin Delorey, Craig Pounder, Ian Rooney, James Steele

Chocolowska to Grzes

The first mountain of our trip, my first over 2000m, and my first summit higher than Ben Nevis.

We headed out of the hut, Chocolowska, and up through the forestry towards our first summit of the day. Gresz isn't high, comparatively, and is an outlier to peaks which themselves are outliers to the main mountains of the Tatras. It is low enough that thick bushes adorn it's summit, so without adverse conditions, there is little feeling of being on a true mountain. But it wasn't all bad news for us - it was the beginning of a long ridge leading to Wolowiec. Forestry gave way to bush and views of the surrounding valley opened up. And when we came to the ridge, views north to the flat plains of Poland came into view. A fog seemed to hang over the plains - Poland is known for bad air quality and it was evident from this view.

Shortly before we summited Grzes, the mountains to the south came into view, across the border in Slovakia. They looked enormous, snow covering ridges and pinnacles, cloud scraping the summit. It was a very dark scene, epic to the extreme and like mountains I'd only seen in photographs. I was astounded by their rugged beauty, but being on such a tame ridge myself didn't seem to bother me.

To Rakon

The summit of Grzes was decorated in signs, notices and a cross. Not exactly isolated. But we continued onwards and started making first steps into the snow on Rakon. It felt like a complete unique situation, for snow wouldn't fall over Scotland for another month perhaps, and now we were walking straight onto snowfields. It's nothing special by world standards, however all my walking up until now has taken place in Scotland and it was great to see how the weather doesn't work the same everywhere. Of course, this I knew already, but it is different to see it in real life.


Beyond Rakon, a snowy ridge led to a saddle then back up, steeply, towards Wolowiec. A foot each in Poland and Slovakia, I crossed this ridge feeling nervous about the snow. In Poland it didn't the done-thing to carry axes - I saw about five on my entire stay - and we didn't bother either. We hadn't stayed in any habitation long enough anyway to go and rent one out and I don't quite know why we didn't pack them. If Wolowiec was in Scotland, I'd have an axe but here I was without one (we were all without) and I'd at least have to give the ridge a shot. Some of the other guys had small strap on crampons - like plates with downward-facing studs on them, though they doubted their efficiency.

Iain Alcock and Colin had been ahead of me on the ridge from Rakon, the rest were behind, so before the climb to Wolowiec we stopped to see what everyone wanted to do. After some discussion the general consensus was to give it a shot. We headed upwards, myself on high alert, continually assessing fall lines and checking downwards so I knew everything I climbed up, could be safely descended. The drop into Slovakia looked long and steep and I didn't want to go there.

As we climbed, I became surprised how easy it was. Often there was little snow or just slush on the path, and snow were climbed by kicking steps. Confidence rushed up, and by the time we were nearing the summit, I was relaxed. I realised there was nothing to be worried about and I eventually attributed my initial nervousness to it being the first time I'd seen snow. In a sense I didn't know what to expect after several months going without.

The cloud also came in at the summit and winds that had been building all the way accompanied us at the top. The summit itself was adorned with a marker informing us of our position on the summit of Woloviec, although it called it by it's alternative name, Volovec. With wind at the top, and a fair splashing of rain too, it felt more like a Scottish winter than Poland in September. We met an equally wet Englishman on the summit who had other plans - what, I can't quite remember.

Descent to Chocolowska

Then once cold and wet enough, we descended. I'd become quite cold on top, so I headed down first. I could feel all the confidence I'd ever need on snow and ran down the ridge at intervals. Only because I was trying to keep warm and going at the pace of the crowd was doing me no good. Down where we made our first decision to go up, I waited out of the wind for others, and when they finally arrived, we decided to drop into the valley and go back to Chocolowska the low way.

The headwall of the 'valley' (but I'd describe it as a coire, if it were Scotland...) had the remnants of some pretty big avalanches, but the slopes seemed to be safe now. The danger was in that the temperature but warmer than freezing, but otherwise the snow pack seemed quite stable. In any case, we chanced it and all was fine. We also had a Polish guy who didn't speak a word of English following us - I assume he didn't want to go first. We was amused at our antics of sliding on bums, running through the snow, and sometimes picking up some pretty impressive speed along the way.

As a result of all that, Colin and I arrived at the bottom of the 'coire' (?) quickly and waited a while for the other guys. I ate my cheese sandwich, and once we'd been having a rest for maybe 15 minutes, we moved on once more and back to Chocolowska.

Hut to hut: Chocolowska to Ornak

When we arrived back, the half-empty restaurant of the morning was now full to the brim and we caught the free table, leaving damp rucksacks at the door. After a meal, and a couple beers for everyone but me, we made moves to begin the walk to another hut to the east called Ornak. The actual day's plan, had the weather not changed things, was to walk east along the ridges to a mountain called Ornak, sharing the name of the hut, and then descend to our intended accommodation for the night. Since we'd come back to Chocolowska, we needed to get to Ornak another way and to do so, we went over a 1460m pass.

That walk was less eventful than the first day's walk - brutally steep on the ascent side but easier going on the descent. I briefly played with the idea of nipping up Ornak (the mountain) but disregarded it when I got to the top of the pass, completely knackered and ready to go down. On the way down to the hut, I forged ahead, put my music on, and with Marillion blasting through my ears, began to enjoy the walk again. And when I arrived at the hut, alone, with mist-shrouded mountains around, I was suddenly very peaceful since I'd have a while until the rest made it, and the hut looked very inviting. I sat down for a couple of minutes but then the rest of the guys arrived after a couple of minutes and we went inside.

Brilliant to finish the day with such a cosy place - in the end I drunk just two pints and was pretty pished for it, jumping around and being my drunk hyper self. Hmm...!!

Times (Time relative to 0.00)
(0.00) 9.40am Chocolowska
(1.15) 10.55am Grzes
(2.30) 12.10pm Rakon
(3.30) 1.10pm Wolowiec
(6.05) 3.45pm Chocolowska

Chocolowska to Ornak
(6.05) 4.40pm Chocolowska
(7.40) 6.15pm Iwaniacka Przelecz (pass)
(8.20) 6.55pm Ornak

Written: 2010-09-22