Surviving A Nightmare Slog to Zbojnicka Chalet in Slovakia
Going to the Zbojnicka Chalet, we took the “easier” of two routes so Peter described it. It would be up steeply to the Swistowa pass, around and down to the Skalnate Pleso and around with one more up the Starolesna Valley to the chalet. Easier? That certainly didn’t sound “easier” to me. What do you think…
The path rose steeply for hours towards Priecne Saddle with a very demanding section. This was a big challenge but then we started down for a bit and there were….gasp…Chains…a stretch of fixed chains bolted into the side of the mountain. This is actually a good thing since I don’t have the head for heights or balance to come down areas like this without them. Latched on with the “vulcan death grip” (only the total collapse of the mountain could have pried my hand off those chains) and started down taking little mini-steps until the trail eased up.
Toiled on for hours with brief rests and around 3:00 pm came to what we thought was the end of this misery with the Zbojnicka Chalet somewhere in the vicinity. Wishful thinking. Peter pointed to a ridge in the distance and said, “There it is.”
Ah yes…there it was…a tiny speck around two more hours uphill. At the back of the pack, I started counting footsteps, playing mind games, singing “99 bottles of beer on a wall” and drawing on whatever reserves were left. Anything to get us to the Zbojnicka Chalet. What other choice was there? Sit under a rock all night?
Encrusted with salt from sweat, I could have wept for joy when Zbojnika finally appeared. Tomorrow was downhill heaven and then we’d move on to Tatranska Lomnica. Once there, we could take a rest and not hike before moving on to Prague.
The chalet was located in a spectacular part of the valley behind Robber’s Ridge and close to several tarns (lakes). A popular stopover for the hardy hikers of Eastern Europe and originally built in 1907. FYI: The Zbojnicka Chalet burned down in 1998, reopened in 2000 and still provides sleeping accomodation and food service. Assigned bunks in this very crowded chalet, I got an upper with ex-Marine, Steve, in the lower below me. …View image… The sinks, toilets and shower were a short distance away in a separate building. Many unlucky people without bunks slept on the floor here too.
Asking myself, why do I delude myself that trips like this are going to be fun, I fell asleep for a short while. Murphy’s law is whenever a bathroom isn’t close, you need it. Nature was calling. Jolted awake in the pitch black dorm… groped for the flashlight/torch…climbed down and woke up Steve and hissed in his ear, “You have to come with me to the toilet. It’s dark and I’m afraid to go by myself.” (Who knows…there might have been a desperate person out there eager to jump me.)
The great guy got out of his nice warm bunk, grabbed his flashlight and muttering a great selection of curses, we tiptoed out over the sleeping bodies of hikers on the floor. (Chalets never turn anybody away. You just have to sleep on the floor if bunks aren’t available.) Outside Zbojnicka Chalet, we stopped dead in amazement. Billions and Billions of stars shining so brightly we could have touched them. Secluded on top of this high mountain with no ambient light, the sky was brilliant and beyond description. This…made everything worth while! And…this…incadescent moment in the Slovakian Tatras…is one of the reasons we travel and endure other no-so-great experiences. One of my greatest memories. The two of us stood dumbstruck in awe until the frigid mountain air, drove me to the toilet and then back into the warm chalet.
An early morning start with ex-Marine zooming ahead in a hurry to get down and wham…surprise…the rocky trail still had patches of black ice and, man, did he take a fall. Luckily, the heavy backpack cushioned most of the impact. Bandaged up his bleeding wounds and now continued in half time until the sun melted the ice on the trail. An eight-hour downhill and there was our mini-bus waiting.
Transferred to Tatranska Lomnica and the Hotel Horec, there would be two days to day-hike or do nothing before Prague. We had endured and survived. Not only survived but Tatranska Lomnica had one of our favorite snacks being sold from little stands on the streets. Waffle squares with ice cream. These were $1.00 in Zakopane and only $.25 cents in Slovakia, a very poor country compared to Poland. Tatrranska Lomnica was hoping to host the Winter Olympics at that time. They certainly had the ski area and space but lacked other resources and infrastructure.