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Mid-grade rock climbing in Polish Tatras - prepared and written by Tony Grant.

The proliferation of indoor walls and climbing shops these days have made climbing accessible to virtually anyone in Europe. Whilst there are clear positive aspects to this, such as the vast amounts of information available and the conveniently well-established infrastructures in most mountainous areas in Europe, there are some acute side effects too. How many of us have been frustrated to arrive at the foot of a route and find ourselves in a queue; or wasting time stuck behind a line of parties on a popular climb? How about the sheer expense of visiting certain premier regions, like the French or the Swiss Alps?

It is often forgotten, however, that there are still a lot of high-quality climbing venues and mountain regions out there that do not receive the same amount of attention as the Alps or the Pyrenees. The Polish Tatras is just such a place. Any search on the UKClimbing internet forums will show how many people are asking questions about the Tatras, and just how little anyone seems to know about them. At present there is only one guidebook on the region in the English language, and it only covers hiking and gentle scrambling. There is a clear need in Britain for information on the Tatras.

Of the many reasons to visit the Polish Tatras, these are a few:

Poland is still a relatively cheap country, both to travel to and to spend time in. Train and bus fares are much cheaper than the UK and Western Europe. A bed in any of the PTTK (Polish Tourist Authority) lodges in the Tatras will cost no more than L5 a night. Food in the supermarkets is low-priced on the whole, and Zakopane has high-quality and reasonably priced g?ralskie (highland) restaurants. A two-week Tatra climbing course with the PZA (Polish Alpine Club) costs the equivalent of about 2 or 3 days at Plas Y Brenin or Glenmore Lodge, and there are a lot of very experienced Polish mountain guides who charge much less than guides in the Alps. This might all change within a few years, now that Poland has joined the European Union, so now is definitely the time to start going over there.

Although the main valleys do get busy in the high seasons, there are still remarkably few foreigners wandering around. It is rare to have to queue for a route, and there are many remote mountain crags on which you will find yourselves alone.

The Tatras are Alpine in character. The foothills around Zakopane consist of grassy Alpine meadows, with a distinct highland culture of their own. The High Tatras are rocky and wild. There is everything from easy scrambles and ridge walks, like the renowned Orla Perc (Eagle's Nest) via ferrata, to multi-pitch rock at all grades, through to serious and committing big walls, like Kazalnica (the Pulpit) on Mieguszowiecki Wielki. Unlike the Alps, though, the Polish Tatras do not rise above 2499m (the summit of Rysy), and so you can find big adventure without the hassle of acclimatisation and AMS. With new flights being established from Britain to Krak?w airport, there are serious opportunities for short climbing breaks, or even just long weekends.

Easy access at low cost