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Tatra Mountains a more reliable winter alternative to Scotland

For many the most beautiful mountains in the world are the highest chain in the Carpathian Mountains. Due to valleys being set at low altitude, the Tatras have a truly alpine character. With impeccable rock quality, hundreds of face climbs, most of which have never been done by westerners, and no nasty glaciers about this "Smallest High Range in the World" is truly an alpine rock and winter climber’s paradise.

The Tatra chain is made up of three southerly bent ranges. It spreads over 780 sq. km. The Tatras cover an area of 56,5 km by 18,5 km. In the Tatras' main range there are around 100 peaks and gendarmes. The highest of them are Gerlach (2663m) and Lomnica (2640m). Poland owns 20% of the Tatras, with the highest Polish peak Rysy (2499m).

fly_tatrasThree main ranges
The variety of climbing, the number of valleys and their accessibility on the Slovak side of the High Tatras range considerably exceed that on the Polish part. However if you are a winter climber, you can’t be excused for not visiting at least two Polish regions, namely Morskie Oko Valley
and the Zachodnie (Western) Tatras range. The Belianske Tatras, the most easterly range, are built of limestone. Despite their unquestionable beauty, being much smaller than the High Tatras, the Belianske are less appealing to climbers than their western neighbours.

Red tape
The main hiking problem of the Slovak part is caused by TANAP (Tatras National Park) officers. They are national park guards responsible for not allowing the inexperienced into the peaks making it a much safer place for climbers. They work to the advantage of wild life in this UN Bio Heritage area. Non climbers can get almost anywhere if assisted by one of our licensed climbing guides. Every year there are cases of penalising hikers. However, as long as you have your mountaineering club card (e.g. BMC card) with you, you can climb on both Polish and Slovak side. Still the boundaries of National Parks need to be respected. For more information get form here a full Climbing Regulations document.

Another annoyance in Tatra Mountains is the confusing nomenclature. Valleys, peaks, routes and even huts can have two or three different names. This confusion originates partially from the lack of an integrated approach and coordination between Poles and Slovaks. I feel sorry for you, as this may be a serious discouragement. You certainly will need lots of patience or ideally someone to introduce you to it, especially as these languages are real tongue twisters.

Getting there
The easiest way to get to Poland is to fly to either Warsaw or Krakow. From Warsaw, there are several PKP trains a day to Zakopane (about 6 hours), including overnight trains arriving at about 7am. Trains leave for Krakow every hour taking two and three quarter hours. Alternatively there are PKS buses throughout the day.

From Krakow you should take a bus to Zakopane. This could be a PKS (state run company-timetable) bus from the bus station, or a seat on a privately run coach from outside the railway station. Both options cost about 10 zlotys (approx. £1.60) for the 2-hour 100km journey.

If you want to continue to Slovakia then change here, at Zakopane for another coach to Biala Woda, Strbske Pleso or some other place you wish to make your starting point. There are only a few coaches from Zakopane to Slovakia and you could be better first taking a minibus just to the border (Lysa Polana), walk pass it, and then some 300 yards behind the border you have more frequently running Slovak lines. There's also an efficient train that runs along the Slovak Tatras (timetable). If a quick journey is crucial to you then take a SkyEurope plane from London-Stansted directly to Poprad-Tatry airport, it literally lands 10 minutes drive from the foot of the Tatra Mountains. Do not forget to try Slovak or Czech beer and Polish food in one of restaurants in Zakopane.