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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.

Ski Touring potential
The Tatra Mountains offer very extensive possibilities for ski touring. As mentioned above the entire area of three ranges of Belianske, High and Western Tatras makes up 780 sq. km. Every winter ski touring enthusiasts cut several hundred miles of trails in this picturesque land. Belianske Tatras and Western Tatras could be included in a longer trip agenda, where the more impressive High Tatras would be the core of the visit. The Tatranska Magistrala is a good main axis for the first time ski tourer, and the tourist paths to Kezmarska, Mala Studena and Mengusovska Valleys could be followed. Ski lifts in Tatranska Lomnica and Strbske Pleso could be the main points for rest stops and cultural breaks. If the snow conditions permit, various cols could be used as valley-to-valley crossings for more demanding and advanced skiers. An important col is situated in Hreben Javorovych Vezi, which commands a great view of the Zadna Javorova Valley and the most interesting upper part of Bielovodska Valley. Koprova Valley, on the verge of the High Tatras and Western Tatras, with its famous Krivan peak (the Matterhorn of Tatras) is renowned for its remoteness and beauty. Popradske Pleso hut also known as Kpt. Moravku is a superbly located place with good access to this unique ski touring region. For more detailed ski touring itineraries visit our Tatras Ski Touring section. Very heavy snow dumps are common in the Tatras. Solid weather and research of snow conditions is always advisable for planning safe itineraries. Check here for the valley-by-valley snow conditions and avalanche risk level. You may also want to make a note of where to look for the Tatras' icefalls which form some of most beautiful natural shapes. You will find the locations of all mentioned here attractions on the High Tatras map.

Climbing potential in the valleys
All the valleys are described here in order from east to west with the direction of a proposed ski touring itinerary. Such itinerary would start in Belianske Tatras, in a Slovak village called Tatranska Kotlina, which is located 5 miles N of Tatranska Lomnica. You would cross Belianske Tatras to carry on S-W direction through mentioned below Slovak valleys, then turn north to Polish Morskie Oko Valley to finish at Lysa Polana on Polish-Slovak border. A bus from Lysa Polana to Zakopane would be taken to carry on to Krakow. Alternatively one more day could be spend traversing other Polish valleys.

Kezmarska Valley is for many the queen of the Tatras. Its main body is of varied shape and it splits into three smaller valleys at its upper section. The main climbing target could be the north face of Maly Kezmarsky, which is the biggest face in Tatras (900m high). Only the S-E ridge of Slavkovsky and N-W of Krivan are taller, but their lower parts do not have a high mountain character. This wall is very wide and has complicated form. Huncovky Stit is a smaller neighbour lying east of Maly Kezmarsky, and its N face is almost equally impressive. Pysny Stit, with a moderately long approach from the hut, offers good winter climbing. The south side of the Zmrzla Veza ridge presents many superb quality summer routes. Of the other interesting peaks Jastrabja Veza stands out with its high-grade rock and aid climbing on the S-E wall. In summary, for winter a minimum 3 outstanding days could be spent with one classic on the N of Huncovsky, another one on N of Maly Kezmarsky and an early day start on the ice fall leading to Mala Zmrzla Dolina, followed by a quick route up Kolovy Stit and down its east ridge to descend on Jastrabia Veza. No other valley has such an alpine feel. The very friendly atmosphere in the hut and the view over the Belianske Tatras are additional motivating factors to stay here for longer. The price for a bed is around 6 euros in winter and 10 in summer.

Morskie Oko, Mengusovska, Batizovska and Mala Studena valleys seem to be of equal climbing value. They all offer good climbing choices both in winter and summer, and are very picturesque at the same.

Mala Studena Valley is probably the safest one in periods of high avalanche warning, which occur quite frequently. With its cols over to Kezmarska, Velka Studena and Javorowa valleys it's a central point for winter ski touring trips. The hut master of Teryho hut is not a very kind person, but for money and western clients he will do anything. The southwest wall of Lomnicky Stit and N face of Prostredny Hrot are the jewels of the valley, but there are many more attractions, especially for summer time.

Bartizowska Valley is the main reason for continuing your ski touring trip from the Velicka to Mengusovska Valleys. Alternatively, you can avoid this less interesting part of the main hiking track by crossing Kacacia and Ceska valleys to Mengusovska Valley. Batizovska has no hut in close proximity and could be a good place for camping. With the most complicated and most massive structure, Gerlach is the main focus of the valley. Koncista and Batizovsky also have substantially big walls. The highly aesthetic ridgeline, which constitutes the rim of this circular valley, provides a good overview of the High Tatras.

Mengusovska Valley is situated in a direct line between Rysy (col to Poland and the Morskie Oko Valley) and Strbske Pleso (ski village). With its easy car access and superb quality hut it's the best target for shorter visits. Its picturesque surroundings, lots of forests, two big lakes and good infrastructure will tempt you for a romantic trip with your girlfriend. Its proximity to the western part of the High Tatras with Krivan "the peak of artists" and two other small valleys is an extra incentive for coming to the Pri Popradskom Plese hut.

Morskie Oko Valley (Moko) is for many the most beautiful valley on the Polish side. It is in many ways very similar to Kezmarska Valley in Slovakia. You can find here the wall of the superbly exposed Kazalnica aka Zerwa (670m). Mnich, Cubryna and Mieguszowiecki offer numerous classic climbs both in winter and summer. Two sections of the surrounding ridge call for special attention, namely Zabia Gran with Zabi Kon and Zabi Mnich. The most welcoming aspects of Polish hospitality await the most refined tastes in this jewel of a hut.

Mountain Rescue phone numbers
Slovakia: 0052 4422820, mobil: 0052 903 624 869
Poland: 0048 601 100 300
Meteo over the phone in Slovakia: 0988 71 71 71

Main peaks and their walls
It's not an easy task to choose the best peaks in such an extensive area as the Tatras. My main criteria are the number of sizeable walls, classic routes and their potential for high mountain adventure.

Other factors considered are:
- the beauty of a peak and its surroundings
- accessibility
- its historical value

There are several peaks and walls that are of great historical importance and provide superb value for those who seek a moderate adventure. Among them could be Koscielec, Zamarla Turnia, Granaty or Mnich. You will find more about them in a mid-grade rock climbing section written for you by my good friend and climbing partner Tony Grant.

All peaks are grouped according to their proximity to the closest hut. Both Slovak and Polish names are given in brackets. The huts and peaks are presented here in order from W to E and marked on the High Tatras map.

Access from Morskie Oko hut - 32 beds, tel: +48 18 207 7609
1. Velky Mengusovsky Stit (Mieguszowiecki Szczyt) - N wall 900m divided into 3 big steps, E wall 400m.
2. Vychodny Mengusovsky Stit (Mieguszowicki Szczyt Czarny) - 800m tall and 450m wide wall "Hist.", superbly exposed above Czarny Staw (Black Tarn). The Polish "wall of walls", our training ground for Himalayas, nicknamed "Zerwa" (pulpit). Click here for its hardest routes league.

Access from Pod Rysami refuge - 16 beds, mob: + 421 903 181051 or
from Pri Popradskom Plese hut - 124 beds tel: +421 52 449 2765 or +421 52 449 2177
3. Vysoka (Wysoka) - N wall 500m and E 450m, two summits and two ridges, one of the best views from its summit.
4. Mlynar (Mlynarz) massif - topographically complicated 300m TD+ to ED-.
5. Ganek (Galeria Gankowa) - 300m N-W TD to ED- "Hist.", superb wall cut just for climbing, narrow but deep chimney right in the middle of the wall called Lapinskiego & Paszczuchy and enormous chimney in the right section of the wall called Stanislawskiego, uniquely good quality rock.

Access from Sliezsky Dom hotel - 80 beds, tel: +421 52 4425261
6. Koncista (Konczysta) - E wall 400m, also has a nice pillar and a good ridge.
7. Gierlachovsky Stit (Gierlach) - it's the most massive and the highest mountain in the Tatras (2663m). It has 6 main summits and several cols. Its 500-600m tall walls drop into 3 valleys: Batizovska, Kacacia and Velicka.

Access from Zamkovskeho or Bilikova hut - 20 beds, tel: +421 52 4422636, mob: +421 905554471
8. Slavkovsky Stit (Slawkowski Szczyt) - NE 950m wall, complicated topographically, on Velka Studena Valley side lots of pillars and couloirs, excellent and vast view from the top.

Access from Terycho hut - 18 beds, tel: +421 52 4425245
9. Jaworovy Stit (Jaworowy Szczyt) and its gendarme called Maly Jaworowy - N wall 450m, S-W 300-350m.
10. Ladovy Stit (Lodowy Szczyt) - N-W wall 450m.
11. Postredny Hrot (Posrednia Gran) - superb, massive mountain close to the hut, spectacular N face 450m, two other faces of 750 and 600m and two pillars.

Access from Zelenom Plese hut - 54 beds, tel: +421 52 4467420
12. Kolovy Stit (Kolowy Szczyt) - N-W wall 500m. Pysny Stit (Durny Szczyt) - E wall 400m, N-E 350m.
13. Lomnicky Stit (Lomnica) - W wall 400m TD+ to -ED "Hist.", two very obvious crack lines called Birkenmajera and Rysa Stanislawskiego, N 600m, E 600m.
14. Maly Kezmarsky Stit (Maly Kiezmarski Szczyt) - an outstanding N 900m wall TD- to ED- "Hist.", complicated structure. Zlota Turnia is its most interesting summit on the N-W ridge, on the top 3 ridges meet.
15. Kezmarsky Stit (Kiezmarski Szczyt) - N-W 500m ED and slabs on S wall.
16. Karbunkulovy Hreben (Jastrzebia Gran) - on its S wall set above Jagnieca Valley many interesting routes TD- to ED-.

17. Krivan (Krywan) - 1100m of which 500m proper wall TD+, the most remote westerly peak.
18. High Tatras Main Ridge - from Jahnaci Stit nort of Pri Zelnom Plese hut to Swinica on Polish side or to Krivan, around 100 hrs.

For more information about huts go to TANAP site

"Hist." - conquering certain routes on this wall was a historical milestone of Polish or Slovak climbing.