Tatra tantra – the Eagle’s Path
Lazy afternoon, slow motion, the camera shows a woman browsing pictures. Pictures of mountains. The focus slowly moves from the photos to the eyes of the woman. Twinkle eyes.
‘Oh shit, how beautiful this place is, I’ve never been to the Tatra Mountains…!’
Sub: Two weeks later…
The camera moves quickly between the huge peaks like the wings of a shrill bird just to stop on a big rock, turn and show a woman’s eyes in premier plan. Twinkle eyes.
‘Oh shit, how beautiful this place is, I’m in the Tatra Mountains…!’
Dad sometimes complains that the apple did fall far from the tree, so that our life and thinking is different in many ways. But one thing seems to be eventually true: I got the love for the mountains as a gift from my parents. While I’m having lazy summer days my Dad and Mom climb somewhere on Grossglockner or hike with friends to Zugspitze. All this over sixty. Holy shit, that’s life!
It’s weird that Tatra Mountains haven’t been on my list so far. Especially that the Eagle’s Path keep attracting me for years now. But it’s understood that you need to trust the timing of your life and we sometimes have little power to change this timing. But now the time of the Tatras has finally come. Or, rather, my time has finally come in the Tatras.
Peter arranges everything in a blink. The right timing so that we can arrive and go to the opposite direction where the crowd goes to, accommodation in the retreat house, weather forecast, hiking paths.
When he says he was thinking doing the Eagle’s Path, I start shivering. In the last six weeks I didn’t do any exercises due to some back problem so my physical condition is more than weak. Well, the Eagle’s Path. OK. The most difficult hiking path in the entire Tatras. What else I could start with!? But then the common sense wins (common sense, haha, these are the most disappointing moments in life when your common sense wins) and I vote against the Path. But somewhere deep inside I understand that my motive was simply fear. Honestly, I shit my pants if I just think of the Eagle’s Path and it seems quite comfortable to blame my back problem for a fail that hasn’t even happened yet.
We just leave the busy Zakopane behind and I’m already calm and happy. Path wounds up the side of a wooded slope, rocks glimmer in the distance, we are climbing up on easy path, only the two of us. It’s Sunday afternoon, everybody else comes down from the mountains. We continue and all the puzzled eyes focus on us: why the hell are we heading to the ‘wrong’ direction?
And up there a fairy tale land welcomes us. As I set my eyes on Gąsienica valley, the tiny retreat houses hiding in the nastily lilac flower carpet and the distant rock formations, I secretly burst out crying.
And that’s the Eagle’s Path. Magnificent, elegant, inviting. The mind becomes empty, only the heart feels. No more questions. No more excuses. We are going there.
Next morning I get up just as quick as a Swiss knife opens up, just to be able to see the rays of the rising sun illuminate the Eagle’s Path.
Quick breakfast, packing and we hit the road. The beginning of the path is not steep at all, although offers breathtaking views all around. From here the Eagle’s Path is in comfortable distance plus I have a shot of coffee combined with painkiller working in my body so I’m positively looking forward to the day’s challenges happily jiggling around.
After having reached a small lake, we watch the reflection of the mountains upside down, pick blueberries from the bushes and eat them all up until feeling sick then the real adventure begins. The path starts to be a bit tricky, it’s like via ferrata but without the metal wire. My heart rate is rising like hell thanks to the height gained, I sometimes forget to breath when admiring the view and my blood is racing in my veins like a whitewater river.
When we reach Zawrat pass, I burst out crying again, you simply can’t deal with this miracle. You can also enjoy a view stepping out of the comfort of your car, taking a quick shot and go back, but this is like hit and run. Everything becomes more precious, more awesome when you struggle for it. When you are willing to give your time and energy, not to mention your aching leg muscles to see the view. From a viewpoint where only your leg brings you up to.
For a tiny second I become totally quiet, because I see some threatening clouds coming and above 2000m at the entrance of the most difficult path of the Tatra you need everything but slippery rocks, water in your boots and rain in your eyes to blur your sight. So I try to make a deal with the universe: if she let us hike dry up here, we are willing to have a rain shower later, down at the lake where the path becomes much easier.
The cloud changes direction and leave us behind.
The mountains are the best gurus and every hike is an adventure deep into your personality. My boots slip off a couple times and I start to panic, thinking of those people who died hiking this very path and my heart beats like crazy. When this happens, I just close my eyes and first of all, make my heart beat calm down, then my thoughts as well. One minute and I’m focused again. This is the only way I can continue.
There are just a few people up there, but still, sometimes we slow down because others fight with the path and with themselves. A woman is crying desperately just in front of a metal ladder leading to nowhere, another girl dressed in running shoes and fake nails looks really afraid of a chain-secured part.
I myself go to pieces first at the 2291m peak of Kozi Wierch followed by a couple other occasions later. Every time I feel like I’m unable to take another step. Every time I dig deep into my secret reserve power and keep going.
We leave the Eagle’s path halfway at a freakingly steep point, moving rocks, 500m of nothing below us, kinda like a B ferrata, only not secured.
An infinity (and some difficult moments) later we reach the comfy path at the lake, from this point there’s highway leading to the house.
Not surprisingly, the universe comes up with our deal, right by the lake heavy rain comes. I thank to everything I believe in that we can be so lucky with the weather and didn’t have to escape the path hurriedly in these unfriendly conditions.
When we finally reach the house, I drink two shots of palinka, get dizzy, and after a really quick shower I bury myself deep under the sleeping bag. My knee hurts after the long and demanding descent, all the muscles burn, I’m tired as hell.
But my soul shines. I saw miracles, I experienced miracles. Miracles I will never be able to describe with words.
The Eagle’s Path (Orla Perć)
- full length of the path is 4,5km, distance in height around 1020m, without going up and coming down, a physically challenging 7 hours of hiking without stops
- path is one way only between Zawrat and Kozi Wierch peak, from west to east (sure thing that we met two guys hiking it reversely, sure thing they were Hungarians)
- hiking is demanding here, and although you don’t need any climbing experience or special gear, I wouldn’t recommend it for those who lack mountain experience
- there are metal chains to help you throughout the path and also a ladder
- hiking boots are a must, gloves recommended for the chains and for the cold rocks, rain jacket, water, food etc., the usual stuff needed
- in case of sudden wind or quickly growing clouds no point to risk, you’d better leave the path as soon as you can
- sleeping in a retreat house might be a good idea, although you need to reserve months before. But if you are interested, with a we-have-a-secret smile, I can tell you how to reserve beds in the most amazing house there just a couple of days ahead
- our route:
Day1: Zakopane – Gąsienica valley (650m climb, 6,5 km distance)
Day2: Gąsienica valley – Zawrat – Kozi Wierch peak – down on black mark – Gąsienica valley (1000m climb, 1000m descent, 10,5km distance)
Day3: Gąsienica valley – Zakopane (650m descent, 6,5 km distance)