I’ve done my fair share of nose upturning at people walking the city streets using what look a lot like ski poles. Poles in the mountains my head can deal with. Poles on a footpath? Puleeeeeessse.
The whole concept of Nordic Walking has passed me by. But in the High Tatras, no one seems to go anywhere without their poles. They come to fit all ages and sizes from 9-year-olds to nonagenarians. When I’d counted my 137th pair of poles, my curiosity got the better of me. I had to google Nordic Walking.
Turns out that by using the poles (correctly) you engage 90% of the muscles in your body. For that I could look silly (note to self). Or spend more time in the Tatras where I’d look right at home.
In our innocence, we’d thought we could simply turf up at Tatranská Lomnica and hitch a ride on a cable car to Lomnický štít (Lomnický peak) at the top. So much for planning. It is possible to get a small cable car a third of the way up and then change to a 15-seater to go as far as the Meteorological Station – famous for being the highest working place in Slovakia and being home to the country’s highest telephone box. But to get to the top, itself, and to be allowed wander around for 50 minutes, you had to book the funicular days in advance and cough up €46 (included in which is a €2 deposit on a GoPass skicard).
The funicular operates between the lake Skalnaté pleso and the top of the peak Lomnický štít suspended on a 1,867 metres long rope. Along its route the funicular overcomes the altitude difference of 868 metres. Originally it was only supported by one pillar set in the southern face of the peak. After the general reconstruction it manages even without the one.
There was a free slot on Sunday, around noon. The weather forecast wasn’t great. The choice was simple. Book, pay and pray. Or play it safe. I gave it some thought. I didn’t think I’d see anything that would really impress me. I’d been higher than the 2634 m I’d be standing atop (Mauna Kea, Hawaii) so it wasn’t the height record I was after. When you’ve lived in Alaska, mountains take on a whole new meaning and while the view from the top of Lomnický štít might well be spectacular, I’d seen Spectacular with a capital S on a daily basis for years. Most of all though, I didn’t want to set myself up for disappointment. I knew I’d be gutted the Sunday noon came by and the clouds had descended.
So we compromised. We went as far as the lake (more like a big pond in the absence of rainwater and melting snow) and wandered around, enjoying the views and the warmth of a late autumn sun (€19). It was back in the late 1700s that the mountain was first climbed by a local shoemaker. But the credit for the first recorded climb goes to Englishman Robert Townson his guide in August 1793. It would be nearly 100 years later before anyone would attempt to get to the top in winter.
The High Tatras are a maze of hiking trails and cycle paths. Some took the cars up and walked down. Others hiked up and airlifted back. I flew both ways. You can climb to the peak but you have to have a mountain guide with you. All so reminiscent of Alaska on a smaller scale.
Down in the village of Tatranská Lomnica, one of 13 that make up the official town of High Tatras, the penzións and hotels rule. I would love to see the place at the height of the season. It must be heaving. Hotels are still going up so it’s not like supply has outstripped demand. Quite something.
And yes, on Sunday, around noon, the peak wasn’t visible. So I wasn’t at all disappointed.