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Starry nights in Western Tatras

#summit #camping #bivouac #slovakia #western tatras #panoramic #milky way #stars #photography #bloody sunrise #ridge

Story by David Varga August 19th, 2015

Across the ridge

So this was finally happening. I was hearing, thinking and talking about crossing the Roháče (a.k.a. Western Tatras) mountain ridge for a long time. I knew it was one of the Slovakian most beautiful mountains, with amazing views, steep summits and also with great challenges such as ropes and chains on many steeper parts, with lack of fresh water and finally with the long entries and exits from and back to the “civilization”.

Therefore the tourists usually perform only daily trips to these mountains and spend nights in the mountain huts or guest-houses down in the valleys and villages. And when you are finally up at the ridge, descending back down to one of the mountain huts in the area for a night would actually mean loosing your hardly climbed 600 meters of altitude and wasting 2 hours both in the evening and in the morning by this descent and ascent. Not mentioning the spectacular views during the sunset and sunrise you would definitely miss.

That is why we decided to hike the whole ridge at once and spend the nights just under the stars, by bivouac-ing along the way. Eventually it was 5 of us who were IN for this little adventure - Rznik, Robo, Maja, Kamča and myself.

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We all met up in Liptovský Mikuláš, got into one car and headed towards Huty village where we planned to leave the car for 3 days and where the hiking trail started. We managed to park the car at the backyard of a nice and hospitable guy, so we did not need to worry about the security of the vehicle and it was right next to the hiking trail beginning. Excellent spot.

After packing all the necessary things up we finally hit the trail and headed up to the summit of Sivý vrch.

Unfortunately we had some delays on the way to Liptovský Mikuláš and began the hike a bit late, like at 3 pm. So after reaching the top of Sivý vrch with beautiful “stone town” and with nice rock formations we already started to look for some decent place to sleep as the sun was setting down slowly. We did not reach the summit of Salatín, which was our original plan for the first night because of the views. But honestly, the views to the valleys and villages below us from any random spot close to the ridge were fantastic and particularly the one covered by the little scrub that protected us from wind was a great choice for the sleepover.

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After cooking the dinner some of us went to sleep directly but me and Rznik waited for the darkness to come in order to try out our new toys. Both of us bought new ultra-wide and fast Samyang lenses and we were therefore eager to test them for some astrophotography. In the beginning the skies did not look so promising and the light pollution from surrounding villages was a bit of a problem but eventually the Milky way showed up on some of the pictures and we ended up very satisfied by the results. Especially after Rznik showed me how to properly use the Live-view focusing which now I believe is an absolute must for good astrophotography.

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Exhausting day

Since we didn’t sleep at the top of Salatín as originally planned this day was supposed to be really demanding in order to catch up. We therefore got up pretty early, almost with the sunrise and prepared for the though hike. Firstly, we had to melt down some of the leftover snow to get some drinking water. As I mentioned the mountain ridge of Roháče has several challenges for the hikers and the lack of fresh drinking water is one of them. If you want to hike the whole ridge at once, you must either carry a lot of water with you (and by a lot I mean really a lot, i.e. the water for full 3 days), especially in such hot water we had, or to get down to the valleys and then back up. In the late spring or early summer the best solution is therefore to bring some extra cooking gas and “generate” the water by yourself from the occasional snow fields along the way.

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The other challenge is the actual difficulty of the trail. You go up for couple of hundred meters of altitude and down, and then up and down and again and again. And then the steeper parts come in turn, where you actually have to climb a bit and use the chains or ropes prepared for you. The climbing is usually not that much difficult, it looks worse than it is (if you’re not afraid of heights, as it is exposed), and I imagine it must be a very nice and funny climbing for the regular tourists with tiny small backpacks. However when you carry all the gear for 3-days trek along with the camera, tripod etc. it is something else, I admit it was actually more difficult than I expected. Particularly in combination with the extreme hot weather and bright sun shining on your head throughout the whole day. No serious problem though for experienced hikers. (I am glad we managed to hike this ridge off the season because apparently during the season there is a huge amount of hikers in these mountains and the queues for the “roped and chained” parts are really long. You can literally get stuck at some place for half an hour or more…)

(3 photos below are from Rznik as I was too tired to shoot anything along the way and now I regret it)

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Unfortunately Kamča had some troubles with her ankles, which I am used to from our hike across Slovakia, so I rather stayed with her for all the way and we had a bit slower pace than the rest of our group. Yet we enjoyed this main and most difficult part of the ridge and after all it was actually really fun to “play” a little climbing game with all those iron chains, ropes, hot granite rock and with the heavy backpack forcing you to balance carefully.

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Anyway we managed to get all the way up and down and up to the summit of Volovec mountain where the rest of us was already waiting for us and where Rznik already prepared his photo gear for the the beautiful sunset.

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Well, I actually had to rush in the last part of the ascent and I literally ran uphill to the top just in order to catch the full “golden hour” time of this beautiful light conditions. It was totally worth it!

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The views were truly magnificent (again). We had all the ridge of Roháče mountains, which we had actually hiked and climbed throughout the past two days, served on the golden plate in front of us. And on the opposite direction we could see High Tatras and their sharp peaks too.

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NOT TO MENTION WHAT WAS ABOUT TO COME…

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Clear skies, fantastic Milky way, accompanied by the rising Moon. Conditions we hoped for, yet it could have been even better somewhere with less light pollution. But man, I must say the full-frame camera in combination with that Samyang 14mm f/2,8 is truly a great machine for the nightscapes and for the astrophotography.

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Beautiful and slow wake up

The wonderful sunrise waiting for us in the morning was only the cherry on the top of this whole experience and adventure.

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Already in the evening before we all agreed to split up for this last day. We did not have enough water for all of us for another long, challenging and hot day, plus me and Kamča were really tired from the previous day, and moreover I got sunburnt, so there was no point to push it hard.

Rznik, Robo and Maja packed themselves up and left for the remaining part of the trail, that continued further until Bystrá mountain, right after the sunrise. Me and Kamča on the other hand were about to descend down to the closest village - Zuberec and hitchhike from there back to our car. Which meant we had more time to enjoy this beautiful theatre of nature.

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And so we did. We took our time, had a nice and slow morning without any rush. After packing and cleaning the bivouac spot after ourselves we took the different trail then the first group, got to see the last panoramic views at the whole ridge of Western Tatras from Sedlo Zábrať and after that we started our descent towards Zuberec village. There we headed straight to the Zverovka mountain hut in order to get some well deserved lunch, which obviously was the Slovak national meal - “halušky s bryndzou” and with milk. Cheers! :-)

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Footnote: dav.varga@gmail.com, www.dvarga.net
Roháče - Spálená dolina, Zuberec, Slovensko