I met the ridgeline and immediately got pushed back by the wind. As I braced myself I looked across to the mountains and questioned my route for the day.
Dolina Chocholowska round 26.5km
With only one day left in Zakopane to go hiking I caught the bus to Dolina Chocholowska. I’d wanted to visit this valley so I could tick off all of the major valleys in the Polish Tatras and complete another round of mountains.
With low winds and amazing sunshine forecast I decided a traverse of the Tatras was in order. I’d originally planned to do this route in reverse but having not worked out the bus times to get to Kiry I opted to walk from Kuznice which is simpler and worry about how to get back on the bus later.
I’ve called this route the Koscieliska horsehorse but its a bit of a misnomer as while it is a horseshoe shape, the route traverses the 2000m mountains along the main ridge from the centre of the national park to descend into the Koscieliska valley. Nevertheless its a great route, with outstanding views.
I wanted to visit the poplar thermal baths at Chocholow and decided to run the red route across the Gubalowka ridge to get there. Whilst it was dry it was very windy so not ideal for being in the mountains so this made a great alternative.
North of Zakopane and out of the Tatras, this hill is mostly farmland and gentle rolling hills. If you’re not in the area for long it wouldn’t be on your list to do, but if you have time it’s a nice alternative to the mountains.
Everyone who heads to the Polish Tatras visits Morskie Oko as it’s a popular beauty spot. Whilst I usually look to get off the beaten track I had decided a bus ride around there would provide a great opportunity to walk back to Zakopane over the mountains.
To Morskie Oko
The walk into the Morskie Oko hut from the bus stop is a very boring 8km walk along a tarmac road. There are horse carriages but I’d opted to walk and save money, and as I was staying at the hut that night I didn’t have anything else to do that day.
I knew that travelling to the Tatras National Park in November for hiking meant one of two things – either there would be quiet trails or terrible weather and I’d have to find a plan B. I also knew I needed to be prepared for hiking in the snow and so was armed with crampons, axe and loads of experience.
As it was, I was blessed with really good weather for most of the week I was staying in Zakopane, so managed to get out every day to hike or run in the mountains.
It had rained solid the day I arrived in Zakopane and knowing the day after would be cold I anticipated some snow on the mountains. I wasn’t disappointed!
Having caught the bus to Kuznice and arrived before 7am I took the long walk up the blue trail to Schronisko Hala Kondratowa hut. I should add that if like me you like early starts, this means you arrive before the National Park is officially open – meaning free entry (not the 7 zloty is expensive).
Its not a steep walk to the hut, so I got there much quicker than the suggested travel time of the signs. Most guides books tell you to take the yellow or green path to the summit of Kasprowy Wierch which are the more direct route, but by that account are also the busiest. If you want a quieter alternative the blue route to Hala Kondratowa Hut is much better.
The Kirklees Way circles the borough providing a 73 mile/ 118km challenge which takes in some of the areas rugged trails and industrial scenery, along with plenty of farmland, moorland and woodlands.
I undertook this route over three days, but 4-6 days is more realistic.
I should add that like many named routes in the area, the Kirklees Way might be a marked trail on the map, but a lot of the route isn’t well signposted and can be quite overgrown (especially at the height of summer). Some of the stiles and gates are also in poor condition. Map reading is definitely required!
A walk round the Swellands route will provide you with a sample of moorland walking on the Pennine Way, views across Colne Valley and a return on the Standedge Trail.
The walk starts in Marsden village centre. While not exceptionally long, it does cross moorland which can be difficult to walk on and navigate in poor weather. It also has some steep uphills to get high on the moors, so be prepared.
Its impossible to deny that Mount Etna is fascinating – the most active volcano in the world, its impact on the local landscape and history of Sicily cannot be ignored. Surrounding the volcano the landscape is covered in smaller vents, plateaus of lava and rock formations from centuries of eruptions.
It is however incredibly touristy.
At Etna South, the southerly main active crater, there is a cable car and chalets reminiscent of a ski centre. It is indeed a popular ski area in winter, but in summer you must be guided to the summit on foot or by vehicle.
As two mountaineers the prospect of being guided up a large dome of ash and lava didn’t appeal to us. Thankfully there are alternatives and hiring bikes turned out to be the perfect day out.
All around the Etna national park there are trails, both hiking and mountain biking which are well marked and available on the national park map. As it was, the company we hired the bikes – Etna bike tours – from gave us a pre-loaded GPS for the main trail – the Giro dell’Etna. Including the descent back to the rental place in Milo the total loop would be 55km.