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.
We only had a week in Iceland and were keen to hike to explore the landscape. The Laugavegur trail is one of the most popular in Iceland due to its close proximity to Reykjavik, its easy access by bus and good huts along the way.
Most guidebooks will recommend around 4 days for the route despite it only being 54km. We had limited time and hoped to do the continuation route of the Fimmvörðuháls and end up in Skógar to the coast so planned to do the Laugavegur trail in 3 days.
There’s a lot of blogs out there on the trail due to its popularity but the one website you really want to check out is the one operated by the Icelandic huts – here you can find out about the trail, river crossings, and hut bookings.
As this is a very popular trail don’t expect to be able to get into the huts to stay, we had to carry a tent for the hike as we couldn’t get booked into the huts despite calling months in advance. And this was at a time of covid travel restrictions.
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.
Having managed to escape the UK for only a week this year and finding ourselves in Sicily for sport climbing and sunshine, I was surprised that there wasn’t more information on hiking in the mountains given that Sicily is quite mountainous. In fact the only map I could find was of the Etna region.
Spending a few days in Castellamare del Golfo we were making the most of the beaches and the sport climbing in nearby San Vito. Castellamare del Golfo is busy little fishing town which has a typical touristy beach and restaurants. Its is also overshadowed by Mont Inici.
Despite the dominance of the mountain on the town it seemed few people walked up there, with no maps available and very unloved footpaths and trails. There were however intermittent signposts at junctions making it possible to see that once it had been a popular area to hike.
So, armed with digital mapping (which turned out to be pretty accurate on all our walks in Sicily) we set off on the tracks from the view point above the town.
Crossing the 1 foot wide ridge of snow I was very aware of the snow melting under my feet and becoming unstable. I held my breath and walked confidently, eyes ahead.
We’d already lost half an hour on the ascent waiting for a team ahead of us to climb the snow to the ridge line, their guide leading the way and belaying them up. When we crossed the ridge we had to wait again for the guide to cross the couloir, digging a foot deep through the snow to place ice screws, securing the traverse to the metal stake and beyond to the rocks.
Waiting on a route is never ideal, especially when the snow under our feet was fresh and only had one night of freezing. And the sun was already high in the sky, melting it.