If you’ve spent any time in Quito you will have been aware of the old volcanic peak of Pichincha as it is the highest point close to the city and marked by the cable car which takes you on to the plateau below the summit.
It is possible to catch the cable car up Pichincha and walk for a couple of hours to reach the scramble to the summit. However offered the option of the full traverse of the volcanic ridge I wasn’t going to turn that down.
After a few days in Quito we headed out for acclimatisation walks and Lake Cuicocha was a beautiful place to have on the list.
We’d spent the night in Otavalo, a nearby town which was very friendly and laid back. After a morning wandering round the market and having coffee in a cafe we drove to Lake Cuicocha.
Lake Cuicocha is a 3 km wide caldera lake at the foot of Cotacachi Volcano. The name comes from the Kichwa, a variety of Quechua language and means lake of the guinea pigs – referring to the two humped islands.
For anyone new to an activity, knowing where to start with finding information can be hard. Getting into hiking is no different. There’s a myriad of information to absorb, skills to learn and gear to buy. Here’s where Paul Besley’s 1001 Walking Tips fills a much needed gap for newcomers to hiking.
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.