Zakopane is a small Polish town located about two and a half hours from Krakow, Poland. At approximately 1000 meters (3000 feet) above sea level, it shares many similarities with Banff, Alberta and draws tourists from many regions to enjoy sports such as skiing in the winter and hiking and mountaineering in all seasons. Historically, Zakopane began as a mining town and was the center of metallurgical activity in the area during the 1800’s. Nestled in a valley at the base of the Tatra Mountains, the town has played host to many international alpine events including the World Alpine and Nordic Ski Championships in 1939. They lost out to Turin, Italy in their bid to host the 2006 Winter Olympics.
Our hotel was located across from the water park and a nice 10 minute walk from the city center. Weather did not play in our favor returning to rain and ~10 degrees Celsius. Most of our tour group decided to stay near town exploring Zakopane’s famous Krupowki Street with its many restaurants and shops or taking the Funicular ride to the top of Gubalowkwa Hill to get a great view of Zakopane and the surrounding valley and Tatra Mountains. The “funicular” is like a tramway or gondola on wheels and follows rails up the side of the hill. Unlike a gondola ride, the funicular never leaves the ground as it progresses up the hill.
I decided to go for a trek through the mountains and headed south of Zakopane to a national park (5 zloties) where I hiked 14 kilometers (and about 800m vertical) in an attempt to visit Morskie Oko Lake (Marine Eye Lake) mentioned in the regional chat as a most beautiful lake surrounded by mountain peaks that rose a 1000 meters or above the water. However, my hike ended up taking me in the direction of the wrong lake, Czarny Straw Gasienicowy, which is higher in elevation and more difficult to reach. It is a glacial lake with sapphire-like clear, deep water often referred to in English as the Black Pond. The yellow route, which I took, began as a gradual walk but then rather suddenly headed up a rock staircase which took me about 30 minutes to climb. This is a very popular hike for those visiting the region and I wasn’t the faster climber on the trail so was passed by many hikers of various nationalities and exchanged “hi there” and “hello” greetings in a multitude of languages along the way. I began to worry that I had not budgeted enough time to actual reach the lake and in the end, as I reached a twin peak section, the weather turned colder, windier, and the path muddied after the vertical climb so I decided to turn around and head back down to Zakopane without reaching the lake. Lots of great scenery to see along the way, but the lake will need to be seen some other time, not this trip.
(Graeme on tour in Europe. Images will be uploaded when time and available internet access permit)