European Summit Challenge
Czech Republic - Snežka 1602m

Krkonoe

Snežka, the Czech Republic's highest peek lies in the Krkonoše mountains, an extension of the Carpathians that define the Czech / Polish border. In Czech mythology, Krkonoše is also a benelivant grey bearded old man, who saves wayward travellers and lives amongst the animals, a kind of Grizzly Adams of Eastern Europe.
Though not of Alpine stature the challenge of a winter ascent of these peeks should not be underestimated, as I discovered on December 30th, 2001. The snow was deep. Down in the valleys the authorities do not plough the roads, but roller the snow to a compact surface so that the cars can drive on top. Any vehicles left parked at the side of the road are encased as ground level moves ever higher, on this occasion almost to their roofs.
So it should not come as a surprise that when I left my hotel in Trutnov that morning it was with the intent to reconnoitre the trail head at Pec pod Snežkou for a future attempt, then return to Trutnov for the 12:30 train. I had found no lodgings in town for another night.
Rising at six, packing and shopping for provisions at a 24/7, I took a Taxi over the snow pack to Pec pod Snežkou where I paid the fare and sheltered in a bus stop from the falling snow and freezing wind whilst I put on hat and gloves, studied the map and wondered at a snow rolling machine that was making a car park accessible once more.
Into the forest
The green trail leave Pec pod Snežkou through the forest.

I wasn't going to get warm by standing still so I went in search of the path that wound it's way up the steep valley side until it joined another trail that ran along the ridge to the summit. Signposts in the village led me without difficulty to the start of a trail trod deep in the snow, the green way-markings confirmed this was the correct path and into the forest I went. The 12:30 train was suddenly less attractive.
For the first half an hour the going was good, but at a junction the trench of compressed snow got shallower, and at the next disappeared altogether. But there remained the parallel lines of cross-country skis and the green blazes to follow. I continued on up, still time to catch the 12:30 if need be, no shame in retracing my footsteps. The snow teased me onwards, sections of firm powder supporting my weight led me to the deeper, softer sections that plucked me downwards into it's cold belly. I would pull myself out, find firmer snow once again in the tracks of the skis and so the cycle repeated. On one such occasion I rested and looked back to see how far I had climbed. There was someone else on the way up. I waited for the figure to approach, greeted him and asked if he spoke English. Jiri, or George as he pressed me to call him, did and we agreed to continue the ascent together. George was, he told me, testing the snow to see if it would be possible to make an ascent the following evening so that he could see the new year in at the roof of his country.
Ružohorky
The resturant at Ružohorky on our descent.

The ski tracks disappeared but somehow we caught sight of enough of the green paint to find our way through the trees to a huddle of buildings in a clearing at

Ružohorky. I had hoped that from here the path would be well defined, joining as it did the route that ran along the summit ridge. It was not to be; there were no signs of anyone having passed.
Following George's lead, I stepped out of the wind into the shelter of the forest and hunted for further painted marks. Had there been any on the trees I do not think we would have seen them. Snowfall had collapsed the branches of the pines, and whatever part of the trunks remained exposed were coated in a thick crusty layer of ice. For ten or fifteen minutes we made little progress, heading in what we hoped was the general direction of a chair lift station one quarter of the way between us and the unseen summit. I took a compass bearing and it proved our instincts correct, and moments later we noticed a trail to our left, a shallow but wide trench through the snow and trees made by a passing piste maker. The tracks were fresh, the trail must have been recent or we would have noticed it having have cross it. Able to walk without sinking beyond our knees, we made quick progress to the chair lift station and saw the first passengers of the day disembarking, skis, or sledges in hand for the journey downwards.
George questioned the station attendant as to the condition of the snow on the route to the summit. He told us that only one person had come down that way, having turned back, the snow being waste deep. George and I had come too far to be deterred by that.
The route from the chair lift to Snežka's summit was laid out before us with a line of posts sticking up through the snow. The summit itself was still invisible behind the clouds but it felt guaranteed, all we had to do was break a trail through the white, this would slow us down but nothing more. The hardest part we believed was behind us.

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