European Summit Challenge
Poland - Rysy 2499m


Sometimes it is difficult to pick a theme when summing up a hike. Sometimes something unexpected happens and you have it right away. At first I was going to call this "Babes in the Wood", but there was a severe lack of trees, at least in the initial stages of the journey. Then came "Beauties and the Beast" and this was more appropriate. The rubber ink stamp at Chata pod Rysmi, used either as a souvenir or control token to imprint evidence of passage, has the image of a wolf clutching two naked ladies. I asked the bikini clad Slavic beauty behind the hut's service counter what this image symbolised. Her explanation needed some imagination, The slopes of Rysy, she told me, from a certain vantage point, has the same silhouette as the image on the stamp. I fear that this was clutching at straws.
Stamps at Chata Pod Rysmi
Stamps at Chata Pod Rysmi.
The "beauties" however were not limited to the huts. A high majority of walkers and scramblers on this very busy trail from Morskim Oku, to Rysy and down to Štrbski Pleso, were women. A statistic not repeated in the British Hills. They came in all ages, and those of a certain age came dressed to look good. This I suspect has much to do with Polish / Slovak history and the a time when the mountaineering gear such as was available in Western Europe was simply out of the reach of most pockets. It is therefore the norm for  the  local walkers to be decked out just as if they were walking down the high street, the girls as if it is Saturday night and they are on their way to a night club. High heel shoes exchanged for something sensible, more sure footed, like trainers. In no way did this seem to impair performance on loose rook and the occasional late lying field of snow. From this observation it is perhaps possible to deduce that the reason for the low numbers of women in the UK hills is the until recent lack of outdoor clothes suited to the female gender. It is well known that women have a better sense of style

than us fellers, and therefore known that women have a better sense of style than us fellers, and therefore would not be seen dead in the clothing the outdoor industry offers them. In order to redress the gender balance back home, perhaps we should stop the belittling glances when walkers step out in jeans, halt frowning when the ladies don nothing but crop tops, and simply accept the fact that the little leather hand-bags can fit nothing but lipstick, purse and mobile phone. After all what else would you need on a 2499m summit?

Schronisko przy Morskim Oku
Schronisko przy Morskim Oku.
Anyway, I have digressed from the well marked path of mountain literature, and should wind back the clock to the day's dawn. It should have been raining, but the forecast was wrong and the storm seemed to have exhausted itself in the night. Thus I awoke around five to clear skies outside the window of the pension. Only problem was that I was on the wrong side of the mountain, in the wrong country in fact. The pension was in Stari Smokovic, Slovakia, on the southern side of the High Tatra, and I wanted to make my ascent of Poland's highest peak from Poland. An ascent from Poland is also the more interesting, with two beautiful mirror like lakes, and a lengthy scramble protected in parts by chains. It took a while to get ready, ask around the for the bus station, realize I had missed the first bus by ten minutes and waited another forty for the next to Lysa polana just a few yards from the Polish border. The journey took around an hour. I crossed the bridge over the Biatka River on foot and passed through the customs post. It was a little unclear what was to come next so I changed ten pounds into Polish Zloty and hitched a lift in the direction of Morskim Oku, Poland's most beautiful lake (if the tourist literature is to be believed). The ride lasted less than a kilometre before we turned into a large

Morskim Oku and Rysy
Morskim Oku and Rysy.
car park at the trail head. I paid the 4.40 zloty national park entrance fee (my 10 GBP had yielded me 60 zloty) and immediately spent another 30 zloty to ride the horse drawn wagon (with fifteen others) from the park's entrance at Palenice Biatczanska the eight kilometres to a site fifteen minutes walk from the lake. The wagon ride took an hour and thus I guess saved me fifty minutes off of an otherwise dull plod up the metallised road through forest with all but the occasional view. By the time I struck out from the incredibly busy mountain hotel on Morskim Oku's northern shore, it was 9:30. It took a further forty minutes to reach the lake's southern end and ascend to the second lake with a height gain of around two hundred metres.
Czarny Staw pod Rysmi
2nd lake, Czarny Staw pod Rysmi.
Fording the shallow stream that flowed via a waterfall into the lower lake, my ignorance of the local mountain dress code lured me into a false sense of solitude. Thus far the pathway had been well paved, surely the fashion set intended only to trek as far as this second  lake.    It  was  unthinkable  to  a