September 12, 2008
(18.28 km; 8 hrs 4 min; 866m ascent; 849m descent)
Breakfast this morning was set for 7:30 am, and when we woke up, the weather didn’t look too bad. But by the time we had finished our breakfast (bread, meat, cheese, tomato, and cucumber) the clouds had descended, although it was not raining. Off we went at 8:30 am and for the first while we descended steeply down a very rocky trail into the valley. At the bottom we passed a waterfall, Obrovský vodopád (Giant’s Waterfall), and then crossed a wooden bridge over a large stream, Veľký Studený potok (Big Cold Creek).
The trail turned into a broad path that you could have driven two cars down side by side. Here Chris and Clare caught us up. Being mountain marathoners, they strode off up the trail and we followed along at our pace. As usual the trail was built of rocks of various sizes, some easier to walk across than others. We met a lot of people coming down towards us, and soon we were at the ski area Hrebienok.
The trail from Hrebienok became rocky again and led us through a foggy, gloomy forest. Luckily it wasn’t too cold out, but it did feel damp. Considering the weather, it was amazing how many hikers were on the trail. We climbed slowly but steadily. Sometimes the trail passed over boulder fields, where builders had levelled the boulders into a decent pathway. These were easy to walk on, but going up over the rocks was tedious. According to our book, we should have been seeing good views over the Low Tatras, but instead we only saw the clouds. At one point the clouds gave us a gap and we hoped that the sun would break through, but alas, this only lasted ten minutes and then we were back in the mist.
Shortly before noon we came around a corner and sighted Sliezsky dom. This was a grey and brown brick-shaped hotel of Communist-era vintage. From the distance it looked very ugly and from close up it looked even worse; we started calling it “the power plant”. We went around to the back by the guard dog kennel and into the café, where we ordered bean soup for lunch. It was microwaved, and not particularly hot, and came in small plastic bowls. And it cost 60 SK, which was more expensive than soup we had had at other huts. But luckily for us, the WC was free.
Our trail from here continued uphill but the grade was gentler, mostly climbing over rocks, so we made reasonably good time. It soon went downhill again, only to go up shortly afterwards. This sort of thing made the trail very tedious, although it probably would have been much nicer if we had had views. When we came to Batizovské pleso, we could see part of the lake but it was very gloomy. We met some climbers coming down from Gerlachovský štít. One of them spoke English and told us that the forecast was for worsening weather. So it was a good thing that today was our last full day of hiking.
In this area there were a lot of marmot droppings on the trail, but we never saw any marmots. The trail still continued in its up-and-down climbing ways until it peaked at just over 2000 metres on a shoulder of Tupá. From there it was only a short way to Sedlo pod Ostrvou, the saddle which overlooked the hut at Popradské pleso. Luckily the clouds had lifted, so we could see that we were now standing at the top of the precipitous set of switchbacks that we had looked up at ten days earlier.
Now it was our turn to descend them. We didn’t feel so tired now, as we picked our way nearly 500 metres down the switchbacks. It took us about 45 minutes, and finally we walked around the lakeshore to the hut. We were very glad to get down and finally sign in. This time we were in room 306, which was up two regular flights of stairs and then up a narrow set of metal stairs. It was a room with eight beds, but neither of us cared because it was a place to sleep. We took off our boots, found clean clothes, and headed for the showers. Once the hot water got going it was very enjoyable.
By now it was after 5 pm, so we went downstairs for dinner. This was a sort of celebration dinner, so we had salad, main course, and dessert. Chris and Clare were sitting at a table over in the corner, so we joined them and chatted about their plans for tomorrow.