Babypacking the High Tatras of Poland and Slovakia Part 2

At about 9.30am we set off along a meandering track headed north, having dragging ourselves away from the rather too comfortable Penzion Sileo. We were going to be following an official red cycle path apparently, but in reality it was to prove little more than an ever deteriorating rough forest track. Marking a cycle route on a map against actually creating a cycle path are often confused but can be two very different things! Either way we were just pleased the map had helped us to be away from the busy roads. It was a dense dark forest, the kind where light shines in shafts between the boughs, underneath the damp floor was dotted with plenty of mushrooms, not all edible. As we rode on a battered truck with another mushroom picker inside pulls up behind, he waves as he carefully overtakes us. Further up we found what looked like an abandoned but certainly very concrete themed hotel, a strange location here amongst the trees with little else.

After a slog uphill we find a section of deep rutted mud, we stop and assess, how long is it? It’s a section you’d normally just get off and walk, but the trailer would topple over into ruts about a 70cm deep in places caused by the harvesting machines! So one of us is taking Orrin and the other shuttling the bikes and trailer separately, it is slow progress but prevents a very long detour. It’s an excuse for Orrin to sit and play in the mud so one of us is happy!

From the satellite imagery (which hid the ruts!) we know the track soon turns to singletrack for a short section – probably too narrow for the trailer. We detour out across some rather idyllic hay meadows backed by mountains in both direction, we don’t see another soul as the baby trailer bumps about while the suspension smooths out the worst of them.

After the meadows we decided to continue up the atmospheric forest roads; despite them proving hard work! The lack of cars and people in general was just more relaxing. The occasional logging truck had to be avoided but it was mostly just us and the wildlife.

We had decided to ride up to Ziarska Chata, a mountain hut up at about 1350m, we checked with them over the phone that they had some bed space before setting off uphill. We were lucky the weather was kind as there was almost no shelter along this section of the route, nappy changes and lunch time in the forest with a baby/toddler are fun enough without it raining too!

After a total of 1200m of climbing during the day which had taken its toll we were pleased to arrive at the mountain hut in the heart of the mountains. While steep in places the final climb was on tarmac, closed to traffic and just hikers to dodge – it made a perfect trailer ride. The only slight frustration was we needed to return the same way the next day.

The chata arrived before the foreboding rain clouds and what a setting it was. After unpacking we took the map and planned a hike the next day to put Orrin in a sling and climb the highest peaks on the ridgeline above.

After cooking dinner on our camping stove on a picnic bench out front, we had an ‘unusual’ hot chocolate, while Orrin pushed a frog in a small pram around the fellow mountain hut guests. We then went outside to watch the stars. As evenings go it was most atypical. Although we had a nice small room to ourselves and slept well.

Our hike the next was up to a peak called Tri Kopy and next to Hruba Kopa. Along a ‘breezy’ ridge made for some stunning walking in the early morning light. We left Orrin and took it in turns to scramble the highest summit separately, while he got a 2000m+ nappy change. It was hilarious to see the faces on the exhausted hikers as they arrived and saw a noisy baby ahead!

After the hike we loaded up the bikes and headed downhill, fast, we were soon in the village of Ziar looking for a coop and snacks! From here we followed more cycle routes on back roads through the peaceful farmland and rolling foothills. We passed some classic ‘onion’ tower churches, wooden houses and views across the lakes to mountains north and south.

We tried to follow a bike path up a gorge from the nice village of Kvacany but it got too rocky and steep – a bit of a theme on the rather unpredictable cycle network! We managed to turn the trailer around and what followed was a detour to a road climb slog but with yet more amazing views.

It was getting gloomy and we had full lights flashing as we approached Zuberec. We knocked on the door of a guest house, as we couldn’t find a camp spot and given it was now dark with a sleeping baby we hoped to find a cheap room.

The next day after a large strudel for breakfast we headed from Zuberec north to Oravice and its hot springs. We made a slight detour into the mountains and back on the way. It was a pleasant ride on the road through fairy tale forests and meadows. Oravice itself is tiny but has a water park, ski resort and a separate hot pool complex with elderly people slowly stewing themselves. A road side stall was selling local Mead too which was rather tasty!

We had fried potato pancakes at another roadside cafe and camped under the starry night sky. The campsite was pretty fancy for only £7 a night. Overnight we heard the roar of rutting stags again, each roar getting closer and closer to the tent it seemed!

The next day we had two options; the easy but longer road loop or the shortcut back to Poland which was best described as ‘wilder’, it involved a section with potentially not much of a path. We were down to the Orrin’s last nappy so we set off east to the short cut, headed along a track bathed in autumn colours, as we climbed higher it produced some of the best views of the trip. The first potential turn off had been hit by recent logging, was a mudfest and way too steep, we carried on to the next option. This had a path but it was faint!

As we ventured off the track, a fresh bear print appeared in the mud, it was heading in the direction we were going, and only very recently. Ed, very loudly took the bikes one by one up the narrow path, under a deer fence (border fence?) and into the meadow. After shuttling everything we were back in Poland and what looked a short roll down to the main track. The meadow had tall deer shooting towers dotted around it and felt a bit like we had entered an arena from the Hunger Games! More pleasant were the traditional old wooden shepherd chalets. With the recent bear tracks we were busy singing and making our presence very much apparent to any wildlife, we thought we heard noises but saw nothing.

The final twist saw a river crossing, which was too deep to ride or even push through without the trailer filling up with water! So it was luggage out and carrying everything across a calf depth ice cold river 4 times. Orrin sat and through rocks in the water oblivious to the loss of sensation in my toes from getting him there! The trailer was too awkward to carry across the deepest bit so the wheels needed to come off too, hence them strapped to Marion’s bag below!

We were soon back into the Zakopane area in Poland, just in time to buy new nappies after finding a rather hilly route which avoided all the endless cars that the Polish mountains attract. This pretty much finished our loop around the mountains and altogether a pretty amazing bikepacking adventure. We picked up the rental car and a drove back up to Krakow’s Station Aparthotel which luckily still had our bike boxes for the flight home!

The view from the streets of Zakopane, Poland

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