Tatra Mountains, Poland/Slovakia (9-18.12.2022)
'Come to the Tatras!' Tim said.
``We've been invited to climb with the Polish equivalent of YAG. They're going to stay in a hut at the foot of one of the biggest walls in the Tatras. All we have to do is show up at the airport and they've organised a bus to the mountain, the hut is all for the climbing group and it’ll be 30euro per night including food and beer.' As an added bonus 'Paul Ramsden went there last year and had a great time!'. It sounded fantastic. There was just one catch: would we be able to climb anything?
For us western Europeans, particularly Chamonix residents, information on Tatras climbing was hard to find. The main Polish website is https://drytooling.com.pl/ whilst https://tatry.nfo.sk/ covers the Slovak side. Between the language barrier, mixture of summer and winter routes and complex organisation of the sites, finding suitable routes was a puzzle. Also 'Drytooling', not mixed climbing…? Finally someone sent over a PDF copy of the guidebook to Kerzmarski stit, though with the route numbers shuffled like a deck of cards, it wasn't obvious what was what.
Some helpful messages from our Polish hosts were useful for packing but only thickened the mystery of what Tatras winter climbing is all about:
'Bring a peg hammer, we use a lot of thin pegs.'
'Leave the ice screws at home.'
'You can bring bivvy gear. It's not really necessary but we might like to practise the art of suffering'.
The trip began on Friday 9/12 at the Krakow Mountain Festival. Here we had the option to get educated and inspired by some of the best in the climbing world, watch cool climbing films, wander around the beautiful old town or nurse a hangover. We met up with our Polish hosts, members of the Polish Himalayan Sport group, led by the charismatic Wadim. Wadim's other hobby when he's not climbing hard is DJ-ing, PHS knows how to party.
On Sunday 11th, we left the slushy city for the mountains. The weather forecast for the week was challenging: a lot of snow and some high winds. However the base of the wall is well sheltered and the so-called 'German ladder' bisecting the north face of Maly Kerzmarski Stit conveniently provides the options for both long and short routes. We were grouped into teams of three with a Polish and Slovak host at the start of the week, a great opportunity to either learn from the locals or show off Scottish-gained skills. With new partners and a snowy forecast, most teams made a conservative choice of route for Monday, heading out for around 4 pitches.
My hosts Dominik and Robert and I headed for the route 'Rebel': a mix of delicate slabs and steep moves pulling up onto turf. Seeing I was struggling, my hosts provided some excellent tips including:
'You don't need footholds, just trust the turf'
'Sometimes three good points of contact is one too many'
'This is the Tatras…'.
Hamish, Tomasz and Rafalwere on the same route. We did not cross paths and learned that intricate route finding is one appeal of the Tatras game.
Will, Sebastian and Richard climbed the classic Polsky Kut IV+ (Scottish IV 5), which means either Polish corner or something less polite depending on your Polish/Slovak language. Tim, Wadim and Krzys climbed Cigani idu do neiba M5/VI and Matt and Polish host Roman Nas Nedobegat M5.
Suzana's team had the biggest day out on Nas Nedobegat (M5/Scottish V), a beautiful and engaging climb that was followed by an engaging search for abseil points in bad but beautiful weather and an equally engaging search for a snow buried rucksack…
On Tuesday, some teams were more ambitious. Tim, Wadim and Krzys climbed Cobra (VI/M6) to the summit of Kopa Peak, one of the few teams to make it to a summit during the week. Matt and Roman climbed Atlandida (M6+) and Hamish, Tomasz and Rafal climbed Cigani idu do neib. It was my team’s turn on Polysky Kut, which I liked, the corner climbing feeling a lot more familiar than slabs and turfy overhangs! Will's team climbed the neighbouring Matray-Rybansky, a similar but harder corner route with a tricky crux. Suz retreated to the hut after seeing the queue at the bottom of her intended route and spent some quality time with the hut cats.
On Wednesday, Hamish, Matt and Will climbed Spomienka (M6/Scottish VI 7) which features some wild roof moves. Tim and Krzys climbed Nas Nedobegat (M5), an obvious corner line with very steep sections. Suzana and I attempted a neighbouring line, Levy Y, so Tim got to spectate Suzana fighting up some extremely thin ice; seconding this crazy section was one of the highlights of my trip.
Thursday had perhaps the best weather of the whole week. Tim, Matt and Hamish headed off for a wild adventure up ‘Elegencia’ - 8 pitches up to M7 with three spectacular corners. Will climbed with Paul Ramsden on Velicova (V+/Scottish VII 7), which may get the prize for weirdest move of the week: a steinpull on a frozen grass tuft. I climbed Rumova Priechadzka (V+) with Polish superstars Michal and Kinga, four pitches of delicate, techy slabs, tentative turf trusting and being yet again surprised by how the climbing was so difficult without being steep.
On Friday morning, the keener teams had barely got a few hundreds of metres out the door before they reappeared back in the warm. Terrible news: it was raining. Even our very hardy Polish and Slovak hosts do not like the rain. The majority of the group set about chilling out and drinking coffee, whilst the Slovakian contingent commiserated the bad weather with a round of shots, at 8am. To prevent everyone getting too bored, a self rescue and glacier travel workshop was quickly organised, in which we learned a new crevasse-fall-blocking knot and refreshed how to escape the system whilst belaying a second. Later, a few of us headed out to the nearby drytooling crag, which was quite challenging. No drilled placements here… But really, why would anyone want easy routes. ‘Life is not easy’.
On the final day of the meet, Tim Hamish and Matt attempted to free a hard aid route, Forsage M7+. After some extreme climbing by Matt and a big fall, this attempt was abandoned. Suzana and I teamed up with Slovakian Maria to climb Matray Rybanksy (M6/Scottish VI) and had a really good day out. The meet naturally finished with a party to celebrate the end of a great week of climbing.
Massive thanks to our Polish and Slovak hosts for showing us around your mountains. We really enjoyed climbing, partying and hanging out with you all, the psyche was contagious! We are very keen that the Polish-Slovak-Britsh partnership continues… Extra massive thanks to Wadim for the flawless organisation and thanks also the BMC for financial support of the YAG.
DISCLAIMER: all grades approximate. The guidebook is mostly given in summer rock grades, all Scottish grades are estimates.
- Meet report by Carrie Beadle