This past weekend has been fantastic. I was told that I would be hiking this weekend, but no one told me that I would be the first Rotary exchange student to ever climb the infamous mountain known as Kriváň. This trip was something that I couldn’t possibly forget anytime soon, and I hope that you enjoy this just as much as I did.
After a long day of school, I rushed home on Friday to prepare for my trip into the unknown. I had been told where we were going, but the name didn’t strike me as anything important so I figured it was like the routine hike that I went on last weekend (you can read about that here). I packed my clothes, making sure that I packed plenty of warm things to wear because I have heard that the mountains get a little chilly. Once I had all of my things packed, it was not long until Mr. Benka, my ride, had arrived.
Driving to the Hotel
The ride to the hotel we would be staying at was fun. I was joined with Ashley, who is staying in Banska Bystrica with me, and her friend Grace, who is staying in Bratislava. It was fun to hear the gripes and complaints that the other girls had experienced. Something that all three of us can agree that amazed us was the changing of season from summer to fall. With both of the girls being from Florida, and myself being from California, we don’t get quite the “fall” experience. Being able to look at entire mountainsides and see them shaded in orange and red is something that we had not seen before. However, it was not long until we made our way to the hotel we would be staying at, which was named the Panorama (funny enough, I kept telling people it was called the Panamera, which is a gross 4 door Porsche).
After the drive up the mountain, we all were exhausted. Eager to find our rooms and lay down, we hurried our driver and chaperone to get us our room assignments. On Friday the 13th, we were assigned the room 313. However, when we got to the room, there were only three beds. This was an issue, because the plan was that the two girls would stay in one doored of section of the room, and myself and Mr. Benka would be staying in the other. Nothing against Mr. Benka, but I paled slightly with having to share a bed. This is where things got interesting. It was decided that I would have that bed to myself, and Mr. Benka would go sleep in another room. Which left myself and the girls staying in the same room together. It was a little awkward and interesting next few days to say the least.
Once we had gotten ourselves situated, we made our way down to the sauna that the hotel/resort hosted. Even though we only were driving for a few hours, it felt like we were on the road for an eternity. We were all exhausted. I must note that it was a very integrated sauna, and I don’t think that the poor girl’s eyes were quite ready for the sights that were there. Fortunately after a while the other people that we were sharing the sauna with left, relieving a little bit of an eyesore for the girls. This was one of the first times that I had gone into a sauna quite like this one, so it was very different and interesting to say the least.
We did not stay in the sauna for too long, as dinner was soon. Once we had gotten ourselves dressed, we made our way down to the dining hall where we ate dinner. The dining hall hosted a buffet, so I was able to try a whole variety of different foods. I also had the opportunity to introduce myself to some of the brave men and women that would be hiking up the mountain with us. We stayed for dinner for what seemed like an eternity, but after long enough we went up to the rooms to finally rest. And boy would we sure need it, because tomorrow would be a real challenge.
Beginning the Climb
We woke up the next morning around 8, and began to start packing our things. Out of the three of us, none of us really understood the great journey that we were about to undertake. We set off onto the trail at about 8:45, and the first few kilometers were fairly easy. It was a nice gravel path with only a slight incline. It did however get progressively harder, transitioning to a rockier, steeper, and narrower path. The cloud layer ender right at the transition point from forest to mountain. Before, we couldn’t see very far because of the trees and the clouds, but once we had stepped out of both we were able to see an amazing view. It was simply stunning, to be able to see over that sea of clouds. In the distance, we could see the mountains that we had hiked last week. Although the view from there was amazing, it couldn’t hold a candle to what we would be seeing later on.
Leading the Pack
Once we had transitioned into the mountains, the real “fun” began. I was leading the pack with my newly found friend, Samuel, who was from a different Rotary district than myself. Time flew by as we made our way up the mountain, distracting ourselves from the ever increasing slope by talking about things like video games and cars. But before long, we couldn’t help but notice that we were less walking, and more climbing up boulders. Of course, we did the only logical thing and sat down for lunch. I heard this from a passing hiker, and I thought it applied well here:
“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well”
Of course, I can’t be certain that it was him that can be credited with the creation of that quote, but I couldn’t agree more with him.
The Beginning of the Worst
After we had packed up our lunch, we started working our way to the top. We kept telling ourselves that we were almost to where we could say that we were almost there. The closer we got to the summit, the more difficult it became. Slowly but surely the incline changed from having to climb and jump from boulder to boulder, to crawling on all fours up the side of the mountain, holding on for dear life. There were times I had to stop and really think about what my next moves were, because one wrong slip would leave me hundreds of meters down the valley. There was not much of a path at that point, it was more us eyeballing the destination and taking the safest path to get there. With the adrenaline running through me, I slowly made my way up to the peak. I couldn’t take pictures of it because of how difficult it was to maneuver, so you will have to take my word for it.
Once we had crested the final ridge and made our way to the peak, I had felt a sense of accomplishment that I only had felt a few times before. The view from the top was stunning. To the north, I could just see Poland, and to the south I could see the ridges of the Low Tatras. There are not words that can describe how I felt. For a while, Samuel and I thought that we would be the only ones to make it up the mountain, but before long both of my American counterparts and a few Rotarians made there way up the slopes. The top of the peak was crammed with other hikers, making it a little precarious trying not to accidentally nudge someone of an edge.
Kriváň is one of the highest peaks in Slovakia, coming in at a respectable 2,495m above sea level. That is only about 150m lower than the highest peak in Slovakia, Gerlachovský štít. Kriváň is located in the High Tatras mountain range, and is claimed to be the most beautiful peak in the mountain range. Kriváň has been a very influential part of Slovakia’s history, making an appearance as recent as 2005 when it was voted to be put on the Slovak Euro. From the base where I started to the top of the mountain, it was a 24km (15 mile) hike, with an altitude gain of 1,300m (4,265ft). I can say without a doubt this is one of the most difficult hikes that I have ever done in my life.
You might think that going up the mountain would be a challenge, but going back down was much more frightening and dangerous. The ice was starting to melt, which led to slick wet rocks, and muddy puddles that would sweep your feet out from under you if you were not careful. On my way down, I walked with a family that spoke English, and it was nice to be able to talk to them. They offered to take me out for a drink afterwards, but I told them they were expecting me back at my hotel. I hope that I didn’t upset them too much, because they were a really great family.
I arrived back at our hotel about an hour before the other girls, so I took the time to take a long shower and relax. Once they had come back, it was off to dinner where everyone started to discuss stories of our trips. Some had made it to the peak, some had not. However, we were told that we were the first Rotary exchange students (RYE) to ever reach the peak. Not trying to brag (who am I kidding yes I am), but I was the first in our group to reach the peak, so that would make me the first RYE student to ever reach that peak? Of course, someone is probably going to come out saying “blah blah blah I did it before you” but for now I am going to enjoy my moment. Anyway, at dinner we were all given pillow pets as an award for reaching the top, and the gift really was great. They proved to be very useful on the drive back home.
To wrap this up, I have to say that this was a great trip. I am very thankful for Rotary for letting me have this opportunity, and I don’t think that I could have done it without them. In other news, I got my Facebook account back, yay! After about 10 frustrating days, I finally got my account back out of nowhere. I hope that this reaches more people now because of it.
Word of the Day
Today is a little special, because I will have a piece translated that was at the top of the mountain. I hope you enjoy, and if you like this style instead of the individual word daily, let me know.
The commemoration day of 16th August 1841 was held on the Krivan Hill by the Slovak National revivalist Ľudovít Štúr and his other companions dedicated to the 155th anniversary of the outing of respect by the Matica slovenská