There is only one old man with me on the bus when we approach the fork in the road where the bus will turn left, and I will have to get off. While the bus drives away, an asphalt road stretches out before me, and I see the top of Mount Hoverla ahead of me, in the distance. It is a bright, late October day, and there is frost on the ground. To my relief, the summit of Mount Hoverla is not white. Even for local standards, it is cold for the time of year, and in the valleys, I have seen quite some snow, hidden from the sun by the surrounding mountains. I am happy to see that the summit is not covered in thick snow, for which I am not properly equipped today. From here to the trailhead of the hike up the mountain is some 14km, and to my surprise there are cars coming down. Even though I prefer to walk the entire distance, I am on a tight schedule for the day. Night will fall around 17:30, and in the morning, I had trouble getting out of my base Yaremcha: I ended up waiting for an hour for transportation. One thing is obvious: I have very little margin, considering the possibility that I will have to hike all the way up, and down, the highest mountain of Ukraine. So, I walk in a steady speed. One car passes, but does not stop; the next car does and gives me a ride to a small village a little over one km up the valley of the river Prut. At the end of it, I find a boom gate, and am invited in. A comfortable warmth and pleasant scent is given by the fireplace. I pay the entrance fee, and see a car with Hungarians park to also pay their dues. I walk ahead, and when they pass me, they wave but don't stop. From the gate, it is another 8km to the trailhead. The condition of the road is much worse, and there are patches of snow on it. At the same time, to see the river with a layer of snow on the rocks and trees makes this a wonderful stretch of the walk, with no views whatsoever.
It is shortly before the trailhead that Mount Hoverla appears again before me. Much closer now, she still seems friendly and very easy to climb. There is ice on the road now, and walking on it is treacherous. At the sports complex of Zaroslyak I finally find the trailhead, also to other destinations in the mountains. I am advised to take the short, blue route to the top. Right away, the snow on the ground that is half frozen suddenly makes it more difficult to walk. I slip and slide over the clear trail between the tall trees, until I cross a brook on a slippery wooden bridge. The path becomes steeper now, and the going even more tricky. A pole would be useful now, but instead, I sometimes use the trees to hold my balance. I keep on telling myself that, as soon as I reach the treeline, things will become much easier, as I suppose the sun is powerful enough to melt away this early fresh snow. The trees open up around me, but the going is still tougher than I imagined. Where there is no slippery snow on the ground, there is mud, and one of my feet suddenly disappears into it before I quickly pull it out again. Being wet, it quickly turns cold. The snow is not soft here anymore, but the sun makes me feel warm, and I climb in only one layer. I constantly have to focus on where I step: there is snow, there are patches of melted snow that have frozen over, and there is ground which is muddy. I pass a small group of hikers on their way up, and am happy that I am not completely alone in this environment, even though I am not sure if they would be able to assist me, if needed. Then, I reach a flatter section, and the summit of Hoverla Mountain is now suddenly ahead of me in arms reach.
Two hikers are coming down from the summit, and the going gets a little easier, as there is less snow, and the mountain is not steep. The final stretch is a climb straight up to the summit, but steeper than I had imagined. Also, the plants on it are all covered in snow, and all the parts are covered in icicles. From a distance, it had seemed easy, but in reality, it is tougher than I imagined, because of the circumstances: I am trying to get up a steep mountain, walking on an uneven surface of ice. Then, suddenly, I see poles ahead of me, a cross, piles of stones, and flags: the roof of Ukraine, at 2061m! Fittingly enough, the name of the mountain derives from Old Hungarian and means Snow Mountain. I immediately feel a strong, cold wind trying to blow me off the summit, and I directly put on all the layers I have got, and my gloves. I walk around the summit, with grandiose views over the Carpathian Mountains in all directions. A big pile of stones is covered in ice, and so are flags and flowers. Where during the ascent I felt warm, it now seems like winter. I drink a little, eat an apple, and start my way way down to Prut Valley, which I can see in a distance. I dread the descent: going down is often more difficult, and with the icy conditions, I know it is not going to be easy. And it isn't. Within metres, I fall several times, just gliding down the flanks of Mount Hoverla on my back. I try to make curves myself, instead of going down in a straight line. I make it to the top of the steeper section, which is probably even more tricky. But I am lucky: in this section without trees, I find a thick, strong branch of a tree, probably left behind by someone who used it as a pole. It greatly helps me keep my balance, while negotiating the steep descent, the rocks, the snow, the branches, the ice, the mud. A woman is sitting on the snow, almost crying, and a man is trying to talk her into pushing on. In summer, this may be an easy climb, but in winter, it easily becomes a real challenge. I glide down the mountain, make my way through the woods, and then, end up walking the entire valley back to the fork in the road where I started in the morning. I try to hitchhike back to Vorokhta, but even though there are quite a few cars, no one stops. It gets dark, and after walking up and down Prut valley and Hoverla mountain, I now also walk the 7km to the town where I have to wait another hour or so before a marshrutka finally takes me back to Yaremcha. My legs are destroyed, but while eating a delicious Ukrainian dinner, I feel great after a fantastic day out in the Carpathians and Mount Hoverla.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Mount Hoverla (Ukraine). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Mount Hoverla.
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