After the steepest part of the climb on a forested hill, when there was no higher point above me other than the trees around me, I stood still and looked back. Below me, I saw rolling hills of Slovak Paradise, or Slovenský Raj National Park, all covered by trees, I saw some steep rocks rising from below to just under my vantage point, a trail in the distance, and small rivers making their way through the landscape. The reward of the climb was, again, a great view, and I allowed myself time to enjoy it, drinking some water and taking pictures. I heard birds below me, but otherwise, I felt completely alone - and it felt great. Then, it was time to hike down again. But what I thought would be an easy walk, turned into a race against the clock. Somewhere on the way down, I missed a sign on the badly signposted trail down, and ended up on a road without any sign at all. I assumed I was on the northern side of the mountain, and walked further down; under the grey skies, it was hard to discern the sun. I even picked up the signs for the yellow trail, and ended up so thirsty that I drank from one of the small waterfalls. When I finally reached a crossroads, I found out to my horror that I had arrived west of Stratená, and still quite a hike ahead of me. The lights in the streets were already lit when I walked through the small mountain village. I tried to hitch-hike, but to no avail; when I arrived at the junction of the direct trail back to Dedinky where I had based myself hours before, I knew I had to hike all the way. I did not fear the distance, but I was afraid of the bad signposts which would be even harder to spot in the dark. And indeed, when I walked through the forest on the red trail back to Dedinky, I did not see any signs anymore after a while. It was really dark now, and whenever I lost my balance, I tried to grab something to regain it. On several occasions, my hand disappeared in a hollow tree trunk, and I started to curse.
It had seemed so easy when I left Dedinky that afternoon. I had decided to install myself on the shore of the lake on the southern side of Slovak Paradise National Park, which proved more difficult than anticipated because pensions were closed, and private accommodation proved impossible because people were not willing to open a room for just one person. I ended up in the big hotel, which was not bad after all, and at a trailhead from which I directly hiked north. It did not take more than 15 minutes to arrive at the beginning of Zejmarská gorge, a one-way hike up, and my first experience with metal ladders on rocks next to small waterfalls. I found it exciting to climb these, and was happy to find several on my way up. While before the idea of a one-way hiking trail seemed odd, I quickly understood that it would be all but impossible to have anyone coming down: it would cause hiking jams. At the same time, I was completely alone on the trail, and I quickly reached the top of it after an exciting climb through the narrow gorge. At the top, the trail widened, and so did the landscape: I found myself walking on stretches of meadows and forest - and felt great. I walked past a bunch of barking dogs that approached me, and continued on a trail leading down. Since I was much faster than the indicated times, I studied the map to extend my hike of the day, and calculated that I could make it all the way to Havrania Skala, and from there, back to Dedinky. But at the end of the day, after a great hike to the lookout point, during which I did not see anyone and started to remember my adventure meeting a brown bear the year before in similar circumstances, I was struggling to get back to my village, and my hotel. Meanwhile, I had fantasies about a great dinner: the hiking had stirred a deep appetite in me. When I realized that it was important to find the trail to Dedinky again, I knew the only chance I had was to walk straight up the hill: it would surely help me cross the red trail. In the end, I did, and from then on, it was quite an easy walk back to the village. But there, my search for a trail turned into a search for food - and after trying the few options still open, I soon found out that it was totally impossible to find anything to eat at 9.15pm. My only option now, was to buy a few litres of juice and drink them, so I at least had some energy for the night.
When I woke up the next day, I was not even hungry anymore, and although dinner is served at a very early time in the evening, I did not find any place to have breakfast that morning. I decided to change plans, and drive to the northern side of the park, try to find food there, and hike in a different environment. After a gorgeous drive to Podlesok, I had a sizable breakfast there, and I directly went to the trailhead of Suchá Belá, one of the most frequented hikes of Slovak Paradise National Park. Drops of rain were coming down when I started to hike up, and I noticed quite a few people on the trail. In fact, the many places where we had to walk up wooden or metal ladders, quickly turned into bottlenecks with people waiting to cross or climb. The Suchá Belá trail is a one-way trail as well; fortunately so. Rain was coming down more now, but I still did not wear my raincoat. Some of the metal ladders were spectacular: at times, so close to a waterfall, you could touch the water falling down. Going up proved to be very slow sometimes, as some people were scared and climbed very cautiously. In the end, I had left behind all the other hikers, and I could freely climb the rest of the trail. There were more waterfalls, and pools, tree trunks lying across the trail, and I was thoroughly enjoying the hike. When I finally reached the junction which marked the top of the trail, I was sweating heavily and I was happy once again I had not donned the rain coat, also because the rain had all but stopped. I took a few sips of water, and headed north again, on the easy yellow trail through the forest that seemed dressed up in fog. I did not see any animals here, and as the trail was leading down the mountain, the hiking proved easy and fast. There were some stretches which were a little rugged and steep, but much of the trail followed the untarred road going back to Podlesok. The closer I came to the village, the more it started to rain, until a steady rain made me increase my speed. In fact, when I reached the first houses of Podlesok, I started to run, and while it looked like a good idea to dive into one of the places that were open now, I sped to my car where I stripped off my wet T-shirt, and the windows were quickly covered by condensation. By now, it seemed clear that the weather was not going to be any good any time soon, which made it easier to leave the beautiful Slovak Paradise behind and drive off to new adventures.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Slovak Paradise National Park (Slovakia). 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 Slovak Paradise National Park.
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