Be safe in the Tatra Mountains
The Tatra Mountains have been experiencing the most considerable tourist siege for years. The mountains constantly fascinate. Overcoming one's fears and training one's character is a tempting challenge, but only a sensible tourist can take full advantage of what the mountains have to offer. It is necessary to remember a few fundamental rules, which are presented below.
Be original and plan a route that suits your form
Giewont, Morskie Oko, Rysy – these are iconic places in the Tatra Mountains and the destinations most often chosen by tourists. Unfortunately, not every hiker is aware of the challenges of moving in mountainous terrain, sometimes harsh and demanding. There is no shortage of cases when people are surprised by the difficulty of the terrain, the length of the approach or the return route. Therefore, a key aspect before going on a mountain trip is to plan the route. The Tatra National Park offers a network of hiking trails of varying lengths, in varying terrain and with varying degrees of difficulty. It is worth sitting down with a map a day before the planned hike and thinking about the trip's purpose. A prudent hiker always chooses a lighter route for the first day, which serves as a warm-up and a test of their individual form. Only on subsequent days does he/she take on real challenges and more demanding routes. When planning a trip, you should take into account:
- the length of the route from the starting point to the destination and the way back,
- the length of the day,
- the weather forecast,
- your personal shape.
Weather factors play a decisive role in the choice of route, but above all, you need to assess your strength and ability and translate it into the length of the day. In summer, hiking can sometimes last up to 12 hours, but in autumn, the days are getting shorter, so it is worth bearing this in mind when choosing a route.
A map is a must
One of the essential items to pack in your backpack is a map. Thanks to it, you can plan the route in detail and check the times of particular sections. Moreover, a map is a source of information about the surrounding terrain – you can find geographic names, altitudes, and even sometimes natural specimens are marked on it. Having a map is essential to gain orientation in the terrain; it allows the modification of the trip and evaluating potential routes in the case of necessity. In the case of a sudden break in the weather and hiking in fog, a map can be the primary source of information about the direction and course of the route. Experienced hikers know that conditions in the mountains are very changeable, and sometimes a route needs to be shortened or an alternative option chosen. Before setting out on a trip, it is necessary to calculate the route times given on a map and to remember about the return route.
An alternative solution is the mobile applications offered by TPN, TOPR, e.g., "Twój Tatrzański PN" or "Ratunek". Installing the application allows following and recording the traces of your trips and reaching the necessary information and descriptions. Geo-localisation indicates the current location and verifies the route; a map of the Tatra Mountains is also available for download. What is essential, the application also describes safety rules in the mountains and warnings about current dangers. With the "Ratunek" application, you can easily and quickly call for help even without knowing your exact location in case of an accident or getting lost. Apps for monitoring weather conditions and the storm situation are an absolute minimum to reach for before a trip. All you need to do when you go out in the mountains is keep your phone charged.
The higher the mountain, the colder it gets: make sure you are comfortable and choose the right clothing
Hikers often succumb to the illusion of good weather conditions at the foot of the mountains and set off completely unprepared. It is important to remember the critical principle of temperature change in the mountains: for every 100 metres of altitude, the temperature drops by between 0.6° and 1°C. In addition, physical exertion causes the body to cool down quickly when resting, so a warm sweatshirt is very useful. Even on the hottest days, the temperature in the mountains can drop considerably (e.g., after a storm), and cloudless days are often very windy, especially in the higher elevations. A hooded jacket, a raincoat, long trousers and a sun hat are fundamental items of summer mountain clothing that every hiker should have with them.
Undoubtedly, the basis for a successful trip is properly chosen footwear. Good shoes should, above all, be comfortable, durable and have a good grip on the rock. Without the right footwear, even the most beautiful hike can turn into an ordeal.
Apart from suitable shoes and warm clothing, it is also worth taking care of additional equipment. A headlamp will be indispensable; if the route is long, it is good to have it at the bottom of your rucksack so that there is no hurry even when returning at dusk. Trekking poles will help you work out the rhythm of even the most strenuous ascent and will relieve your knees when descending. When going to higher parts of the mountains, in places where the hike is enriched with climbing elements, it is advisable to consider taking a helmet to protect your head.
The list of essential equipment is quite long, but current technologies make clothing and equipment light, so it is worth investing a little to enjoy a comfortable and beautiful trip later on.
Go beyond the average and take care of the necessary provisions
Increasingly often on the Tatra routes, especially those quite accessible, you will find typical hikers without any equipment. Wandering around with a bottle of drink in hand has recently become quite a fashionable phenomenon, especially among those who reach Kasprowy Wierch by cable car and decide to return to Kuźnice on foot. Luckily, there are shelters where you can buy water or tea, but they are not always on our way.
Apart from warmer clothes, you should take care of provisions before the trek. While with physical effort, the appetite is not the most important thing, and you will regain it after some time, proper body hydration is essential. When planning a day trip, you must take with you an appropriate amount of liquid, preferably water or an isotonic drink, which is sufficient for the whole planned route. Often a thermos bottle with hot tea proves extremely valuable because in the high-mountain climate, including the Tatra Mountains, the weather changes very dynamically. During an ascent, it is worthwhile to provide yourself with additional energy, which can be provided by a piece of chocolate or a bar, as well as bananas and nuts.
Remember not to drink all the liquid on the ascent, even in moments of crisis, as there is still the way back.
If the planned trip’s route passes through mountain huts, it is worth looking inside and having a warm soup or dinner. Your appetite is growing, and every meal during the hike is on a par with the most exquisite feast.
Check the forecast and watch the sky
Even though beautiful weather is already half the battle for a successful hike, the weather in the mountains can be capricious, especially in summer during stormy periods. Therefore, one of the first steps before setting out on a trail should be a thorough review of the weather forecast. If storms are forecast, you should consider not going out or modifying your route, choosing a shorter variant, and preferably setting out in the morning. Remember that during a storm in the mountains, we are not safe anywhere outside shelters.
The Tatra Mountains have their own rules, and weather forecasts are not always accurate, so it is worth keeping an eye on the conditions. If you hear a storm approaching from afar, change your plan and turn back to a safe place, especially from the ridge. It is not a good idea to be influenced by the behaviour of other tourists, who, despite the approaching storm, are unaware of the danger, and keep climbing up. However, if a storm surprises you, you should descend as quickly as possible; above all, you should immediately get off the ridge, move away from the rocks, and not touch the chains. During a storm, avoid open spaces and do not hide under trees. It is best to crouch down in a safe place, where you will not be the highest point in your surroundings (but not under the rocks) and wait out the storm, keeping yourself isolated from the ground and avoiding clusters of people. Storms in the mountains are violent and very dangerous, especially in rocky terrain. Let us recall as a warning one of the most tragic storms in the Tatra Mountains, which happened in August 2019 near Giewont. At that time, five people died, and 150 were injured. Everyone planning to go to the Tatra Mountains should obligatorily make sure to charge the batteries in their phone and write down the TOPR emergency number: 601 100 300. However, remember to call the emergency services in emergencies only.
New apps for climbers, ski tourers and cave mountaineers
The Tatra National Park launched two mobile applications in autumn 2021, which will operate in parallel with the so far known websites wspinanie.tpn.pl and jaskinie.tpn.pl. The apps are aimed at surface mountaineers, extreme skiers and cave climbers. The TPN Wspinanie application has been launched for registering climbing outputs for surface mountaineers and slopes for extreme skiers, and the TPN Jaskinie application has been launched for cave mountaineers. The apps are available for both Android and iOS cell phones. They can be downloaded via the Google Play Store app (Android) and the App Store platform (iOS), respectively.
Do not forget that you should use common sense and caution in the mountains, especially in high mountains. Sometimes the most important and the most challenging decision to be made may be to return from the planned route, but the most important thing is to come back happily. Remember, the Tatra Mountains will wait, and every experience you gain on the route makes you a more mature tourist.
TOPR: 601 100 300
When planning a trip to the Tatra Mountains you should:
- obligatorily take care to charge the battery in your phone,
- note down the TOPR emergency number: 601 100 300.
Remember! TOPR should be called in emergencies only.
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