Monday, February 9, 2015

As we neared the peak of Mount Giewont, I stopped. I was on the verge of hyperventilating. I hung onto the handgrips carved into the mountain with all my strength and tried to control my ragged breathing.

One minute passed. Maybe two minutes.

I was scared shitless, but at that point, quitting wasn’t really an option. This trail section was one-way at a steep 75-degree angle and lined by a heavy chain pathway. The only way to escape was to keep climbing and pulling myself up. My husband was already ahead of me, so he couldn’t help me get down either.

About 5 minutes earlier, a girl around age 12 had simply scampered up the mountain path following her father. If she could do it, surely I could, I thought. 

Oh how I wish I were young and fearless again!

If I had known that climbing Mount Giewont would have been this difficult, I probably would not have done so. Instead, I went in blindly, figuring it wouldn’t be any different from other hiking trips we’ve done in Poland.
My view from the top of Mount Giewont.
How wrong and inexperienced I was! But at least, I was wearing the proper hiking gear, including a pair of gloves and a winter hat. Even during the middle of summer, the mountain peaks in the Tatras were chilly and some peaks still were covered in snow!
Sign pointing to the last 40 minutes of hell.
On the right is the path we had to take to reach the top and looks deceptively easier in this photo!
After hiking about 20 km the day before in Morskie Oko, my muscles were straining to keep up. Small rocks slid out from under my hiking boots as I slowly inched my up the mountain. Larger rocks were damp and a thick cloud of moisture hung in the air.

Finally, my painstakingly trek was rewarded with a marvelous view over the town of Zakopane and the surrounding Tatra Mountains. I paused a moment and then sat down on some of the large boulders as far away from the jawdropping edge as possible. No handrails here!
On top of the 1894-meter summit is a gigantic, steel cross, constructed by the local Highlanders. A plaque on the cross reads: “To Jesus Christ, from the Highlanders of Zakopane. 1900.” I wonder how the heck those Highlanders carried all that heavy metal up to the mountain’s peak!
We rested at the top of Mount Giewont for about 10-15 minutes, long enough to catch my breath and to have a small snack. Apparently, other hikers thought it was a good time to have a drink because that’s what I’d like to do when I’m near the edge of death!

Soon, our clear view of Zakopane was covered up by a fast rolling mist. We quickly decided we didn’t want to be anywhere near that giant lightening rod on top of the mountain in case a storm was on its way!
My descent was 10 times easier than my ascent to the top. I even paused a moment on the heavy chains so hubby could take a photo of me. See, I can do it!
Our total hike took a little over 5 hours. I’m pleased I climbed to the top Mount Giewont simply to say I accomplished that, but I doubt I’ll ever do it again.

Would you climb up Mount Giewont?

3 lessons learned from climbing Mount Giewont:

  • Make sure you’re not standing at the top during a thunderstorm!
  • Do not climb Mount Giewont if you are afraid of heights!
  • Wear the proper hiking gear. Tennis shoes do not count! The trail is rocky and slippery in many places.

We passed this pretty green valley during our hike to Mount Giewont.
This looked like a fun lodge to stay in along the trail.

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Vicky (Deleted Blogger profile) said...

Oh my goodness, I got a lurch in my stomach just looking at the photos! Very beautiful indeed but my worst nightmare!

Alan said...

. . that chain looks like the earthing for the lightning conductor - just saying!

Joy said...

Thanks Vicky! I don't think I'll be climbing anything much higher than this either!

Joy said...

Yes, giant lightning conductor indeed! ;-)

Anonymous said...

Sat in our apartment in Zakopane this morning, I read your tale of the day you climbed to the summit... It did worry me... But I thought 'nah, it won't be that bad. ' Well... It scared me shitless as well... But I'm pleased I overcame my fear! To anyone reading this... Wear walking boots, take plenty of water and enjoy the view!

Unknown said...

It really was not that bad, I did not use the chain. In my experience, having a chain there makes it seem so much scarier and harder than it actually is. The reason the chain may be needed is if you actually use the worn down rock path next to it... if you go off to the side of the chain about a foot or two the rock isn't worn and slippy and you can climb up it just fine as long as the rock isn't wet from moisture.
I'm not a very experienced hiker, I wore regular tennis shoes for this. I've hiked in Banff Canada, Panorama Ridge in British Columbia, and Yosemite so this was the most elevation gain I've had from a hike. It was a beautiful day which I'm sure helps.
The chains make it look scary, but take a look at making the climb without the chains... what would you do, where would you step?? Might help take the fear out of it.