Day Two: Snowbound on Śnieżka

Dom in the Background

The Samotnia mountain hut unassumingly awaits visitors at the banks of a pond in a quiet valley of the Karkonosze National Park.

The hut, perhaps oldest structure in the region with a foundation dating back to 1883, nestles snug between a shoreline at its front and a service road at the back that winds its way to the Akademicka hut a few minutes away. In winter, the pond is covered by a gentle blanket of snow. During other seasons, the dark waters of the pond reflect the wax and wane of the snow and ice that tentatively cling to a 200 meter high headwall that encloses the valley like a cirque.

Headwall and Lake in Winter 2016

Headwall and Lake in Winter 2016

Headwall and Lake in Spring 2015

Headwall and Lake in Spring 2015

We left our hut early in the morning after a quick breakfast. Halfway up the trail to Akademicka, we stopped to put on our crampons. The snow was packed hard, and it was crusty with ice. By the time we climbed 100 meters above our starting altitude of 1195 meters, the morning sun and blue sky disappeared behind a thick, gray cloud of soup. The eagerly anticipated snow arrived with a blustering gale of wind, whose intensity increased the closer we came to the plateau above the valley floor. On the way up, the local mountain patrol overtook us on a tank-tracked four wheeler. He stopped later on his way back down the trail to ask us if everything was fine.

A Water Break on the Way Up

A Water Break on the Way Up

We reached the top of the plateau in a laggardly hour. At the intersection, we quickly put on our snowshoes for the first time. We might have taken too long in the blustering conditions. My fingertips were cold and starting to swell. Fearing frostbite, I tried to pick up our pace through the windy, snowy clouds to our next waypoint.

At the Intersection of Cold and Windy

At the Intersection of Cold and Windy

Having found the turn despite near whiteout conditions, we made swift progress towards the Czech border. Like snowmen, we reached a hut on the Czech side of the border whose microbrewed beer I ungraciously denied my frozen travel companions. I wouldn’t even stop for a hot coffee our of fear that the storm would strand us on the Czech side of the Polish-Czech Friendship Trail.

Czech Beer

Czech Beer
© Copyright El Jefe 2016

With the improved tempo of a forced march, we crossed the frozen marsh that traverses the border. A few Nordic skiers, hikers, and trail runners crossed our path. The sun broke through the clouds by the time we reached the Dom Slaski hut on the Polish side of the border.

The Polish-Czech Friendship Trail

The Polish-Czech Friendship Trail
© Copyright El Jefe 2016

Dom in the Background

Dom in the Background
© Copyright El Jefe 2016

We barely made it inside the hut for our well deserved break. Hurricane force winds swept up and over the base of Śnieżka making it nearly impossible to take off our snowshoes and get inside the front door of the hut with our large packs.

In desperate need of a good, warm meal, a paper sign on the cash register announced that plastic was not accepted—a fact stoically emphasized by the hulking punk hostess who begrudgingly took our order for coffee in English. We fortunately had enough provisions with us to circumvent my monetary mistake from the previous day. We refueled with heavy German bread and cheese as well as American made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

During the long yet necessary break, we decided to change our plan for the day. We chose to summit Śnieżka rather than practice self arrest and rope travel. Wide-eyed and innocent, we left the hut, put on our crampons, and braved the wind up to the trailhead for the mountain. Little did we consider that another snowstorm would move in during our ascent.

Our large, heavy packs made us easy targets for the estimated 70 mph winds. Regardless of our weight or our stature, we were picked up like little dolls and pushed back and forth between both sides of the trail. A few with lighter loads were able to overtake our slow ascent. Others, who obviously took the ski lift on the Czech side of the summit, came slipping down the path ahead of us. They were unprepared for the poor weather and unconcerned about the safety of others in their wake.

In a final push, we powered up the last exposed ridge, raced across the flat summit, and ducked for cover behind a chapel. A plea for heavenly intervention would not have been heard. The roar of the wind was too loud.

Blowing to the Chapel

Blowing to the Chapel
© Copyright El Jefe 2016

The buildings on top of the summit were encrusted in a thick sheet of white ice. We waddled over to the summit marker for the obligatory photo. We decided to keep our crampons on rather than seek the shelter of the Czech post office. Buying postcards was less preferable than getting blown off the mountain. We faced the wicked wind blowing from the south east and headed back down.

Gale Force Winds

Gale Force Winds
© Copyright El Jefe 2016

At the Summit (Part I)

At the Summit (Part I)
© Copyright El Jefe 2016

At the Summit (Part II)

At the Summit (Part II)
© Copyright El Jefe 2016

After a few close encounters with reckless cross-country skiers, we made it down the mountain. We then took the short route back home. The slight elevation gain was strenuous after fighting the mighty winds.

Back to Samotnia

Back to Samotnia
© Copyright El Jefe 2016

We finally made it back to our hut without any major incidents. A hot shower, a warm meal, and a refreshing beer raised our spirits while we discussed what to do the next day.

“Yet, haply, in some lull of life,
Some Truce of God which breaks its strife,
The worldling’s eyes shall gather dew,
Dreaming in throngful city ways
Of winter joys his boyhood knew;
And dear and early friends—the few
Who yet remain—shall pause to view
These Flemish pictures of old days;
Sit with me by the homestead hearth,
And stretch the hands of memory forth
To warm them at the wood-fire’s blaze!”
Snow-Bound: A Winter Idyl by John Greenleaf Whittier

Print
0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *