I hiked to Rysy Peak in the High Tatra mountain range of Slovakia and stayed at the cozy hut nestled amongst the cliffs close to the peak itself. Slovakia is a beautiful part of the world that deserves so much more appreciation than it gets. Read on for my Rysy story, lots of photos, and practical advice on how you can come here to this magical place and hike Rysy yourself.
*New information as of Summer 2019.
I arrived in Slovakia — barely — from a magical rural wedding weekend in Ireland that saw me nearly miss my flight.
My pre-arranged taxi from the countryside of lovely Cork to the bus stop in Limerick that would then take me to Dublin airport simply failed to show up. Much hand wringing later, I discover it takes exactly five drunk Irish friends and kind strangers to arrange alternative transportation in the dead of a Sunday night.
Several hours later I do make it to Limerick and sit inside the relative safety of a 24-hour Tesco under the watchful eye of a concerned manager. We watch outside the window as a group of drunken youth kick around the garbage bins for no real reason either of us could discern.
My taxi driver had flatly refused to drop me off at the actual bus-stop — a dark and lonely street corner by the pier — and had insisted I instead wait inside the fluorescent warmth of the Tesco. He promised to return in time to pick me up again and take me to catch my bus.
I could hardly refuse such a sweetly protective measure from a concerned older gentleman, so there I was, sitting, with a cup of awful coffee and regretted powdered creamer that tasted like chalk and ashes.
I had a big bag and expensive electronics with me so putting my head down for a nap was out of the question. Instead, I watched with grim fascination the post-bar activities of Limerick at the ungodly hour of 4:00 a.m.
My Irish friends had warned me it was the stab-capital of Ireland.
I had missed the bus I was supposed to be on and thus my plan to check my bags and nap on some carpeted surface in Dublin airport was foiled: it was to be a night of no sleep followed by a single day of rest before heading to the High Tatra Mountains in Northern Slovakia for two days of climbing and hiking to Rysy Peak, he highest non-technical peak in the Tatras.
I'm quite an anxious flyer on my best days so I was rather...grumpy about the whole thing. I just wanted to be in Slovakia already. I wanted good food. Pyjamas and wool socks. A fluffy bed in a dark room. I didn't care about Rysy peak at that point; I dreaded it in fact.
This would be my second time climbing Rysy Peak, a few days after that it will be my second time hiking Iceland's Fimmvörðuháls Pass; beautiful places deserve a second look, especially with friends along for the ride.
Last time I was all alone.
Rysy mountain in the High Tatras, straddles the border between Northern Slovakia and southern Poland. It is the highest accessible peak in the High Tatras for hikers and climbers without requiring a guide or equipment. The mountain can be ascended freely from either the Slovak or Polish side, but the Polish side is harder and steeper.
In the wintertime, it is a serious undertaking for experts. In the summertime, it is certainly challenging but completely doable by anyone in a reasonable hiking shape.
Rysy has three summits: the middle at 2,503 m (8,212 ft); the north-western at 2,499 m (8,199 ft); and the south-eastern at 2,473 m (8,114 ft).
I arrived in Bratislava as exhausted as expected. And I wasn't done yet. A train would take me most of the rest of the way where I would be picked up. Luckily the train station in Bratislava is a close Uber ride from the airport.
Eventually, I make it to where I'm staying and go straight to bed after the hottest shower.
The next day comes way too fast. It's 6:00 a.m. and I'm awake, trying to regain my humanity with a shower. It works. Any remaining shreds of reticence disappear completely as I'm drinking my coffee in the passenger seat of the car and I see the High Tatras for the second time in my life.
They are just as impressive as the first time, just as starkly beautiful and incongruous.
Beautiful, jagged peaks, looming enormous in the distance, dwarfing the landscape.
They look like nothing else I've seen of the Slovak landscape with its gently rolling hills of bright green dotted by scores of white sheep.
It's a Saturday so the area is busy. Mostly Slovak and Polish people, I don't hear a lot of English spoken the entire time.
The beautiful wooden lodge at the start of your hike up to Rysy serves very affordable breakfasts and coffee alongside other traditional Slovak foods. Everything is reasonably priced considering the location. There is no WiFi and I can only get a weak signal in a couple of spots.
The Hike Up Rysy
The hike is more tiring for me this second time. I don't know why. I find myself stopping for a break more often than the last time I did this.
Maybe it' s because it's my first mountain hike of the season? Normally I'd have been down to the Adirondacks in Upstate New York to hike up a few more of the mountains there. We do that every year, it's a cheap active vacation in a beautiful place, but this summer there was no time with all the weeks in Europe.
So I struggle more than I should. The weather is gloomy. The threat of rain follows us up the mountain but aside from a brief sprinkle, it never comes.
We have merino wool layers that are quickly pulled on as we climb.
It's an easy enough hike for anyone to do. If you can walk, you can do this. There are many children on the trail including an awesome mother with a baby in a carrier and a little girl in tow.
Getting to the hut takes about 3 and a half hours. Rysy peak is 45 minutes past that, but you'll want to stop here:
Sleeping at Rysy Hut 'Chata pod Rysmi'
'Chata pod Rysmi' translates to 'hut under Rysy' and it is literally, underneath the peak of Rysy mountain.
You have to pass the chata on your way to the peak, and you can go inside to relax for a while over a delicious hot meal and pint of Slovak beer — but I also strongly recommend you try and book a bed for the night.
There is something special about sleeping in remote places, walking out into the night air after everyone has gone to bed, seeing the outline of jagged rocks and taking in the deafening silence of wind and sky and mountain.
There is a jolt of exhilaration that runs through the body as you stand there.
The next morning you arise early, before everyone else, and make the 45-minute climb to the peak to watch the rising sun turn the gray and black rock to brilliant shades of pink and coral.
Yes, you have to book in advance. But if you're out of luck, try and get on the waiting list.
The hut is open from June 15th until October 31st, with special accommodations for groups possible in the winter as well under certain circumstances.
The few rooms are large and dorm-style with bunk beds. You don't need a sleeping bag, blankets are provided.
There is a bathroom with a view right by the hut too.
BRING A SLEEPING MASK AND EARPLUGS!
To book a bed in the hut, visit the official website and follow their instructions:
The Menu at Rysy Hut
The food is straight-up delicious.
It is slightly more expensive here than other parts of Slovakia, but not ridiculously so. The porters who work here through the season have to lug up every ingredient, every keg, every bottle on foot up the mountain, so I will happily pay a small premium. You may run into a porter doing a run as you climb with a keg strapped to his back, still somehow going faster than you.
Here are the traditional Slovak dishes you can eat, all prepared in-house from scratch.
I had everything on the menu and can say with certainty it all really is delicious. Granted what doesn't taste good after you have climbed up a steep mountain?
The food is traditional and rustic, perfectly hearty and appropriate for the environment and activity.
Enjoy with a pint of beer or glass of wine. I like whatever the dark beer is they had on tap, I don't remember the name. And if you need a meat-free option for some reason, talk to the staff to see what they can do.
This is my favourite from the menu, it's served with a dollop of thick sour cream and dark rye bread on the side. A thick stew of beef and vegetables seasoned with paprika and other spices. Originating in Medieval Hungary, this dish is eaten throughout Central and Southern Europe too. It can be spicy or mild, here it is made mild.
This is really a special treat (and the national food of Slovakia) that you need to try while you are in the country. The version at the hut, with the crispy fried smoked sausage, is great, but it is not the best (sorry) you can get. That said, try this Slovak specialty here.
Halušky is boiled lumps of potato dough similar in appearance to gnocchi then is then mixed with bryndza a soft sheep cheese.
Halušky is also amazing on the side of a bowl of guláš.
Vyprážaný Syr (Fried Battered Cheese)
You can find this everywhere in Slovakia and I have eaten my weight of this battered fried cheese snack that is popular everywhere you go in the country. Even the train dining car served it.
Also on the menu: a cabbage stew with sliced sausage, garlic soup, a dessert called parene buchty which is a dumpling filled with jam and topped with melted butter and sugar.
Just have at it. Most dinner type things are 8 Euro and come in good portions.
A classic breakfast is served for 5 Euro if you are spending the night in the hut, it is well worth it. The white coffee is particularly good, but get some before it runs out.
Getting There & Other Practical Matters
The trailhead starts at Popradské Pleso, an alpine lake next to a beautiful hotel and several restaurants. There is great and less strenuous hiking in the immediate area as well.
The only way to get to Popradské Pleso is by walking unless you are staying at the hotel Mountain Hotel Popradské Pleso * (former Cottage Captain Morávka).
If you are driving yourself the closest parking is Štrbské Pleso where you can park your car right on the side of the road. You will see many parked cars with hikers preparing for the 60-minute walk to the trailhead.
If you are staying at the hotel, you need to contact them to issue you a limited number entry pass to be allowed to drive to the special hotel parking spot. Otherwise, you have to walk to the hotel too.
Difficulty: Moderately challenging, very steep in sections
Distance: 20 km (12.5 miles) round trip
Elevation Gain: 1345 meters (4415 feet)
Highest Elevation: Rysy has three summits: the middle at 2,503 m (8,212 ft); the north-western at 2,499 m (8,199 ft); and the south-eastern at 2,473 m (8,114 ft).
When to go: Beginning of June to September. Winter hiking is possible for people who really know what they're doing.
Length of Time:
- to the Rysy Hut: 3.5 hours.
- to Rysy peak from the hut: 45 minutes
- back down to the trailhead: 3 hours
Book accommodation at Rysy Mountain Hut:
What To Pack:
Just bring a daypack with some water and raingear, a merino layer for extra warmth, and something to block the wind. A toque that covers your ears is a good idea too. Maybe some light snacks.
If you are staying at the hut, they provide a blanket for your bed so there is no need for a sleeping bag.
So there you have it, my experience hiking up to Rysy Peak in the High Tatra Mountains.
If you have any questions, let me know in the comments, and you have been here before let me know what you think!