The First Winter In The Tatra Mountains

27th of December
I opened my eyes, looked through the window and then I saw them…Their ridge cut through the night sky. After several hours of driving, they were in front of me, and then melted away in my tears…

On the meeting with the Tatra Mountains I came with Monika and Amadeusz. Due to the late hour of arrival, we spent the first night in the lowlands. Huge forces were pushing me into the mountains, to the Tatra peaks, but I had to wait for the dawn, which would allow us to hike.

28th of December
I woke up with the first rays of the sun. After an hour, we were on the bus to Palenica Białczańska, where begins the trail to Morskie Oko. In the light of the day I could finally see my beloved Tatra mountains in all its glory. The mighty peaks under the ice cover, wended toward the sky. Pure beauty!
I got off the the bus, and headed to the entrance on the trail, fortunately less crowded than usual. So it’s not a dream! I really am here!

In front of me was a 8 km of road, in a small part spent with Monika and Amadeusz, because they quickly turned into the Dolina Pięciu Stawów Morskich (the Valley of Five Polish Ponds). When I’m wandering alone, I can look inside of me, experience the road in a different ways. In such moments, I feel really free, I can release my mind of unnecessary thoughts. I do not feel obliged to go for a compromise, I can go wherever I want.

So I went where I wanted, but it soon became apparent that many people have similar plans. The trail gradually began to fill up with more and more tourists, who in many cases with mountains had little in common.  Morskie Oko is a frequent destination for people from many places in Poland and around the world. This is definitely a place worth seeing, however, require the preparation (especially in winter) of which tourists often forget. Walking the trail, I often met a woman trying to keep a balance, standing on high heels by sections of the road covered with ice. Or the parents trying to push a pram through the snow, additionally  fighting with strong wind (it was a few days after the warm mountain wind). Crowds of people are coming to the end of the trail, then turn their backs to the mountains, taking a photo, drinking beer in the shelter and come down. And where is a place for reflection, appreciating the beauty of the landscape? Thoughtlessness of mass is shocking…

Fortunately, the mountains gave me hope. Strengthen me and helped to forget about the surrounding people. When I managed my eyes to them, then nothing except me and mountains did not exist. I lost in them, and drowned in their beauty. After a few thousand steps, I stood in front of the frozen surface of the lake, above which towered majestic peaks, in which the history of Polish climbing is written. I sat  for over an hour on a bench in front of the shelter and admired this captivating beauty. I recalled all the poetry and prose, which described this place. Generations have passed away, but the mountains still remained the same. It is remarkable that those great people, which I admire, saw the same landscapes as me now. And when I pass away, the mountains will still be standing in the peace and quiet. And new people will come to admire them.

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My phone rang. I answered and heard the voice of Dawid. He succeeded with the newly-known climber reach the summit of Cubryna (2376 m n.p.m.). After his descent from the summit, we had to meet in a shelter. And so it happened. We saw each other for the second time in life, after more than an annual conversation on the internet. It was my first trip to the Tatra Mountains in the winter and I needed someone who could introduce me to this icy world. Dawid has a lot of winter experience, so I decided to take advantage of this.  Mountains connecting people and storm the walls separating them, so almost immediately I felt as if we knew each other for a long time.

When the sun began to hide behind the tops of the mountains, we went to the old shelter, which was my second house for a couple of days. It is a truly remarkable place, filled with incredible atmosphere created by great people. Mainly climbers live here, which makes that I could feel like at home, because I was surrounded by people who understand me.
However, as usual beginnings were difficult. When I saw a crowd of people in the kitchen (main meeting place), I wanted to get away. Knowing that I have to live with them for a few days, paralyzed me. Mountains relegated to second place, and at the first, appeared a great fear. The place where I came to get freedom, has become my prison…I thought about it through the night and decided that I will try to overcome this fear.

29th of December
In the mountains I live a completely different rhythm. I create unity with nature, adapts to her. When the sun rises above the horizon, my eyelids also rise. In the morning the mountains are extremely quiet. The world is full of new, clean air. And people are filled with new opportunities. I came out of a warm sleeping bag, I took a quick shower and took place on a wooden bench in the kitchen. The room was filled with the smell of coffee, bread and porridge. Some climbers were packing up to go to the mountains, others were taking a day of rest. Me and Dawid, followed the footsteps of the second group. After yesterday’s climb, Dawid wanted to rest, whereas I rested mentally and habituated to people.

On this trip it was difficult for me to eat anything. So I lived mainly on raisins, almonds, tofu and potato pancakes, which fairly quickly began to regret. After eating a small breakfast, we went for a walk. Finally I could get closer to the mountains. I spent that day on praying for good weather, discussions, photography, reading and writing. In the mountains I always have a lot of creative inspiration. They cleanse the mind and soul of unnecessary ballast. Let rise above ourselves, giving a new space to create.
The weather was unfortunately not very good. The temperature was above 0 Celsius degrees, wind still blew, the road was icy at night, but during the day the snow was melting. I hoped it will be  -15 or -20 Celsius degrees, but the lowest temperature was -7…

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The darkness of night lit up the lights of headlamps. Climbers were returning from the mountains after a hard day of climbing. Some of them reached the summit, others had to turn back before the top. However, regardless of how high up they climbed, for each of them it was a good lesson of life. Over supper began a fascinating conversation about the present, past and future climbs. Despite the fact that most of these people make a unusual things, they did not have pride in themselves, they did not glorify their achievements. They were very modest, although many of them touched the rocks on the finest routes on the world, or felt on their faces Himalayan wind. It was my first winter season in the Tatras, and I was the youngest person in the shelter, but no one made ​​me feel in some way worse than rest of the people. Climbers captivate me with great tolerance, openness and kindness. They are a huge inspiration for me.

30th of December
While the night slowly gave way to a place for the day, me and Dawid were already on the way to Niżnie Rysy (2430 m n.p.m.). We passed Morskie Oko and headed towards to the Czarny Staw. When we left the shelter, clouds hid almost the entire mountain. Near Czarny Staw we had to decide whether we will continue to climb. When we got there, most of the clouds had disappeared, although the peaks were still behind them. The weather was still good. We could hear the wind coming from behind the mountains, but near the Czarny Staw the wind was still calm. The area became vertical, so we attached the crampons and take out ice axes.

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Below me were abysses, which could potentially be my grave. But I did not feel fear. There was no place for it. I had to concentrate on every step, every impacted ice ax in the snow, every breath. I knew that if I fall, I probably would not survive, but despite that I was in a huge peace of mind. There are moments where you can not resign, give up, let the fear took control over you. You have to climb. There is one way – to the top.

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We found two rest points, but we couldn’t spend too much time there because the body quickly get freshened. We drank some tea, ate raisins and climbed on. We were probably the first people from the last snowfall, which went to Niżnie. Snow cover was untouched. Putting new steps in fresh snow, I felt like a pioneer. It was a great feeling to be the first person who leaves a trail. Almost an hour from the summit we stepped out of the shadows, entering into the glare of sunlight. We could have a little warm after a few hours of climbing in the shade.

And here it is! The summit appeared, glittered in the sunshine and giving new strength. Small traverse to the right, a few steps up and that’s how I stood on my first winter summit (at 1 pm)! Higher was just clear sky. We climbed above the clouds and our weaknesses. Extremely beautiful panoramas of mountains surrounded me from all sides and separated from the lowlands. I felt safe among them. There was no space for the problems of everyday life, unnecessary disputes or notifications from facebook. There was only freedom, great satisfaction, passion and captivating beauty. There, at the top you can re-evaluate your life. In the face of danger and beauty of nature, the problems of everyday life lose their value. Because the truth is that don’t have any.

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Time has stopped, or passed somewhere beside. I was out of it. I stood there and wondered if it was really this peak, which scared me so much, which seemed difficult to reach. I felt proud of myself. I fulfilled my dream, I broke my weakness, I moved the horizon. Maybe this is not K2 (yet!), but undoubtedly a step in that direction. Anyway, no matter where we climb – on the highest peaks of the world or on the stairs, but if on the way to summit we overcome ourselves, we become better human beings, it is a great and important achievement!

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Ocean of clouds lazily waving in the glare of rays. It’s hard to undermine the existence of God, looking for something so captivating. It is impossible that all this beauty come by accident. Something that is impossible for a human to understand, could create only force more powerful than us, stronger than everything. When I looked at the top of Rysy (2503 m n.p.m.) and saw little points standing on it, I realized how small we are compared to nature. But despite the fact that we are small, we have enormous power and courage. We are able to stand face to face with the biggest natural forces in the name of love and the desire to move barriers, learning about ourselves and enjoy life.

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The descent was much worse for me than climbing. With a heavy heart I went down. Darkness came when we were around the Morskie Oko. After a long day of climbing, it was difficult to move horizontally. During the descent I did not drank or ate, so the last meters were for me a big effort. The road did not want to end up, and I had less and less power. Until we finally arrived!

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We went straight to the shelter to finally get something to eat, because since the small breakfast I ate only raisins and almonds. While Dawid went to get some fruit for the next days, Błażej and Grzegorz sat down at my table. They are extremely inspiring people with great experience of climbing, sense of humor, modesty and wisdom. They congratulated me my first winter ascent. I felt honored to hear those words from such wonderful people! We talked for some time, of course, mainly about the mountains. A positive surprise for me was that Błażej was reading a book written by Icelandic writer! We talked a little bit about Iceland and delighted her beauty. I could talk about my dream place in my beloved mountains with people who inspire me. In addition, shortly after the climbed into my first peak in the winter! That was undoubtedly one of the greatest moments in my life.

31st of December
Dawid went in the morning on the Cubryna (2376 m n.p.m.). The clouds were low, covering the mountains. The weather was not the best and the visibility was average. Me and the rest of the climbers in the shelter wondered if everything is okay with him. We were afraid. Nobody wanted to go with him, so he went alone. I would gladly accompany him, but I did not have such an experience. I could only wait. Fortunately, after a few hours we saw him returning safely from the summit.
He succeeded, but not everyone was so fortunate. During our trip took place a few more and less serious accidents. One climber fell from the Kościelec (2155 m n.p.m.) and died. A few days after my climb to the summit of Niżnie Rysy, a man during the climbing on the same route fell 600 feet down and was taken to hospital in critical condition. Is he alive – I do not know. From our shelter a few people had small accidents: Dawid (not this one with which I climbed, but a little older than me, with a great experience of climbing) impacted crampon on his leg, additionally, several people went to the hospital because of problems with knees, lungs or ribs. After my arrival back home I found out about another several fatal accidents. We (climbers) don’t go to the mountains for the death, but for life. But sometimes death wins. To give her a smaller chances, we should go to the mountains with humility, respect, responsibility and prudence.

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Preparations for New Year’s Eve in the new and the old shelter in Morskie Oko lasted. There was even an idea to set up fixed ropes between two shelters (New Year began, first in the old shelter, and then moved to the new), because alcohol, ice on the road and the night was not the best combination. However, it soon turned out that the climbers are already well practiced of in such situations.

A crowd of people was located in the kitchen and the hallway of the old shelter. The tradition was to convey each other a glass of vodka. Before drinking it was necessary to say a few words about yourself. More from tradition than from the desire I drank two glasses of vodka. And the rest of the night I spent only with Coca-Cola. I do not like the taste of alcohol nor its effects (although I personally never not got drunk, I have seen people under the influence of alcohol and definitely do not approve this). Although I hate events on this one, I felt extremely well. I danced all night, and in the intervals I talked with amazing people.

When midnight was approaching, the crowd of people dressed in colorful sports jackets and hiking boots came out of the shelter. The countdown began. When midnight came, everyone ran to the other people with the wishes. It wasn’t important if someone knew another person or not. Mountains and passion connecting people, so then we were all close to each other. That was truly magical moments.
So the new year has begun, and with it new perspectives, challenges, adventures, mountains and people!

1st of January 2014!
I felt a huge pain. Problems with knees returned. During climbing my stabilizer slid from my knee. In addition, night full of dancing did not give them rest. I wanted to try ice climbing, but unfortunately that wasn’t possible. Instead of climbing I went along with several other climbers to document their bath in the Morskie Oko. This time I just took pictures, but I promised myself that next time I’ll try to take a bath!

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2nd of January
Last day in the Tatras. The knee still hurt, so I had no chance to climb anywhere…I packed up, admired mountains and spent the last moments talking with people. Most of them left, or the packing to return. At the beginning I wanted to run away when I saw them, but the last day I felt regret that this is the end. However, I enjoyed the moments spent together, and the fact that I overcame my shyness. I hope that many more times we will meet in a similar group.

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3rd of January
Last time during this trip I woke up in a shelter. I ate breakfast, said goodbye and headed to the valley. I felt deep sadness saying goodbye to the mountains and the people. I want to thank you all with all my heart for these wonderful moments, for motivation and inspiration. You are truly special people and I feel honored that I could meet you and share with you a few days and nights.

Mountain increasingly moved away. From time to time I stopped and turned back, looking at them again. The closer to the valleys I was, the worse I felt. During the ride to the bus station, I could not stop the tears. And then I didn’t know if I’m going home, or just leaving…

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It’s been almost a month since the arrival of the mountains. Recent days have been filled with many responsibilities that prevented me from finding a moment to add a new post. Only when I got sick, I found the time to write something. I have to lie in bed at least to Wednesday, so I have some time to write a few more words about what has happened in this month.

Aleksandra

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