It all started quite innocently, I thought I was going hiking in Slovensky Raj (Slovak Paradise) on my own, so I found a website of tours and wrote down the names of the destinations along the way and the colour of the routes to follow for a 5 hour, 10 minute tour. I asked at the hotel reception about a map, and then asked whether she thought I needed one. The receptionist replied no, and I believed her. I now think she doesn’t actually go for hikes, or she wouldn’t have given me such bad advice! Anyway, on to the hike…
We started off at 12:30pm – John, Minka and I and a backpack (John decided they would join me after all). The first stretch was pretty boring, past houses, through fields, and I was convinced I’d chosen a crap route where we wouldn’t get to see much. Then we finally entered the forest, and it got nicer. There were still people everywhere, and we had to try to overtake a bunch of rowdy Slovaks on a group tour to try to get some peace in the forest. There were some pretty impressive views from some very steep cliff drop offs along this first section, so it was starting to get more awesome and wild, but John was convinced by now that we weren’t going to get into any real wilderness – and when we walked past a guy chatting on his mobile phone while trekking along, I was starting to agree.
We were swapping between carrying Minka and her walking, so we were behind time by the time we arrived at a little ‘Bufet’ (beer on tap and snacks) at the Letanovsky Mlyn. We stopped for a beer of course, and I stamped my paper with their ‘I made it this far’ stamp. When we were ready to head off, John told me he was worried about the time and that we wouldn’t make it before dark. Well I hadn’t gone this far to turn around and go back – we hadn’t even gotten to the good bits yet, and I had been waiting years to do this hike. I convinced him we should trek on, we would start carrying Minka the whole time and we would increase our pace. He reluctantly agreed – I wasn’t taking no for an answer either way.
So we headed off into the forest, and were a little worried by the fact that no one else seemed to be taking this route so late in the day. But soon after we were rewarded with a close viewing of seven kozel (mountain goats) doing their thing on the mountain side. Pretty awesome! John loves goats so this was pretty special for us. And there were also a couple of guys walking the same direction as us, which made us feel a lot better, although we lost them not long after.
We kept trekking, and the terrain started to get more difficult, with metal steps hanging out from the side of rock faces and chains to hold onto to avoid slipping on the slippery rocks. I had Minka on my back at this stage, in my trusty Ergo Baby Carrier (lifesaver!), so I had an added 15kg that I was lugging around, and had to be careful to keep balance due to the extra weight on my back. But I was determined, and so I attacked the course at a pace I didn’t know I could even keep myself.
We were now in the wilderness, climbing up a creek through treacherous terrain. If I had stopped to think too long at any of the ladders/chains/metal steps protruding from the side of cliffs, I would have been much too scared to continue with Minka on my back. I remembered back to several years ago when I did the same trail, and not only was one of the metal steps missing, but the chain was also broken at the exact point where a bit of the rock jutted out along a cliff face. I stopped and thought about it for too long back then and got scared and thought I would plummet to my death! I was so happy to find when I got to that point this time that all the metal steps had been replaced and the chain fixed! The kid on my back meant it was still pretty difficult though!
Soon enough we were trekking through a river at the bottom of the cliff views we had been looking over earlier. I was very grateful for my new waterproof hiking boots at this stage… and then we arrived at the first waterfall ladder. Yep, we were climbing up ladders up the side of a waterfall – pretty awesome, and pretty dangerous with a kid on your back, especially when the chains you need to use to pull yourself onto the slippery rock at the top are loose. I had to wait at the top of the first ladder for John to come up, and stand behind me in case I slipped and fell. This was only the first of many waterfall ladders we had to climb, with wooden step ladders, metal bridges over creeks, and metal steps protruding from cliff faces and chains in between.
Our trek in the forest had become a fast-paced adrenaline packed adventure, gruelling and scary at times especially due to the little person on my back! But this was what I was here for, so I was happy. By the time we had climbed up from the creek bed to the top of the mountain I was exhausted, every up hill step I took painful and any larger than normal step up required mental power to fuel the physical action. We did this part of the route, which was the most difficult and meant to take 45 minutes, in 35. With a kid on my back. You can call me superwoman if you like!
I had achieved my feat, and so gave Minka up to John and we continued up the mountain side to the Klastorisko – a pub/restaurant… but it was closed and the area was all but deserted! We started to get a little concerned at this stage, especially as we had pretty much run out of water. We followed the route directions on my trusty piece of paper, but stupidly I did not check the signpost here. If I had I would have seen that there was a quicker route back to Cingov, where our car was parked. So we went down the hill down the yellow track. After a while John got worried we were going the wrong way, so we headed back up the hill so I could ask the people that were up there (I had seen a car near the restaurant). I half ran up the hill so John wouldn’t have to go so far back up hill with Minka on his back if we were going the right way. There was a lady in the tiny house at the front of the monastery ruins, so I asked her if we were going the right way. She said yes, so I yelled down to John and we went downhill, again.
This time we continued on past where we had stopped before, and it got pretty steep again, and soon enough we were back in the creek bed. WTF? We followed my directions (which were confirmed by the lady at the monastery house) and got to the bottom of what looked like the first waterfall ladder we had ascended. OMG. NO! By this time it was about 6pm, and the sun set at 6.52pm. We were running out of time and were deep in the forest, with no map and no real idea which way it was quickest to get back out to our car, with a kid. I climbed the ladder to check if it was the same one, and sure enough it had the loose chains at the top. We started freaking out a bit at this stage. My mind started going into panic mode, but I caught it – panic was not going to get us out of this, so I switched to problem solving mode. If we didn’t have a map, I had to call someone who did and try to explain to them where we were so they could tell us which way to go – in Slovak mind you.
I phoned my friend who I knew had a map of the area (he had offered to lend it to me but it hadn’t eventuated). I described to him where we were, and he told me the quickest route was to head down the creek back the way we came. There was no chance we were going to go back through that treacherous terrain when it was nearly dark with Minka on our backs, so I asked him for the safest rather than the quickest route. It ended up that we had to go back up to the Klastorisko (where we hadn’t checked the direction markers), and then walk another 1 and a half hours from there! But it was mostly flat, except for a steep decline back down to the creek so we took this option as darkness was creeping up on us.
We started to climb the mountain again for the second time, and bumped into some walkers (the first we had seen in hours). They had a map, so we had a look and they asked us why we were heading uphill to end up going back downhill again to the creek, but then agreed that we were taking the safer route with a kid with darkness fast approaching. They asked if we had a torch because soon it would be very dark – all I had was my phone torch, and luckily I had the portable USB charger with me fully charged, as I was running out of battery.
John managed the climb up the mountain with Minka on his back for a second time, without any water, and when we got to the top the car I had seen before was gone. I freaked out for a second, as I thought that meant there was no one there… but we checked and there were two men left there. I went in and asked if we could buy some water from them. One of the guys was asleep sitting up – passed out and snoring, and the other was trying to wake him up. They looked super seedy, and after asking a couple of times with no reply, we left empty-handed and pretty distressed. We needed water!
Then one of the guys followed us out, and called us back in and even offered for us to stay the night with them, and continue down in the morning, but I didn’t feel comfortable staying there and just wanted to finish our journey. We filled up our water bottle, had a quick chat, had a pat of the tiny kitten he’d found in the forest, and then he offered a shot of his homemade slivovica (plum brandy). I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to be offered alcohol! He warned me that it was strong (52%), and then he poured me a massive shot of it (double shot). The other guy who had been passed out sitting up on a bench until now woke up, looked around with a bit of a shock to see us, offered us to stay, and then had a shot with us! It was the tastiest slivovica I had ever tried, it was so sweet and had such a strong plum flavour, but you could tell it was super strong by the after taste. John decided to stay sober to make sure we got out of the forest, but I needed that (double) shot for fuel to continue the mission and keep up the positive mindset.
We had the shot, drank some water, and left with a full bottle, back up to the directional marker where we first made our mistake. We found that the car was in the opposite direction to the way which we had walked, twice, down the mountain and up again. The lady had pointed us in the opposite direction to which I had asked for some reason! It was already starting to get dark, dusk was upon us as we set out along the blue trail that would get us out of the forest and back to safety! But soon after we headed off the road we arrived at a huge open field, and the trail split into three! WTF? We decided to take the middle path, and passed a cat along the way, which was probably the mother of the kitten the men had ‘saved’. If we weren’t in a possibly life threatening situation I would have gone back to reunite the kitten with it’s mother, but we couldn’t – we had to trek on.
The track we had chosen entered into some forest and there was no trail marker for a while, so we walked on while freaking out that we might be going the wrong way for quite a while. By the time we found a trail marker, I had to check with my phone light if it was blue, as it was getting hard to see. We kept the phone light off as long as we could, so as not to ruin our night vision and not waste phone battery as that was both our only way to contact help, and our only light source, and soon we would need it! We could hear animal noises and freaked out that a bear was close to the path at one stage, but realised it likely wasn’t, and hoped the noises were just cows in the distance.
We trekked for what felt like forever, and then the trail started on a steep downward descent, with chains along the way to help you down the slippery rock faces. By this stage it was pitch black and I was using my phone torch to light the path for us. I’m so happy John had Minka for this leg because he was a lot firmer on his feet on the slippery downward slopes. It was near impossible to follow the trail in the dark, even without the steep descent, because it wasn’t particularly pronounced, and so every time we saw a route marker we felt relief that we were still heading the right way.
We finally got down to the creek, Biely Potok, after a twenty-minute super steep and scary descent, and looked at the directional marker. Still 40 minutes back to town, and further still to the car, but the difficult part was behind us now so a sense of relief washed over us. We headed over a bridge over the creek and followed the path, which was super flat and easy to follow compared to the path we had just endured. We started speed walking, and Minka was asleep on my back by this stage the poor pickle! Along this part of the track we even bumped into a couple walking their dog by torchlight, which again gave us a sense of relief that we were finally close to civilisation again.
We started walking past houses, and then finally we exited the forest! OMG! We made it out alive! But there was still another ten minutes to walk to the car, and by this time our legs were wrecked! We’d been trekking for 8 hours 40 mins including all the crazy mountain climbs and descents, while sharing a 15kg weight (Minka) on our backs! We hadn’t had lunch, John was fuelled only by a pint of beer and a couple of coffees with cream, and I had been fuelled by a wine spritzer, a beer, a double shot of slivovica and the majority of a 100g block of Milka chocolate (we had plenty of food for Minka). There was a pub on the way to the car so of course we stopped for a celebratory beer, some soup and some take away food. The emotions were running high at this stage, with John going from “that was amazing” to “OMG you’re a cunt, that was fucked up” from second to second, and back again. All understandable.
When we finally got into the car the gratitude explosion was huge, and I’m still, two nights later, unpacking the trek and how intense of an experience it actually was, and how lucky we are to have gotten out alive and unscathed. Only now am I able to admit that one incorrect placing of our feet could have meant tumbling to our deaths, especially after it got dark. Slovakia doesn’t believe in safety rails and you know what? I’m grateful for that too. I’m happy we made the decision we made to keep going on from the Bufet instead of heading back, if we had headed back from there we may have been safer, but I would not have left feeling fulfilled.
Important Lessons learnt:
- Always, ALWAYS take a map with you when you go trekking (and don’t listen to receptionists!)
- Always, ALWAYS check EVERY directional marker you walk past (and don’t be cocky or ask random people for directions)!
- Carry a torch while trekking, even if you don’t expect to need one.
- Don’t leave for a deep forest trek after midday.
- I am stronger and braver than I give myself credit for.
- Risk taking is an important part of continuing to appreciate and enjoy life to its fullest.
Important Lesson reminders:
- I am in control of my mind and emotions.
- Mind over matter.
- A strong will, determination and a positive attitude will get you anywhere (even out of a forest well after dark!)
- Take time to appreciate your loved ones and the life you live.
- There’s nothing like a fast-paced meditative adrenaline filled full body workout adventure to add the ‘Joie de vivre’ back to your life and make you feel alive again!
Slovensky Raj (Slovak Paradise) – it always delivers a life changing experience! You know, I never liked the word epic, but now I realise I just never liked the context in which it was used. I now know the true meaning of the word epic and feel comfortable using it here – this was an epic mission. And we slayed it!
From views, to fields and into the forest…. to the Bufet pri Letanovskom Mlyne. The calm before the storm…
The fun begins… and Minka’s playground climbing skills come in handy…
Then we ended up in the creek bed, and arrived at the first waterfall ladder… of many… which we would revisit later when lost and going around in circles with dusk fast approaching…
Bachelor of Arts / Bachelor of Science
Currently studying: Master of Human Nutrition
But most importantly, Imperfect Mother / Human