|Date||Monday 28 September 2009|
|Distance stage||36,5 km|
|Distance acum.||2398,5 km|
|Quality of signs||Good|
|Quality of the hike||A (fantastic!): mountains, views, extremely worthwhile!|
I have travelled to Slovakia for a two-day hiking trip. This one is going to be special as I will reach the highest point of the E8, the mountain Chopok (2023m). But first I need to cross the Lower Tatra mountains to get there. Yesterday, on Sunday afternoon, I arrived in Donovaly where I checked in at a B&B. It is situated along the big road (about the only road in town). I have walked already the first 20 minutes of the Trail, out of Donovaly into the woods, to be ready for today’s hike, as I have planned to start before sunrise. When I walk back to Donovaly I meet a group of 8 hikers who are carrying heavy backpacks. They want to go the same stage as I will be doing tomorrow, but they want to do the first part already today and camp out up in the hills. The disadvantage of Donovaly is that it looks very nice from a distance, and even on a map, but it is situated on the busiest road crossing the Lower Tatra mountain range. Due to this you hear anywhere around Donovaly constantly trucks pulling up on their way to the pass just above the valley. It goes on day and night, fortunately not so much in the weekends. I have an early dinner at one of the big restaurants in Donovaly. The sun on the terrace is comforting, there are many (Sun)day-tourists in the village, and I hope I’m ready for tomorrow’s day, as it will be long and tough.
The local church bell’s chime four times when I leave the Bed & Breakfast and cross the main road using the pedestrian bridge. The first section through the woods is well to do, using my headlight. On the map this section looks like the Trail is all straight ahead, but in reality there are many junctions and crossings. The signs are a good support here. When I am on top of the first hill, Kecka, I see the lights of Donovaly down below in the valley. In the east the first crack of dawn has arrived.
My pace is very well, and I continue with confidence through the high grass, eastbound. When I reach the Hladel’ska Sedlo Pass at 6.30am, after a steep downhill section, I see the tents of the hikers that I met with yesterday. They are still asleep, using their time advantage to sleep out. The next section goes steep uphill for 652 meters, the highest climb of today. Above 1400 meters the trees are gone and only small needlebushes, up to 2 meters high, are to be found. At the top of the Male Chocula a photographer is getting himself dressed when I pass by. He has spent the night up here to shoot the sunset last night and the sunrise this morning. He is now packing all his gear to go back to Donovaly, he explains. The Trail continous using the path that follows the main ridge of the Lower Tatras, from 1400 meters upwards. The weather is great: clear blue sky, good temperature and a slight breeze. The views in the north-east are spectacular; the Tatras (not: High Tatras) are clearly visible on the other side of the main valley in the far below. Later in the morning I meet two local men and a woman. They are picking cranberries near the top of the Zamostská Hola. They live down in the valley in the city of Ruzemberok, and have walked the way up hear to enjoy the nature and its fruits. When I explain what I am doing here the lady, Anna, dreams away. “The Ukraine is so beautiful,” she assures me, “it is really worthwhile going there.” Behind the top of the Durkova I pass the refuge Chata Durkovej. The refuge is just not visible from the path, only the signs that point to it, and the hikers on their way to and from it. For the first time in Slovakia I am on the Trail at the same time with many other hikers and tourists.
The closer I get towards the Chopok, and its cable cars that bring people comfortably from the valley up to 2000-meters altitude, the busier the path gets. I estimate that I pass approximately 300 people on the section between the top of the Pol’ana and the Chopok. The path in this section is very well taken care of, easy, smooth and wide, like it’s prepared for hundreds of tourists per day. At 3.50pm, just under 12 hours after I have left Donovaly I arrive at the refuge Kamenna Chata, at 1991 meters.
The Kamenna Chata is actually the highest point of the E8. The top of the Chopok, at 2023 meters and just 10 minutes behind the refuge, is strictly speaking not on the E8 Trail as it’s a dead end path that leads to the top, but of course everyone who came all the way up here also climbs the Chopok. The staff in the refuge is busy with serving the many customers that they have, but there’s still a place to sleep for me. My dinner is a collection of small dishes, like ommelets, sausages and fried cheese, as there are no big plates on the menu.
After dinner I climb the Chopok and enjoy the last beams of the setting sun. In the very far distance in the east the top of the Král’ova Hola, and its huge radio tower, are clearly visible. The distance between here and there, in birds flight, is over 40 kilometers, and the location looks kind of sinister, in a Lord-Of-The-Rings kind of way. The Král’ova Hola is the eastern end of the Lower Tatras, and the E8 passes it, just before descending into the valley, to Telgart. But that’s not for this hiking trip anymore. Tomorrow is my last day already.