You know that feeling?
You can’t sleep, you can’t eat. Everywhere you look – it’s there.
You dedicate it every thought, even song in the shower.
Friends yawn discreetly when they see you, the clever ones suddenly have to pick up children from kindergarten.
But they have no children.
The more signals you have, the less you see them.
Just don’t tell mum.
Orla Perć (The Eagle’s Path) stuck in my brain obsessively and absolutely in 2009. I apologize in advance if it’ll stuck in yours as well. At first, my friends went there, then I argued with my knee, and eventually I left country and Tatras* became … ‘out of the way’. It took me 7 years, but in the end I completely freed myself. It happened. Me and Orla met twice, in two parts and in a big interval of time, but still – it happened.
Just don’t tell mum.
But what is Orla Perć? They say it’s the most difficult trail in the Polish Tatras. Some say the most difficult at all. Ridges, edges, exposure. Heights, threat and beauty. Everything covered with metal chains, buckles** and fear with more than one person paralyzed by panic. I knew one thing. Zawrat – Kozi Wierch (Goat’s Peak) – Granaty (Grenades) – Krzyżne. I had to be there.
Before you listen to my Orla Perć story and you’ll decide whether you want to do the same or not, please remember one thing.
Just don’t tell mum. And, at best, skip all 5 ruthless facts about Orla Perć.
Cause you have to know it is …
And I’m not talking here about a subjective impression after looking into the mirror early in the morning.
No, it’s a completely different story. It doesn’t matter if you have some fears or not, you will experience some on Orla Perć. But don’t worry – it’s even a good sign as long as not turned into a panic.
What may frighten you there is…
Or the famous ladder at Zawrat – Kozi Wierch section (at photos looks worse than in reality):
Or maybe the person in front of you, who (you can tell) is here the first and certainly the last time (don’t worry – mostly by choice).
Or a person behind you, impatiently awaiting his turn, deciding to pass the both of you at the most appropriate time.
Anyway you will be afraid. Or at least let’s hope so.
What I was afraid of on the trail? I have no fear of heights, but the view of suddenly emerging solid rock from behind a ridge, or chain in a less sunny place, with the slippery footing always aroused respect. And the clouds. I was always afraid of clouds.
Just don’t tell mum.
Let’s face it, it’s a physically demanding trail. Starting from the overall endurance to physical strength. If you practice hiking anywhere on the earth – you’ve got the advantage. If you practice any other sport (or not at all) and you want to ‘have a first go’ in the mountains, Orla Perć shouldn’t be your first pick. I’m not the alpha and omega, but I know how long muscles recover after 12 h wander in the mountains (or 4 with a heavy backpack) and I know how important preparation is. Not to mention it helps avoiding accidents.
How did I prepare myself? We just hike and walk a lot in general. You can read about it here (Ogwen Valley), here (Snowdon) and here (Glyderau Walk). It does the main job for legs and regarding upper part of the body gym probably wouldn’t hurt, but I prefer pull ups at home.
What was the most demanding factor on the trail? First of all – sections where the entire weight of the body relies on the chain. For shorter people there is much more of these (I was lucky to born tall and at least one leg always rested somewhere).
Second of all – time. When together with Pawel we were doing Kozi Wierch– Krzyżne part we didn’t hurry too much and on the way back we had to almost run. Our way to the car ended up in complete darkness (just don’t tell mum!), luckily with a torch, but as well with fear of bears that could be around. That was a lesson for us and I started Orla Perć much earlier on my second try. This gave me a lot of ‘mental slack’.
When planning a trip to Orla Perć keep in mind regarding time:
- the trail by its own takes around 8 h but add walking time to and from refugees, depending on the options you selected to get there;
- the trail is busy in the summer. If you are planning a route in June / July / August add some queueing time. We did both parts at the very end of August and we confirm – there are queues.
- if you want to avoid the crowds start Orla Perć early in the morning. The best way to do that is sleeping in a refugee (Dolina Pięciu Stawów or Murowaniec). You are saving a few hours and don’t have to rush out on the trail.
You can, or even should check the weather forecast before heading the trail. In addition, meteorological info is available in most refugees. Remember however, that Orla Perć is a high mountain trail and you spend most of the time above 2000 m a.s.l., so weather can be moody. Be prepared for change and if the risk of storm is high (usually these are coming in the afternoon, so if possible be early on the trail!), or even the rain, don’t go up. Slippery terrain, fog and poor visibility can make a nice hike turned into hell. Not to mention the storm in the high mountains – you really want to avoid it.
We wanted to try Orla Perć a few times, but resigned twice due to the weather (yes, it hurt!). Fortunately, the two other tries were successful and we did it in amazing sun, but the clouds were always round the corner:
So moody is a good term.
Just don’t tell mum.
4) TOO BEAUTIFUL TO COME BACK
I’m not coming back. Just don’t tell mum.
Over the years Orla Perć took a huge amount of human lives. Just as a warning: from 1906 there was 140 people who died there. Before you decide to take a trail make sure you’re physically and mentally ready. And well, don’t tell mum.
Fortunately, there are things you can and even should tell mum, like:
- Orla Perć is a one-way trail (Zawrat – Kozi Wierch section), which increases safety there;
- Crowds aren’t always bad. If you encounter a mental barrier while you’re up, you’ll always find someone to help;
- Orla Perć is well marked. With good visibility you can easily find the trail (it doesn’t release you from obligation to carry map and compass). A good habit is to keep at least two points with a painted ‘mark’ in the line of sight, so you won’t get lost.
A handful of practical information:
- you can reach Orla Perć from the gentler side (Dolina Pięciu Stawów) or difficult one (Hala Gąsienicowa – Murowaniec).
- getting to Orla Perć requires some logistics:
Park on Palenica Białczańska (if you want to go to Dolina Pięciu Stawów) or near Kuźnice (if you want to go to Hala Gąsienicowa – Murowaniec) , parking cost is around 30 PLN (polish zloty). Out of season relatively less. From there you reach the chosen refugee by foot and then you hike to the part from which you’ll start your adventure with Orla.
You need to reach the Zakopane city. If you commute from Cracow, buses depart almost every hour (cost approx. 20 PLN). From every other town: train, bus or PolskiBus.
From Zakopane you catch bus to Palenica Białczańska, or Kuźnice (Cost around 10 PLN). Now follow instructions above.
Remember to plan time of hiking well. If you don’t plan to sleep in a refugee I wouldn’t recommend to make the whole trail. In 2011 we did Palenica Bialczasnka – Dolina 5 stawow – Kozi Wierch – Krzyzne – Dolina Roztoki trip and it took us 12 h. The second, much shorter part I did much later in 2016 and slept in refugee (cost about 40 PLN in room with other people, some refugees allow sleeping on the floor for about 20 PLN, anybody interested please contact us). I would definitely recommend that way of hiking now.
- Orla Perć is best to attack in the summer. Winter here lasts much longer than a few months and even late spring (May, June) and early autumn (September) you may encounter snow. In fact, snow might be there every time a year, but summer months give you more room for maneuver (but also more storms).
- If at any time during the hike you’ll decide that ‘it’s enough for today’ remember to get to a safe place and go down with a marked trail. As a rule, it’s better to do it in the Dolina Pięciu Stawów direction, although the trail Kozia Przelecz – Dolina Pięciu Stawów is also exposed and may cause difficulties.
- Remember that it’s also getting dark in the mountains, so torch is quite useful
- First aid kit weighs not much, and sometimes becomes handy. If not for you, then for someone around who needs your help;
- Don’t forget to pack an adequate supply of water, extra food ration and warm clothes as well as waterproofs. Not to mention hiking boots.
- Entrance to Tatrzanski Park Narodowy (National Park) costs a few PLN. You pay it at the beginning of the trails;
- Remember about respecting nature and for less aware – yes, we have bears here, so it’ s better not to wander at night (let us be an anti-example for you)
- If for some reason you forgot to buy a map you can always buy it before you enter the trails (I highly recommend buying panoramas shots as well, you can admire views and know what you are looking at!)
My adventure with Orla began long time ago and even though I was there only twice, my mind hiked there all the time. After 5 years I’ve treated her with a bigger respect, but with a bit of nonchalance in a sense. I craved for more, good weather added me wings and at some point I forgot how dangerous this trail can be. Fortunately chain in my hands and abyss every 3 seconds quickly reminded me about reality. Today Orla Perć is going to the past, but of course I’ll be back there. For now, it is important I freed myself from the obsession. The only thing that remains is to pass it to someone new…
So, when do you set off?
Just don’t tell mum ***.
* Tatras – the highest mountain range in the Carpathians (Slovakia, Poland). Apart from Orla Perć there is plenty to see out there.
** Climbing aids in the High Tatras are a common thing. Chains, buckles and ladders are there to increase security and make difficult moments on the trail accessible
*** But seriously – DO tell your mum/ friends etc. When planning a hiking trip always inform where, when and with whom you go. Also specify the time of your return. It’s recommended to do it in a refugee as well. In the event of an accident, rescuers have a reference point.