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We’re now in a “chata” in the High Tatras mountain range—one of the smallest mountain ranges in the world in terms of square mileage of the landform. We’re boarding here, so get meals and a bed with other hikers. This will be a new one for me, sleeping in a big dorm room with 16 other people in the same room. I’ve told Erik to be sure to nudge me if I start snoring! And I’ve made sure to bring my earplugs to drown out whatever random noises 16 people make.  It’s very, very cold and windy and clouds are moving in low. It’s completely beautiful scenery with very sharp, jagged rock faces poking into the sky, and the flora is lush and green and full of tall flowers.  This whole region from southern Poland to here is in bloom with pretty flowers right now. 

It's kind of strange to be up high in this very rugged landscape and be able to still see down to the flatland below. Kind of cool how short a distance you can travel on the X axis to end up so high on the Y axis.

Looking downstream toward the flat land below the High Tatras mountain range, Slovakia.

Erik walking the stone path through lush forest in the High Tatras, Slovakia.

Mountain peaks in the High Tatras, Slovakia.

Steep valley in the High Tatras mountain range, looking out at the flat land below. Slovakia.The trail is sometimes just a jumble of rocks in the High Tatras mountain range, Slovakia.Darkness is settling in around us here in our chata. Cold outside but warm inside, at least in the dining room where I sit now typing on my laptop.  I’m surprised at how much wi-fi internet access there is in this region. So far we’ve only used an internet café once (the 10 minute update which was really only about 6 minutes).  Naturally, we don’t have it here in the mountains, but we saw it advertised in the town at the base of the hiking trail network.  Will send this from there.  Our plans for tomorrow remain in the air, pending weather activity. It’s below freezing here now. The sun has officially set but light lingers. However, my laptop battery does not. This is the view from the window in the dining room of the chata where we have been enjoying our beer lugged up the mountain by the remarkable porters.
Looking out the window of our chata in the High Tatras, Slovakia.
Who are these remarkable porters of which I speak? We talked to one who said he was training for track sports in the Olympics; we saw a couple other guys the Olympic logos on their shorts. They were carrying an ungodly amount of supplies on their back ... the total height of their load a solid 8 feet. And hiking over very uneven, rocky terrain. And not only that, but faster than most other hikers. Truly astounding. Seriously, our beers and food taste significantly better knowing the effort it took to get it up here. I almost feel like royalty.
Porter carrying loads of food and drinks up the trail to the chatas in the High Tatras, SlovakiaEarly morning outside our chata in the High Tatras mountain range, Slovakia.

High adventures in the High Tatras. Continuing my narrative to the next day ... like falling into a well-worn groove, hiking in the high-altitude quietude with a pack on my back is like a homecoming of sorts, home to some of my earliest and most prevalent life experiences. What’s really great about it, is that my pack was only a nice sturdy day pack (thanks, Julie!) with low weight. So I was able to keep my balance just fine scrambling over extensive lengths of rock falls and when hoisting myself up the chains when I scaled the sheer mountainside. … Yes, when I first saw where our “trail” went, I gasped and proclaimed disbelief and several utterances of “oh my gosh, I wasn’t expecting this.” The little icon that denotes a “difficult” trail on the map is a hiker bent over crawling up a steep incline. Based on the accuracy of this icon, I must presume that you can push a pram along the “easy” trails. Climbing over the pass of the mountain range is accomplished by hoisting yourself up using a series of heavy chains drilled and anchored into the rock face. For about 45 minutes we planned out footings and hauled ourselves up the rock face by metal chain, with the same sort of body posture as repelling down a rock face, only we were hauling ourselves up.  Quite the experience, particularly when we thought we were just on your typical hike… But the reward was worth it for amazing views. On the left photo, look for more red dots higher up the rock face from where I've pointed out "people" to get an idea of the route.
Steep rock face with people, very tiny in perspective, climbing up.

Shara pulling herself up with the chains bolted into vertical cliff face. High Tatras, Slovakia.

Climbing the rock face with chains; you can see the walking trail far below. High Tatras, Slovakia.

At the top of the pass, we've pulled ourselves all the way up on the chains bolted into the rock. High Tatras, Slovakia.

It’s really a gorgeous island of mountains here, high alpine lakes glittering in the sun, grassy meadows littered with lichen-encrusted boulders peeled from the vertical cliffs above us. We even hiked across a stretch of snow.  Tired, pained in the knees (though better since using disposable ice packs) and now half-full of beer (and they served us a mini-glass of red wine with our dinner), it’s been a perfectly lovely day. Now as the light fails, Erik is reading out loud to me from Ursula K. LeGuin’s “Lathe of Heaven.” A book about dreams gone awry, and funny enough we both had dreams last night about our kitty, Curly Q. (In Erik’s dream she multiplied into different sized clones, and in mine she was kidnapped by a stranger.) I didn’t bring reading material, and now my laptop battery is REALLY low. I’m a super happy camper tonight and will probably dream of magical landscapes and deep, deep peace.

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