Zelenom Plese and Jahňací Štíť

The trail to Zelenom Plese (Green Lake) began amid a logging operation. Hikers passed aromatic timber and dormant equipment before their journey through unadulterated nature truly began. A crossroads and its accompanying sign acted as a gate to the Tatras above. Here, the hikers scattered throughout the mountainsides, most of them heading to Chate pri Zelenom Plese (The Cottage by Green Lake) and the lunch (and beer) it promised. On this occasion, it was the road more traveled for me, as well.

I passed over the first of many bridges, crisscrossing a river that—gorged by the previous night’s rains—stormed down the mountain from the lake far above. Something about the water’s call evoked an overwhelming sense of enthusiasm! This was truly a joyous river. It made me lament Slovakia’s strict “Stay on the Trail” policy. Even though I approve of this protective sentiment whole-hardheartedly, I still yearn to sit on those slick, stony banks and revel in the odd tranquility that is created by the drowning drone of a waterfall.

This purity is reflected by the water, quite literally! If it weren’t for the sun glistening off of its surface and its cheerful, burbling song, the river might as well have not been there—so clear was the water! In truth, the water from Zelenom Plese likely isn’t much cleaner that of the mountain springs in my home of North Carolina, but the stone here is of a slate-grey to almost white hue. Whereas the water of NC holds an amber quality due to the reddish-brown Appalachian granite it flows over.

The trail began to overtake the river in elevation and, in-between passing groups, the forest suddenly became quite still. Up here, Autumn creeped into the foliage and the pines exuded an aroma I’ve only known during the holiday season. The highest of the peaks in this area came into view. Although I was at a greater elevation on last weekend’s trip to the Tatras, the height disparity between these mountains and the ravines below was much larger and, therefore, even more inspiring.

The water, which had been quiet for the past hour of hiking, suddenly began to speak again. The rippling emerald liquid of Zelenom Plese spilt over the lip of a dam, built into the hillside beneath the inviting facade of a cottage. Outside, people sipped warm drinks, bundled up against the now wintry air. I imagined the relief I would feel, downing a warm cup of tea. What would I eat? A soup? No, maybe something hardier to get me through the hike back down. You know, why not a full meal! Lunch is the largest meal of the day in Slovakia, anyway. Regardless, I chipperly followed my host father to the foot of the cottage’s entrance. And then past it. And then to a sign behind building. My eyes followed the direction of the arrow painted onto it.

<- Jahňací Štíť

Jahňací Štíť itself. Looking back at this photo, it is hard to imagine I actually made it all the way up.

My hike wasn’t even half over. It took me a while to shake the disappointment (one doesn’t simply forget daydreams of Slovak cuisine) and I can’t say I ever got over my worsening fatigue. But if we were going to the peak (štíť in Slovak) then I was going to do it without complaint! This I promised myself, even if it meant being bedridden for the rest of the day!

The following stretch was surely the hardest bit of hiking I have ever attempted. I stowed my camera and had to take breaks every ten minutes or so. There were points that resembled rock climbing more than the casual woodland strolls that I usually call “hiking”. Atop this all, clouds moved in around the mountains, concealing our destination and forcing the temperature to plummet. I cannot say that it wasn’t worth it though. The feeling that filled me as I pulled myself over a boulder and suddenly, gleefully beheld an expansive and majestic view over the other side of the ridge was satisfaction unlike I have felt before. Simultaneous pride in myself and awe at my surroundings filled my heart! Pavol kept walking, however, and I realized that the greatest of the peaks still lay before us, stretching into the clouds.

As we shimmed along precipices that would thoughtlessly kill an unsteady hiker, I experienced a repeat of the emotions which had filled me an hour before. Nevertheless, this series ended much the same way as the previous round, with us surmounting the majestic Jahňací Štíť. The clouds hadn’t shifted, though it seemed the peak was (only!) a few dozen meters short of breaking through to the blue sky above. This left everyone atop Jahňací in a grey cocoon. Looking around, at the people, the stony protrusions, and the opaque wall surrounding us, I couldn’t help but wonder; “What if this was the extent of the world? A mere twenty to thirty people perched atop a summit, capable of traveling no farther than the surrounding fog allowed them to see?”

Yesterday, I conquered Jahňací Štíť. There is no doubt about that. Though I do wonder… why does my body feel like it lost?