Sunday Postcard from… the Tatras, Poland

Hi, Katri.

How’s it going? I miss you. I was just looking through some photos from when you visited me in Poland, and I started thinking about our trip.

We started at butt crack of dawn that morning. It had been a great idea to spend the night in the mountain hut (granted, it was my idea, and as we both know, I’m a genius); Morskie Oko is the most popular attraction in Zakopane, and during the day it’s as busy as an anthill. However, at 5 a.m. the mountain lake was calm, and we set out on the trail with no one else in sight.

The plan had been to climb Rysy, the tallest peak of the Polish Tatras, but the lords of winter had something else in mind. The night before, we had met a few hikers who had made it to the top, but as they found out we were not carrying any gear, they were quick to let us know we would not make it. ‘It’s dangerous to go now without the proper equipment’, one woman told us bluntly.

I’d like to think those were fair warnings, but they might have also seen my wildly 80s patterned yoga pants and got doubtful of my mountaineering skills.

In all fairness, they were right to do so. Shit if I know how to climb things.

Our breakfast consisted of blueberry oats and “Finnish bread”, as the label in Lidl had said and sent us two Finns into a proud frenzy. It was hard to focus on eating – not only because I was Soviet-squatting over the little cooker to avoid putting my butt on the cold stone, but also because the view was breathtaking. After a short climb, we had arrived to Czarny Staw, ‘the black lake’. Early in the morning the name seemed befitting. Its surface was dark and even, still spotted with floating sheets of ice. Rysy loomed over it, smug and indifferent.

On the other side we were looking over a green valley, Morskie Oko in its centre. A shy sun peeked her head out and painted the horizon pink and yellow. As far as we knew, we were the only people in the world. With the wind chill came the feeling of being alive.

We had thought it might be possible to get some way up the mountain before going became too difficult, but the path was completely covered in snow. But hey – isn’t that a signpost for another route? On a whim, we decide to try our luck with the new trail.

You know those movies where the main character is like, ‘It’s okay, I know a shortcut’, and then he gets so off course that he accidentally saunters into Yemen in year 2001?

This was like that. With less Middle East and time travel, though.

We hadn’t walked two minutes before we’d lost the green trail markers. Not a biggie – in Eastern Europe some trails are not that well marked. You thought the path dove down to the left, and I scrambled after you.

And I mean, scrambled. We were no longer hiking, we were rock-climbing. The path that we assumed would be the right one had very quickly turned into a vertical pile of rocks. One wrong move, and I could slip into the cracks and get to re-enact 127 Hours, only with a leg this time.

When I raised my eyes, you were far, far away.

‘How the hell did you get there already??’

‘But it’s easy’, you said before disappearing from the view.

I had no choice but to scramble after you.

You know that point that you cross when you’ve been at something for so long that at that point quitting just seems useless? That point of no return? I was in the middle of the rockslide, halfway up the mountain face, and the only thing keeping me going up was thinking how very impossible it would be to go back down.

Every once in a while I had to stop, though, just to appreciate the landscape. If I die today, at least I die with a view. Morskie Oko is known for its deep blue water, and the colour was starting to come out little by little as the sun ran her fingers through it. I could see the mountain valley stretching out far under us, and we still hadn’t seen another soul on the path.

Well, that might also be because we’re lost from the path, but that’s clearly irrelevant.

How long have I been climbing for? The whole world was just rocks now. This is my life. I live here now. These rocks are my home. But like a really broken home where my mum travels all the time and my dad keeps calling me by my brother’s name.

While I had been pretty lucky keeping out of the snow, I couldn’t escape it forever. Now it’s landed on my path, and there is no other way than to cross it. Big deal, right? I come from Finland. I eat snow like that for breakfast. (Not really, though, because snow has no real nutritional value.) But this bit was basically a snow slide at a 45 degree angle. I was thinking of that one episode of The Simpsons where Homer falls down the canyon. Yeah. Uh.

I could see your footprints on it, so at least I knew you were not dead yet. Better yet, I imagined you were probably having the time of your life, you freak. I follow your example and dug my feet into the snow, and with three terrifying steps I crossed it.

Oh, but wait! Next I arrived at what an ant might call an impressive waterfall. As underwhelming as the little trickle was, it was making stones slippery, and there were no footholds.

I’ve lived and travelled abroad long enough now that the default settings on my brain are all in English. However, after speaking Finnish all weekend, a very selected word escapes me in my own mothertongue.

I somehow managed to pull myself up. My legs were shaking. Whose idea was this?

Oh yeah, that would be me.

After scrambling for my life for weeks, I finally found you perched on top of a rock. I wanted to tell you all the Finnish words I’ve re-discovered on my way up, but as soon as I put my backpack down and sat next to her, I was laughing like crazy. Nothing like good ole fear of death to spice up an adventure.

Besides, my rock was totally better than yours.

As the path seemed to be a dead snow end, we agreed to just hang out there for a while and wait for the sun to reach Czarnie Staw, too. Besides, we were in no rush since you had managed to locate the actual trailhead – turns out we just missed it because apparently we are idiots. An actual path, and instead we’ve been rock-climbing here like some sort of human spiders.

You just shrugged and said, ‘I kinda expected it would be like that. It was like that in Norway.’

You fell asleep quickly in the warm sun. I had terrible visions of myself falling off the mountain, so I stayed awake to think deep thoughts. Mostly about cheesecake, really.

Suddenly there was a noise behind me. As I turned to look, I saw an animal jumping out from behind the mountain and skipping his way across the snow like nothing. I recognized it as a type of a mountain goat, a chamois. Freaking cool. I’ve never seen one in nature before.

I considered grabbing either my camera or you, but I knew there wasn’t any time. In a few seconds, my new goat friend had hopped over a ledge and out of sight.

Later you couldn’t stop lamenting the fact that you slept past the goat – and got sunburnt on top of it all! – and I was just thinking,

That’s what you get for dragging me up this goddamn mountain.

Karma is a goat, but you can’t see her.



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