It’s windy at the top, they say. This time, the wind at the top of Sněžka was more than 70 km per hour. No wonder the cableway could have taken us only halfway up.
“Oh, what’s the point”, we thought with Daniel and left the ticket queue.
“Let’s just have a little walk and see what we can find.”
Two, three hours later we found ourselves at the top of two different countries. See, sometimes you might accidentally hike from the Czech Republic to Poland up to 1400 meters. And this, dear friends, is a story of a day that ‘accident’ happened.
Starting point: Pec pod Sněžkou
With the experience I’ve gained from the two trips to the Czech Republic this year, getting customer service in English outside big cities isn’t something you can rely on. Sometimes you can’t even rely on getting customer service at all.
This was the impression I got after driving a couple of hours to the small mountain town Pec pod Sněžkou resting next to Krkonoše Mountains on the North-East border of the Czech Republic. The town is also home to the cableway carrying tourists to Sněžka, the highest peak of the country. Apparently, we managed to drive past the tourist info that we assumed was next to the cableway. Because of this, we didn’t have any proper trail maps. The only map we had was the one below; A picture I had earlier received from Czech Tourism and saved on my phone.
But it wouldn’t matter. At least we’d know how to get up to the top. Finding the way down is always the easiest part of a hiking trip.
We entered the cableway ticket office and found a long queue. But we didn’t find anyone who’d be selling the tickets for the cableway (which wasn’t moving, by the way). What was the heck going on?
We spotted a sign on top of the till saying the next take-off would take place in 20 minutes. We also saw a reference to the cableway not going all the way up today. We really weren’t sure what was happening but decided to wait. After all, we had driven a couple of hours to get here, and we thought we wouldn’t have enough daylight left to hike all the way up and back.
After 20 minutes, a lady appeared behind the till. As suspected, she wouldn’t sell us tickets to Sněžka. The top station was closed due to strong wind, so the cableway would only take us to the middle station. How disappointing.
It just didn’t feel worth it, so we jumped over the barrier to leave the queue and decided to take a little walk. We were at the edge of Krkonoše National Park. We would find some beautiful trails for trekking, even if we had to skip conquering Sněžka.
We found out soon how the cableway in Pec pod Sněžkou operates. It takes off every half an hour and keeps moving until all passengers have reached their destination. Would it run non-stop if the Sněžka station was open? I can’t confirm that, but what I can suggest is to prepare yourself for a little wait in case you want to take the cableway.
Hiking in the Czech Mountains: Krkonoše National Park
Krkonoše is one of the four national parks in the Czech Republic. Thanks to our day hike in Bohemian Switzerland National Park last winter, I’ve now been to half of the Czech national parks. To reach the same milestone here in Finland is quite far ahead; We have 40 national parks spread across the country.
Krkonoše National Park was founded in 1963 for preserving its unique flora and fauna that reveal distinguishable signs of the ice age. For the same reason, Krkonoše National Park is listed among Unesco’s Biosphere Reserves.
We had relied on the cableway ride and got no backup plan. So we took the first path we spotted and started following the paved walkway towards the mountains. We decided to stay curious and see what we can find, even if we could only dream about conquering Sněžka today. Instead, we’d walk along and turn back whenever we feel like to make sure we didn’t drive all the way to Pec pod Sněžkou for nothing.
The trail remained flat and smooth for quite a way. On the way, we passed many cute and cosy-looking restaurants, small waterfalls, even alpacas.
When a trail starts with views like this, you have no other option but to keep going, am I right?
Rocky trail towards the heights
After a couple of kilometres, the trail started to curve to the forested hills.
“Should we keep going?” I asked Daniel.
“Sure, we have driven this far so why to stop here.”
Instead of a soft forest path, the trail was coated with angular stones. The rocks were slippery after the rain and a bit challenging to walk on, especially with weak ankles like mine. So make sure to wear comfortable sneakers or preferably proper trekking shoes, you’ll thank me later.
We got to climb up the mountain trail in all privacy. The only people we met were an elderly couple with their cute little dog. Small mountain streams murmured down the slopes. On our left-hand side, stunning alpine views opened up with mountaintops competing who reaches higher, them or the clouds.
Mountaintops lost the race.
I can’t even count how many times I used the views and my camera as an excuse for a small break. A few times I asked Daniel if he still wants to continue uphill.
“Let’s go a little bit further and see what we come across with.”
We came across with a little shelter where you could stop for lunch in case you packed some to go. We came across with more stunning alpine views. Down in the valley, we could barely spot the restaurants we passed earlier. They looked like tiny little dots when we were looking at them from the heights.
We came across with a tall mountain stream with a cute wooden bridge and a small stone hut that made the place one of the most picturesque sites I’ve ever visited. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a surface flat enough for my camera to save the view as beautiful as it was.
“We’re quite high up already. Should we keep going?”
“Yeah, let’s continue a little more.”
“I can’t believe my eyes! Is it Sněžka?”
We had left the rocky trail behind us. Now we were walking along a steady sandy path which was a lot easier to walk on, even if the uphill got steeper.
There was no thick forest ahead of us anymore. The colours on the open hills were vibrant, just like you’d expect them to be in September. A hiker after another appeared from around the corner. This far, we hadn’t met anyone, except for the elderly couple and their dog at the beginning. Where do these hikers keep coming from?
Soon, the answer was standing right in front of our eyes. This can’t be true — we have accidentally hiked all the way to Sněžka, the highest peak of the Czech Mountains. And I thought we’d be barely halfway up!
The forested trail had protected us from the strong wind this far, but you could really feel it when standing in the open valley just 200 metres below the top of Sněžka. Even if I was still sweaty after climbing, I had to put my hat back on and hold it with both hands to prevent it from flying away.
A large, yellow building is standing in the middle of the valley. It’s the mountain hostel and restaurant Dom Ślaski, and it’s surrounded by dozens if not hundreds of hikers who all seem to flow towards Sněžka. We stop at the border of the Czech Republic and Poland. A sign tells us we’re at the height of 1400 metres. The top of Sněžka reaches up to 1602 metres.
If you look at the latest photo very carefully, you can spot the weather station located on the top of the peak. Besides the station, also a chapel and even a post office, as funny as it sounds, are located on the top of Sněžka.
I grab my camera and move to the Polish side of the border. So, it apparently IS possible to hike to a whole another country by accident.
Poland looks beautiful from the heights. I have no idea what kind of trail continues behind my field of view, but I respect the elderly hikers who keep appearing to the finder of my camera one after another.
And they don’t even seem to be out of breath.
The hiking highlight?
Against all expectations, we’ve climbed to the border of two countries in the height of 1400 metres. After another half an hour hike and a 200-metre climb, we could say we’ve conquered the highest mountain in the Czech Republic.
Guess what? As tempting as it sounded, we didn’t do it.
Do you still remember how I mentioned that the wind was blowing with the speed of over 70 km per hour on the top of Sněžka? The queue of hikers reaching the top looked to me as of an ant trail. I’m not a huge fan of crowded places and to be honest; I can’t say I’d love such heavy wind, either.
The top of Sněžka was covered with clouds. We wouldn’t be able to admire any views, nor photograph them.
We had still a long way back down on the slippery rocky trails, not to mention a couple of hour’s drive back to our base. The only reason for climbing we came up with was:
“We could say we’ve conquered Sněžka, the highest one of the Czech mountains”.
We decided not to be that fastidious. After all, we already had a great story to tell. A story of the day when a small walk led us to the border of the Czech Republic and Poland in 1400 meters.