Téryho chata is a chalet high in the Slovak High Tatra mountains, perched on the edge of a cliff with views down the long valley. Behind the chalet is a breathtaking valley with five tarn lakes, lorded over by craggy, austere mountain peaks.
Between an extra bank holiday just this year celebrating the 100th anniversary of Czechoslovakia (which doesn’t exist anymore) and a regular bank holiday for All Saints Day (my favourite tradition), the kids had a week off from school. My husband also took a few days off, and so we hightailed it to the mountains.
The fall is the best time to visit the High Tatras, as the weather is more stable, and this autumn has been particularly gorgeous. While it has snowed a few times already in the alpine, a burst of warm weather meant that only small patches were left.
Hiking with kids usually means we play it by ear – we don’t want to push them too far and so we plan on going only as far as they can manage. Téryho chata was our optimistic destination but my husband was doubtful we would get there. The chalet lies at an elevation of 2015 m (6210 feet), 19 km (12 miles) from Starý Smokovec, where we were staying. And the twins are only six, after all. But, as you will see, they surpassed our expectations.
From Starý Smokovec we hiked up the green trail to Hrebienok. Hrebeň means ridge (and also comb); hrebienok means diminuative ridge – and is the name of a ski resort. A funicular, a mini train on a cable, does run up to the ridge but we wanted to leave before it started running. Well, to be honest, we were a little purist too, and wanted to power ourselves up the mountain. By ‘we’ I mean the adults. We started the day hiking through bright orange larches under a clear blue sky, with Lomnický štít (peak) calling us ahead.
From Hrebienok we took the red trail, bypassing Bilíkova chata and Rainerova chata, to Zamkovského chata. On the way, a bridge lies under the spray of Obrovský vodopád (Giant Waterfall, or Great Waterfall), much to the delight of the children.
We also met our first of two foxes, foxes that were a bit too friendly. We all loved seeing the creatures up close, as they circled around us, wary legs ready to spring but not scared. I’m afraid hikers have been feeding them, or maybe a mother with a young one that also got accustomed to humans? There was a fox at two different points along the trail that displayed the same behaviour. As lovely as it was to see the foxes up close, however, a wild animal is never tame and ought to be scared of people. Despite my misgiving, though, they posed for some lovely photos and the children were enchanted.
After Zamkovského chata we took the green trail up Malá Studená dolina (Small Cold Valley), following a clear turquoise creek that rushed down the mountainside. While rocks have been leveled out to make the trail, that type of trail is actually tiring to hike as you can’t step according to your legs but with varied strides according to rock placement.
Above the trees
As the valley gains elevation, so do the ridges along each side. Through the trees, through the pine krummholz. Slowly the splendor of the end of the valley is revealed. On the left looms the bulky mass of Prostredný hrot (Middle Spike), in the middle a long waterfall tumbles down a cliff with third tallest peak Ľadový štít lurking behind, and on the right towers the depth of Lomnický štít, the second highest peak of the Vysoké Tatry (High Tatras). If you look very closely at the top of the cliff, you can see the chalet as a small dot.
On the trail we met a number of mountain porters, called nosiči, carrying items to the chalets, loads towering far above their heads. Five or six chalets in Slovakia still use men who carry heavy loads of food, bedding, and other necessary things up and down the mountain. Like, for example, kegs of beer. They’ve achieved a bit of legendary status in Slovakia, not personally I think, but as a group. Which is understandable, as we all admire such feats of strength and endurance. While Slovaks aren’t the type to say anything to a stranger, tourists (like me) taking pictures certainly comes with the job. I wasn’t bold enough to shove a camera in their faces though.
The last push to Téryho chata requires zig-zagging up the steep rockfall at the end of the valley. It’s an incline that gets the heart pumping, shall we say. But, soon enough, you turn the bend and suddenly the chalet is right there. But oh, was it windy! The hike so far had been mild, we were hiking in sweaters until then (which for October 31 is lovely weather), but around the chalet a bitingly cold and relentless gust made us pull out all our warm gear.
We quickly found refuge inside. Seeing as we had only had one break on the way up, we were ready for rest and food. A seat with a view over the valley, a cheery fire in the glass-door stove, a large bowl of garlic soup with croutons and cheese. Aaahh, comfort.
Beyond the chalet
But not for long. While eating we debated what we should do. Walk around the lakes behind and head back down? Go further along the trail, seeing as the kids had done so well? I had never been to this valley before and at first thought maybe we could go farther, but my husband explained that the saddles would be covered by snow, and were quite steep. So, I thought that we were going to explore around the lakes, and decided that I preferred going slow and taking a bunch of pictures anyway. But, as we walked along, he turned to go uphill.
After some snow and guiding chains, my husband seemed to fly ahead, just before it was obvious that some of the kids were done. A few tears, or maybe more. Cajoling from me that we only had to go as far as Tato and then we would turn around. My outer cajoling was cheerful and chipper, but internally I was nashing my teeth at why he disappeared.
As it turned out, he wanted to scout out how close the viewpoint was at the top of the first hill (you can see it above the chalet’s left chimney). We scrambled up a few meters to a lovely grassy knoll with a view over all. Soup and a few pieces of bread and meat spread hadn’t been enough for my little hikers, so we plunked down and pulled out all our goodies for a second lunch.
To the west the trail continued up a narrow rocky valley (a couloir?) and divided, the yellow trail heading seemingly straight up a gully over a saddle and the green trail going farther north and visibly zig-zagging up over another steep saddle, to be explored at a later date. Prostredný hrot towered to the south, and we could look down on the chalet to the east.
As we sat, my husband pointed out more names than I can remember of places that he has climbed, various peaks (including Prostredný hrot) with routes through chutes and saddles and faces. It seems that every bump and climbing feature has a name.
The valley behind the chalet is called Päť Spišských plies, Five Spiš Tarns, referring to the fact that this area was once part of the Spiš region. The tarns, small glacially formed lakes, are amusingly called Upper, Lower, Middle, Big, and Little. Their names certainly help with accuracy in communication, but Anne of Green Gables would not approve.
I took about a million photos, but to do it some semblance of justice I would need a drone. Any attempt to describe it seems so cliche. Majestic. Awe-inspiring. Grandiose. Cliche, perhaps, but true.
And then we were headed back down. Past the lakes, goodbye chalet, down the rockfall cliff, along the valley, hello foxes. “I’m tired” was a common refrain from two kids, and girl twin got a few piggy backs. Her shoes were a bit slippery, making the hike harder. Boy twin, on the other hand, seems to have a source of inexhaustible energy.
Looking down on Hrebienok
It was dark by the time we got back to Starý Smokovec and Villa Kunerad, where we could take off our boots and socks (such a good feeling after a day of hiking!) and eat a well deserved hot dinner. Despite the 21 km and 1300 m (4265 feet) elevation gain, however, I can’t say the kids seemed to fall asleep any faster.
Our trail is highlighted in yellow. Clicking on the map leads to a hiking website describing more about the chalet, in Slovak.
Téryho chata is open all year round.
We stayed at Villa Kunerad (more about that in the next post about our trip).
More information about the High Tatra area.
Lomnický štít on the right peak. You can see the observation deck built on top.