Pretty much every year I complain that it’s not wintery enough where I live. Some years it snows, some years it doesn’t. This year it has snowed and melted, snowed and melted, repeat.
Just before the New Year I went hiking with friends to a nearby lookout, Čierna skala, which means black rock. It’s not black, so I don’t know where the name comes from. I hesitate to call it a peak…it’s a rocky outcropping with a lovely view.
It had just snowed, the snow literally starting at the base of the hills.
Above, driving into Smolenice. Below, from the same spot, looking towards Čierna skala.
I was excited at the chance of hiking in the snow, and the hike did not disappoint. First we hiked through woods and meadows…
the snow got thicker and the trail got steeper.
We past a group with a number of older people, including a few spritely but rather eldery women. Every year they make the hike up to Čierna skala for the past decade or so. My friend and I were inspired, ready to follow their example into our old age.
These were my hiking companions. Notice, if you will, the beer. I realize that many people take beer on hikes but Slovaks take more alcohol hiking than I’m used to. On this little hike, on offer were beers, radlers, mead, and slivovica, brandy made of plums with about a 52% alcohol content. At the top of the hill we met another group of hikers, and they offered us slivovica as well. Another common hiking drink is strik, wine mixed with water and drunk exactly like water or sports beverage.
Just below the top there is less top soil and the trees are twisted and gnarled. Some of the snow drifts here were hip height.
Throughout the hike we had been under the clouds. When we got onto the top, we were above some clouds that played and danced about, changing the scene before our eyes.
Čierna skala is a long cliff of rocks standing above the forest in the Malé Karpaty, the Little Carpathians, stretching out east and west.
On the way down, we met up with uncles of my hiking companions, who we were supposed to meet on the way up and somehow missed. One gave us some of his own hazelnuts, which were sweet and crispy, the best I’ve ever had. Not even comparable to store bought.
Is it possible for something to feel both luxurious and necessary? I felt so fortunate to be able to go for hikes in these beautiful hills, snow draping over the trees and burning lungs taking in the fresh air. At the same time, hiking in nature also feels necessary for sanity, for calming the overactive stressed mind and grounding spirits often caught up in this digital world. I know that so many are not able to partake of nature’s offerings, which is why I feel fortunate, but I also think that everybody needs some connection with nature, which is why it feels necessary.
When we came back down, the snow above town had already started to melt. I’m always surprised how a little change in elevation changes winter conditions so much. I wanted to run back to the not-melting snow, but alas. On the way back to town, we stopped to pick up my neighbours’ children at their grandparents. Everyone was offered another shot of slivovica, which I took in politeness. Then the glass was filled again, my protests coming too late. I usually don’t feel the need to be polite in these matters, but this time I did, and I quickly downed another shot. I don’t drink much alcohol (wine makes me sleepy and most beer is too bitter for my taste), so by the time I was making supper at home my head felt rather lightweight. A Slovak way to end a hike?