You need to walk for almost 6 kilometres in the mountains to get to work. Regardless of the weather. And imagine us, in the city, complaining about the traffic jams…
Marta: It’s true, we run a shelter which is the hardest to get to in the Tatra mountains, or maybe even in entire Poland. It is located above the forest level, at 1670 m a.s.l. You cannot reach this place by car or any other vehicle. In the winter, the avalanche danger is indeed very high since Pięciu Stawów in the snowiest valley in the country. We are aware that reaching Pięć Stawów entails objective difficulties, but it looks completely different from our perspective. This is our second home, a place we see as friendly and close to our hearts. This is where we were growing up. As for our way to work, it is a pure pleasure, several dozen minutes of peace. It is a moment just for myself.
Marychna: Unless we are going together. Then we are talking all along the way. Recently we were dragging for over three hours because we were repairing the path on the way. The so-called drainage culverts that draw off the water clog up and need to be regularly unclogged. Our father would always repair the path when we were going up to the shelter. We got pretty annoyed by him doing this when we were kids, but now we are doing it ourselves and we also have our own kids involved in helping us.
What about the bears?
Marta: It is hard not to meet them if you spend as much time in the mountains as we do. When you meet the bears, you need to stay calm and wait until they pass. Then, just keep doing your thing. You cannot approach them, feed them, photograph them or confront them in any other way. Anyway, if you happen to meet a bear one day, I can assure you will not even feel like doing anything like that. It is a massive animal, a furred monster that inspires fear and respect. You will immediately feel who is at home and who is the intruder. However, no bear has ever done any harm to us or anyone in our family.
Marychna: One day in Pięć Stawów we were playing bridge with our father. Suddenly, we looked at Marta who looked as if she had seen a ghost. Our father said: “Oh, the kid must have a grand slam”. But it turned out that there was a huge bear standing in the doorway. We didn’t see it because the entrance was behind our backs. On another occasion, the bear got into the kitchen. It ate a casserole of bigos and a full tray of apple pie. It must have liked it because it licked the vessels clean. Then it left and no one was harmed.
Have you ever been covered by an avalanche?
Marychna: Yes, but it’s been a long time ago. Now we have avalanche detectors and greater knowledge about how to act in case of danger. We even host avalanche trainings at Pięć Stawów, they are run by TOPR (Tatra Volunteer Search and Rescue) rescue team. We received backpacks with ABS from TOPR chief. In case of danger, you pull a handle and two huge airbags grow on your back. They look like angel wings. And with these wings, you are lighter than the snow so the avalanche spits you out.
Marta: Once an avalanche dragged me down. Fortunately, I wasn’t buried so I managed to escape safely. I stood up, brushed off and went on. Such situations, however, demonstrate the magnitude of the mountains, and the total helplessness of a human facing the weather changes. On another occasion, I was going to Pięć Stawów in the winter. The sun was shining, but when I reached the summit, suddenly came a strong wind and a fog so thick that I couldn’t see my stretched out arm. The snow covered my footsteps in a second. My perfect knowledge of topography and the valley didn’t help at all. I lost my orientation completely, I didn’t even know if I were going up or down. I started feeling sick, my vestibular system went nuts. I lay down on the ground and started to slide down. Finally, I landed in a crevasse, which wasn’t covered yet in the snow. I guessed that it must have been on the bank of Przedni Staw (Eng. Foremost Polish Lake). I knew that if I kept walking around it, I would finally find the way to the shelter, located just above the lake. I made several circles and when it brightened up a little bit, I found the way back home. This situation demonstrates how important it is to stay humble while in the mountains. It is crucial to assess the situation and one’s own capabilities. Sometimes you need to turn back few meters to reach the goal. And to survive.
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