Carved from calcium
Caves and canyons.
Tatry has the longest and deepest caves in Poland under its impressive area of bizarrely angled limestone, most of which are well developed potholes. Jaskinia Mylna (Yaskee'nee'a Mi(h)lna - False Cave) is unusual for the area in that it is a cave and not a pothole, having almost no vertical development (except a single significant aven). It is also poorly developed as a cave, being mostly an immature phreas, and probably a fragment that remains from when Tatry was filled with glaciers. It is around 1.3 km long, with the main through trip route being about 250 metres, and the officially marked side passages totalling 100 metres.
The cave is signed as a tourist trail, but it is not a show cave. It is a real cave that is fairly easy, without decorations, or very much of interest to true cavers except the basics of a phreatic maze, but it is still a real cave. If you just follow the main route, there are three short crawls over painful cobbles, and a long stooping section where the lesser caver may well end up getting their feet or rear end wet. The main route is supposed to be signed with red lines like a normal tourist trail, and the main side passages with red triangles. The main route signing is not very good though, so it is best to take a survey, unless you wish to investigate the entire cave just for the fun of it.
- The entrance to Mylna was just around the corner from our own cave, perched 70 metres above the valley floor.
- The survey shows extra entrances. These open out from the entrance chamber. What the survey neglects to mention is that they drop down the cliffs to the valley below. Makes for a great picture though, even if I do say so myself.
- The early part of the cave follows passages a lot like this, with route markers as shown here. All sloping rifts, usually (but not always) standing height. In one place it tries to get larger then immediately chokes. The colouring on the walls is mostly just the colour of the rock itself, a fairly bright limestone, which has an extremely rough wall texture. Not what you would expect for a cave that sees so many visitors. This is the area with most side passages, some of which form loops not shown on the survey.
- The route then enters a stooping section, and returns to its phreatic character. There is a series of oxbows here, and a significant side passage that ends at a blind aven. Since this was very much a trip for me and not my companion, I did this part alone - tourist stuff.
- Then *sigh*, a traverse with chains, on a ledge so wide I am sure I saw a horse walk down it (not really), over a rift that is not even two metres deep. Remember this is a cave for tourists, after all. Just past here, it then ducks through a crawl, before emerging at daylight and the end of the through trip. Now repeat in reverse, and back out to our bags.
After the long walk the day before, I had asked for a gentle day to make sure my knee had the chance to recover from any stress of the day before. It was getting a little too risky to stay in the cave now, as we had been seen too many times by too many tourists, so we had to find better lodgings. Plus it was also time to start the walk towards High Tatry. There was a simple tourist trail leading up the valley, to the front of Tomanova, then up Ciemniak (Chemniak), leading to the main route to High Tatry. But that was too easy, and touristy. There was an alternative wild route up the nearby Wąwóz Kraków (Vo(n)vooz Krakoof - Kraków Canyon) that was very much to my tastes, which would take us directly up Ciemniak.
We waded into the river of humans in Kościeliska, and hopped down to the real river to fill our water bottles. This valley is one of the Meccas for tourists, and they come here in their droves. The river flows up the valley until the afternoon, then reverses direction and flows back to Kiry for the evening.
- Czarna Turnia (Charna Toornia - black needle).
- The tourist path on the other side of the valley climbs a little, then the canyon introduces itself.
- The beautifully sculpted rock is really inviting, but unfortunately the tourists, being strange, have developed a silly little game here; apparently someone was not sure of the strength of the walls, so they added a prop made from a broken tree branch. Other tourists saw this, and became afraid of the rest of the walls, so they added more props. As broken wood became scarcer, they added smaller and smaller pieces, so the bottoms of the walls are now covered in these stupid little props. Why can't people just leave things in their natural state?
- The canyon widens a little, but then shrinks back down to a proper canyon again.
- As the canyon widens to a much larger size, the tourist route leaves it. It climbs up some ladders and chains, passes through a very short cave, then slowly descends a path back to the main valley.
- Just beyond was a fence with a sign saying something in Polish that I did not understand, so we silently crossed the fence and continued. Immediately we were greeted by this immense pinacle towering above our heads, which I think is either Saturn (Satoorn - 1391 metres) or Ratusz (Ratoosh - 1296 metres). The map showed that an intermittent stream ran here, so we could fill up our bottles. Given the amount of rain, we assumed there would be some, but it turned out not to be there, so we only had the 4.5 litres of water we had collected in Kościeliska, of which we had already used nearly a third.
- Wielka Turnia (Vee'elka Toornia), where it began to rain lightly. We sheltered under some trees for a few minutes until the rain stopped, then continued up the canyon.
- To the left, a steeply sloping gulley signifies the first escape route, which provides a very steep way up the side of the gorge. After this should be the first small barriers; dry waterfalls that were fairly easy to climb, but needed us to be careful since we each had 30 kg on our backs. We knew there was one big barrier that could well prove difficult, but knew it had a broken tree on it to aid climbing. We were just waiting for it to appear.
- Around a corner and the canyon was blocked. A large tree fall filled the bottom. We carefully balanced our way over to the other side, stepping from tree to tree, trying not to fall between them. As we reached the other end, a sudden jump as an animal shot out of the branches and into the canyon beyond.
- It was a deer that I am told is called a daniel. She had clearly fallen from the side of the canyon into the trees, perhaps the day before, and had badly broken her hind leg. In a panic, she was trying to get away from us, but was faced with a proper barrier, with no way out. There was no chance of her making it over the trees. We soon calmed her down, and tried to work out what to do.
- The barrier was easy enough for us to climb using the tree, but a deer would never be able to.
- We discussed it for a while, but we could not find a solution. She was going to starve to death. We were not really supposed to be here (we could use my caving club membership if questioned, but we really did not want to test if it would work), so we could not even send for help. We could use our rope to bind her and carry her over the trees, but that would be impossible unless she was sedated. She was going to die here, slowly, and in pain. If we had something to use, we would have put her out of her misery, but we only had rocks and a rope, and neither of us had the heart to use those. We had to leave her.
- We tried not to think about the deer, and continued to a wide area, which suggested we were out of the barriers section. The canyon had developed into a proper gorge, with crags towering over us.
- The crags offered a convenient windbreak, and the wide open space was our reward for the work we had put in so far, so we decided to stay here for the night.
- To the left was the route to Żleb Trzynastu Progów (Couloir of the Thirteen Barriers), a much tougher route than the one we were taking, where thirteen barriers must be climbed to reach the top of the first escape route.
- The arched wall had that smell of cave about it, so I went to look. Sadly it is just an overhang. The only cave-like hole in the area was lower down, and immediately became a flat-out crawl. Not right now, thanks.
- The edge of Wysoka Turnia (Vi(h)soka Toornia - Tall Needle - 1643 metres), back down the gorge.
- Ptakowa Turnia (Ptakova Toornia), even further back down the gorge.
- Sunset on the arch.
- We set up camp under an overhanging cliff, which kept off a short rainshower. If only we had something to collect the rain in. But then there wasn't really that much rain.
- The view from my sleeping bag. That night we were treated to the clumsy aerobatics of 4 bats, the silent flight of an owl, and many shooting stars. We were woken in the morning by a cold wind blowing down the gorge, and by the hoverflies whistling using leaves, sleeping bags, and carrymats.
- Heading up the gorge, we were disappointed to see that it had reverted to being a canyon, with yet more barriers. Packs off again, pass them up, and up, and up. We were sure we had already got up the main barrier though, but we needed to make progress today.
- At the top of the series of little barriers, we were faced with this one, the main barrier. So we hadn't got as far as we thought. This looks deceptively easy, but it is 5 metres tall, with polished, slimy rock. The branches are helpful, and are pretty much the only holds. From the top of the taller branch, it is over two metres to the first proper hold, and I just couldn't reach far enough. Climbing this without some kind of protection would be stupid. It had defeated us.
- Above the last barriers, a slope to the left proved to be a bypass. Moose got the first part, I got the second, ran on ahead to prove it really was a bypass, then rigged a rope - both of us were quite thankful we had decided to bring it. One by one we attached the bags, and I climbed up and down with each one while Moose hauled them up, one handed (using the other to balance himself on the top of the 20 metre cliff). In total, he hauled the weight of an average sized damer up there. Not bad. My bag did not approve, and suffered some irreparable damage as a result of this haul. Another thing that has reached EOL.
- We had made it to the start of Kamienne Tomanowe (Camee'en'ne Tomanove(h) - Stone Valley of Tomanowa).
- The edge of Kominiarski, peering around the crags.
- The side of Kamienne Tomanowe, with the peak of Ciemniak on the right.
- Turnia outcrop on Ciemniak. It's easy to see why it is called "The Shady Peak".
- We ran out of water after breakfast, but had invested too much effort in gaining height, so we weren't going to give up. The map showed a spring a couple of hundred metres higher. Unfortunately, we were lower than we thought, the barriers took more than we had, the sun used the rest, and any remainder went to the ceaseless repetition of rocky foliage, scree, and false tops. We were even drinking the dew from plant leaves, and trying to scavange blueberries in the hopes of a droplet of juice.
- Pinacle at one of the many false tops. When will we reach the real one?
- We were really getting desperate for water. It was already long past lunch time after a very early morning, and we needed to get to the water. Our pace was dropping to a crawl from the frequent stops, every possible patch of shade, something to stop the sun using up our precious reserves, which were already running on empty.
- In the end, desperation won over, and led to frayed tempers, as I hurried ahead to collect water. It's amazing the difference a drink can make. Once hydrated, our manner returned to normal. We decided to stay here for the night, with a view down the gorge we had spent nearly two days climbing - it was already evening anyway. Somewhere with a water supply before moving on to the long hike tomorrow.
- Kominiarski, showing the Raptawicka (Raptaveetska) outcrop. The beds of limestone on the top of Kominiarski are flat, but by the time they reach Raptawicka, they are already at nearly 60°. By the time they make it to the top of Wąwóz Kraków they are vertical. By the other side of Ciemniak, they are 45° in the other direction, and then they are horizontal by the top of the next mountain. Within less than 5 km, the beds have been rotated 180° - Kominiarski is actually upside-down.
- Peeling crags at (I think) Wysoka Turnia or Ptakowa Turnia.
- The direct climb up to the summit of Ciemniak, through Rzędy (J(e)ewdi(h) - Aisles). We were at 1720 metres, still 376 metres below the summit.
- The crags of Rzędy.
- A great view of Tomanowa, showing the characteristic tripple peak. The nearest peak, like Front Ornak, is a boulder field made from Granite, out of place in the limestone mountains.
- The view over Western Tatry; Smreczyński Wierch (Smrechi(h)nyskee Vee'erh - 2066 metres), Kamienista (Kamee'en'eesta - 2121 metres), Bystra (Bi(h)stra - 2248 metres) and Starorobociański (Starro'(ro)bochan(y)skee - 2176 metres).
- Clouds in Bystra, making it look almost like a volcanic crater. But no, just limestone.
- As we were preparing a late meal and watching the sun get ready to set (and what a stunning sunset), the final tourists were still making their way up the mountain on the 7 hour walk from shelter to shelter. It would be completely dark in two hours, and the walk to the end would take another 4 hours. How they thought they could manage it is a mystery. The map showed that they could get back to the first shelter in two and a half hours, so we told them to go back the way they came. The first couple discussed it and decided to do what we said (or more accurately, the damer persuaded the guy). The second group seemed to be led by a head strong fool, who decided that since they had made the three hour walk up to us in two and a half hours, that they could easily make the remaining four hours walk in the two hours before dark. He refused to listen to our warnings, and continued to lead the group of damer into the night. I have to wonder if they ever made it, or if they were stuck out on the ridge overnight, with nothing but their sunglasses for protection from the cold.
- Ah, beautiful. The cloud was soon followed by rain, but Ciemniak seemed to be able to separate the clouds so the rain fell on either side, but not on the part that we were on. That night, we bivouacked between the path and some kosówka (kosoofka), watching the displays of a bat, an owl, and more shooting stars. We were woken a little after sunrise when some tourists (who must have started their walk in the dark) walked past. Mustn't stay here too long.