3 September, 2011
Here are pics from my hike to the top of Mt. Hoverla, the highest mountain in the Ukraine (2061m). The outing involved a bus from Kolomiya to the village of Vorokhta, then a taxi along a very bad road, strewn with rocks and potholes, past the park office to the trail-head which we reached about 9.30am.
There were some monuments at the peak (including one celebrating the independence of Ukraine). It was misty with low visibility, and chilly, so I only stayed there 20 minutes or so. The walk down was special, alongside a waterfall (80m in three cascades). This is the source of the River Prut which eventually flows into the Danube River. One pic shows a stone which, in the period between the World Wars, used to mark the border between Poland and Czechoslovakia. Now both sides are Ukraine.
This turned out to be quite an adventure. A little more adventure than I had bargained on as it turned out. The bus from Kolomiya to Vorokhta left at 6.15am, arriving about 8.30am. I then hired a taxi (skillful woman driver) who promised to meet me at 3.00pm to take me back to Vorokhta. At the start of the hike a tour group with a guide was just setting out. I attached myself loosely to them for a while, until one of them pantomimed that I should pay for following them. So I moved on past them and caught up with a Ukrainian couple and walked with them for a while. Eventually the final peak (Hoverla) came into view and the path was clear so I forged ahead on my own, reaching the top after about 2 hours 15 minutes. That was pretty good, if I do say so myself. My guest house host is a pretty fit looking mid-30s and he said he does it in 2 hours. There were good views before reaching the peak, but at the summit it was misty and clouds all round, no view at all. Also it was quite cold, so I only stayed at the top 20 minutes or so. I knew it would be a good idea to head down as soon as possible because the weather can be unpredictable.
I decided to set off down on my own the way I came, even though there was a second different route down. I didn’t want to risk missing the trail and the route up seemed quite straight-forward. In hindsight I probably should have waited for some of the half dozen or so people at the summit and walked down with them. The fog quickly closed in and somehow I lost the trail. After about half an hour I reached an impasse and began to feel quite scared. The idea of spending the night up there did not appeal. Even off the peaks temperatures at night would have plunged to near freezing. Hypothermia would be a danger, although I was wearing a warm jacket and had borrowed a water-proof mac. I was even rehearsing in my mind a plan to try to descend to the level of the meadows and wrap myself in grass for warmth. I have no idea how that would have worked in practice. I don’t think it was going to snow. That scenario is still a few weeks away I believe. I yelled out a few “Hello”s at the height of my panic. I might even have let out a “Cooeee..” or two.
Whether coincidence or not, a short time later I saw a group of four people slowly appear out of the mist some way above me. I was very happy to see them. They were on their way down, and when they reached me I asked (and gestured) if I could accompany them down. I would not have let them out of my sight no matter what they had said. The guy (Taras) spoke a few words of English and indicated they were about to go down a route that I might not care for. I said “I don’t care, I just want to get off the mountain”. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise really because they went down alongside the source of the River Prut, which turned into a waterfall, a beautiful sight. Taras is a geography teacher in Lviv and the group included his teenage son and two female acquaintances. Taras said he had climbed Mt. Hoverla 50 times, and descended by the waterfall route (which involved a couple of slightly tricky boulder clambering spots) about 10 times.
I reached the bottom about 3.45pm, but fortunately my taxi driver had waited for me. Because of the early morning start I missed my complimentary breakfast. In fact all I had had to eat all day were some wild raspberries. I made it back just in time for the delicious guest house dinner. I was dog-tired at the end of the day, but happy.
All’s well that ends well!
“If you would understand me go to the heights or water-shore,
The nearest gnat is an explanation, and a drop or motion of waves a key,
The maul, the oar, the hand-saw, second my words”
Walt Whitman, Song of Myself
I think I will probably stick to the “water-shore” rather than the “heights” for the rest of my trip.