Climbing Rysy (2499 m) – the Highest Peak in Poland
Rysy is the highest mountain in Poland, lying on the border with Slovakia. It is one of the most popular destinations in the Polish Tatra Mountains. Many hikers are ill-prepared for such a venture. The sheer number of people attempting Rysy at any given time can lead to dangerous situations, especially when passing other people. The risk of falling rocks is also considerable.
The end of August or beginning of September is, in my opinion, the best time to attempt Rysy. Snow will have melted, the weather is more stable, and you’ll encounter fewer hikers than at the peak of summertime.
- Palenica – Morskie Oko 2h
- Morskie Oko – Czarny Staw pod Rysami 50m
- Czarny Staw pod Rysami – Bula pod Rysami 1h 30m
- Bula pod Rysami – Rysy 2h
Palenica – Morskie Oko
The path from Palenica to Morskie Oko is universally hated by Polish hikers. It’s 10 km of asphalt with the odd shortcut through the forest.
But early in the morning, the walk was pleasant and the air fresh. The light and low mist played beautifully on dew-stained leaves. We were accompanied by a handful of seasoned hikers. Later in the day, the road to Morskie Oko would be jammed with families and horse-drawn carriages. But this early in the morning, it was empty and magical.
We reached Morskie Oko in 1h 30m. People claim that Morskie Oko (literally: Sea Eye) is the most beautiful lake in the Polish Tatra Mountains, and this morning, without the usual crowds, I could understand why.
We stayed a bit at the Morskie Oko mountain shelter. And then we went on.
Morskie Oko – Czarny Staw pod Rysami
The denivelation between Palenica and the summit of Rysy is 1500 m. We began to appreciate this fact on the way to Czarny Staw pod Rysami (another mountain lake, lying above Morskie Oko).
The trail is beautiful, leading first along Morskie Oko, and then through steep, rocky stairs. I had to take a couple of breaks to catch my breath, but the views compensated the effort.
At Czarny Staw pod Rysami, we had a short break to prepare ourselves for the main feat – the steep, nearly 4-hour-long hike to the summit.
Czarny Staw pod Rysami – Bula pod Rysami
This was my least favourite bit – nearly 500 m up the rocky stairs until we reached a monumental boulder, Bula pod Rysami, overhanging the two lakes we’d left behind. A perfect spot for taking dramatic photos.
The way is technically easy but long and physically taxing. Those with severe agoraphobia won’t feel comfortable, as the path is steep. The trail is in the shade, which, coupled with the rapid changes in altitude, makes for dramatic temperature drops. Hikers often meet here treacherous slabs of snow in early summer. Fortunately, there were none in late August.
Finally, we reached Bula pod Rysami at 2054 m.
Bula pod Rysami – Rysy
The last bit is technically more demanding. Metres of chains have been installed, the path is uneven and rocky, and you have to do a bit of scrambling. I enjoyed it more than the previous drudgery!
There were quite a few people on the trail, so we had to wait to use the chains. Some people took shortcuts, but we waited patiently for our turn. We didn’t want to elbow our way to the top.
When we were halfway through, some people already began descending, and we had to make space for them. We could do it safely, but the hike prolonged significantly.
Right before the summit, we came across the most challenging obstacle – a short, narrow ledge leading over a precipice. The obstacle was more psychological than technical, as there was a chain to hold on to. We watched as one girl in sneakers, encouraged by his boyfriend and other people on the trail, was struggling to get across the ledge. It took ages, but she managed it.
The obstacle turned out to be easier than I’d supposed. A good hold of the chain and a few confident steps, and I was on the other side. Shortly after, we reached the summit.
The weather was perfect with 100% visibility on both the Polish and Slovakian side. We looked, stunned, as the Tatra Mountains stretched before our eyes in all their majestic beauty. Our legs forgot the 1.5 km up we’d just made. It was a euphoric moment.
We bundled ourselves in sweatshirts, as the temperature was a couple degrees lower than in the lowlands. We ate but we couldn’t stay for long – there was still a long hike down ahead of us.
On a whim, we decided to descend on the Slovakian side.
The Slovakian side was much easier than the Polish side – there was maybe one place with chains. But our legs were screaming out of exhaustion and the route seemed to have no end.
Worse still, we didn’t have plans as to how to come back to Poland. We thought we could get to the nearest elektrichka station, catch some transport to Poprad, and maybe stay for the night there.
Fortunately, we weren’t the only dumb Polish hikers stranded in Slovakia. When we got to the elektrichka station, it was already dark. There were quite a few of our own people, so we ordered a big taxi back to Poland.
It was a long day. I left home at 6 am and returned at 10 pm.
Practical Tips if You Want to Climb Rysy
- Rysy is an intermediate trail. You need previous hiking experience in alpine terrain. In Poland, you can get the necessary experience on Świnica or Kościelec.
- You’ll need A LOT of stamina. The stamina to go up and down 1.5 km, to be precise. Don’t choose Rysy as your first destination in the Tatra Mountains.
- The temperature drop is significant. Even if it’s a hot summer day in the lowlands, you’ll be cold at the summit. Do yourself a favour and put on long trousers. Sweatshirts and raincoats are also mandatory.
- Snow lies on Rysy until early summer. Check the current hiking conditions before attempting Rysy. Slipping on snow is a common death cause on Rysy.
- Take lots of water and food. It’s going to be a long day.
- The earlier you’re on the trail, the better. Factor in queues on the trail. It took us more than 3h 30m to go from Czarny Staw pod Rysami to the top of Rysy.
- Avoid the high season. Late August/early September is best, in my opinion, to beat the biggest crowds but still have enough daylight to finish the hike.
- Wear proper hiking boots. Wearing sandals or flip-flops is dangerous for you and people around you.
- Watch out for loose rocks. Wear a safety helmet, if possible.
- If you can, book two nights at the Morskie Oko mountain shelter. It will save you 4 hours of hiking.