Tatra National Park is Slovakia’s oldest national park created in 1949. One of the more popular tourist attractions of Slovakia’s High Tatras is an aerial cable car to Lomnicky peak (Lomnický štít), the second highest peak with an elevation of 2,634 meters (8,641 feet) in Europe’s smallest alpine mountain range. Unfortunately for me, there is limited capacity for the cable cars to Lomnicky peak and all the tickets were sold out for two days. The ticket price is 19 EUR round trip to reach the intermediate station in the mountains, Skalnaté pleso (1780 m./5,840 ft) and 27 EUR more for the return ticket to Lomnický štít.
Aerial cable car ascending to Lomnický štít.
My original plan was to travel by electric train to the resort town of Tatranska Lomnica and take the aerial tram to Skalnaté pleso (16 EUR one way/19 EUR round trip). From there a mountain trail would allow me to make a 3 to 4 hour hike back to my hotel in Stary Smokovec. But waiting in a line of people buying tickets and trying to figure out the different ticket options quickly, I decided to pay an additional 9 EUR to ascend by chair lift to Lomnické sedlo (saddle), an alternate peak destination from Skalnaté pleso at an elevation of 2,190 meters / 7,185 feet.
Stary Smokovec to Tatranska Lomnica by electric train
An electric train public transportation network connects more than a dozen resort villages along the lower slopes of the High Tatras. Fares are inexpensive at 50 cents to 2 EUR per trip or there are several multi-day pass ticket options for unlimited rides, but those seem unnecessary considering the low cost of point-to-point single trip tickets. The train provides recorded loudspeaker announcements in Slovak and English.
A poster on the electric train between Stary Smokovec and Tatranska Lomnica for Lomnický štít mentions it as the video location for a Pharrell Williams inspired video Happy From High Tatras, which is as close as I’ll get to seeing that spot on this trip. The skies are much clearer in the video anyway than they were during my excursion into the mountains. Lomnický štít looked to be shrouded in clouds the entire time I was up in the High Tatras today. The mountains have their own weather system that can offer significantly different conditions than the weather just a few miles away in the foothill resort towns.
Simply finding the aerial tram after exiting the train in Tatranska Lomnica was my first challenge. Signage was not clear to me. Fortunately the mountain trail signs around here are much easier to read.
The aerial tram was about a 15 minute walk from the Tatranska Lomnica station to the left along the main road, then up the hill.
I paid 29 EUR for a round trip ticket to Lomnické sedlo (saddle) and received a ‘gopass’ card used to electronically pass through the aerial tram gates at each of three stations up the mountains.
Aerial tram view over the forest on the lower southern slopes of the High Tatras. Portions of the lower slopes around Tatranska Lomnica are covered in forest, however, much of the lower slopes around the resort towns look like they have been logged.
Much of the forest on the southern slopes was logged, but out of necessity. A freak windstorm struck the region on November 19, 2004 with winds over 100 mph for a period of several hours. As much as one-third of the forest was blown over in a stretch of land 2.5 km wide and 50 km long on the southern slopes of the Tatras. Overnight the landscape changed for decades. I had a difficult time imagining what the area looked like 20 years ago, but I found this amazing 15 minute professional video on YouTube with English text showing the forests on November 18, the storm on November 19 and the aftermath in the following days. It is dramatic footage and has helped me understand the landscape I have hiked through and the hardship people locally have endured over the past decade adjusting to their new normal. Tatry – Natural Disaster.
There is an aerial tram change station part way up to Skalnate Pleso. A restaurant and observatory are located at Skalnate Pleso and there is a tarn, a mountain lake. The observatory is off limits. A trail goes around the small lake and there are two stations for the aerial ascents to the two higher peaks.
The temperature dropped from the mid-70s at the first aerial tram to the 50s at nearly 6,000 feet in elevation.
Be sure to pack warm clothing if you head into these upper elevations. I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt, but I had pants, a heavy shirt, raincoat and extra socks in my backpack for the hike. I put on my heavy shirt for the next chair lift aerial ride.
The groundcover at this elevation seen in the photo above were tiny pine shrubs. At higher elevations there were only some grasses growing among the rocks.
I am not a skier and this was only my second time on a chair lift. The last time was 1974 in Germany when I thought I might become a skier. I fell over trying to get off the chair lift and caused several other skiers to fall over me as I struggled to get out of their way. This time the chair lift ascent to Lomnické sedlo worked out better for me. It was the descent where I had problems.
This photo looking down the slope from Skalnaté pleso shows the 2.5 km wide forest devastation from the 2004 windstorm. The swath of destruction looks like tornado damage cut right through the forest.
Unlike Lomnicky peak with a restaurant and even a hotel suite stay option, there are no facilities at Lomnické sedlo (saddle), not even a toilet. But there is also no timetable for when you must travel. I ended up spending about 90 minutes hiking around and snapping photos from different vantage points on the saddle.
The weather was quickly changeable at an elevation over 7,000 feet as clouds lifted, broke and descended again minute by minute.
A word of caution: the first news story I saw on TV at the hotel after arriving in Stary Smokovec was a helicopter mountain rescue of a hiker in the Tatras. There are many warnings in the train transportation guides and High Tatra hiking maps about mountain rescue insurance. After seeing the news story on TV I went online and read a news article about an average of three mountain rescues per day in July and August 2016 for hikers in the High Tatras. Most of the rescues are for ordinary tourist hikers who fall and get injured. Trip on the rocks of even an easy mountain trail and break your leg and you need to be carried or airlifted out of the mountains by the Mountain Rescue Service. That will cost you. I purchased mountain rescue insurance before heading out on the High Tatra trails. The cost for insurance was 0.70 EUR per day, processed at the tourist information office in Stary Smokovec and I covered the duration of my stay here.
There were only about 25 or 30 people on the saddle at the time I was there with about a kilometer of the ridge to hike. I ventured a little farther out on the ridge than anyone else at the time for different photo vantage points while proceeding cautiously.
My hotel is down there in Stary Smokovec.
Point where I reached the limit of my comfort level on the Lomnické sedlo saddle.
High Tatra trails are color coded and marked in this fashion on rocks, trees and sign posts.
This is designated an easy trail and back to the chair lift I hiked for the ride back down the mountain.
I rode back down the mountain with a seat mate after ascending by myself. I did not realize having my foot resting on the bar was preventing the bar from being lifted when we reached the hop off point. At least I think that was the problem.
My plan to hike back to the hotel was abandoned due to the time of day with only about 2.5 hours before sunset.
A good meal and beer seemed like a more sensible plan.
Czech Budweiser is quite tasty, although paying 2.50 EUR seemed quite steep in price compared to the average cost of a 0.5L big beer in Slovakia.
Greetings from Vysoké Tatry, the High Tatras of Slovakia.