Female & Solo Hiking in Polish Beskid Wyspowy (the Island Beskids)
The beginning of May in Poland is called Majówka. As the 1st and the 3rd of May are state holidays, it’s not only a chance for a long weekend but if you are lucky (and can take some days off) a nice long week of spring break.
This year I decided to head to the Polish mountains for my Majówka. I hoped for a pretty long trip – 8 days but had to cut it to just five because of work-related responsibilities. I wanted to go and see some places I haven’t had a chance to explore yet. I know Beskid Śląski (the Silesian Beskids) pretty well but there is much more to the east of it, where I had never had a chance to hike.
I decided to go to Beskid Wyspowy (The Island Beskids). It’s rather less popular of the various Beskids ranges so I thought it would be the perfect hiking destination.
To make hiking planning easier, I always look for long-distance trails. This time was no different – I decided to hike parts of the Small Beskid Trail (137 km) – the little brother of the Main Beskids Trail (496 km). It leads through the less popular areas of Beskid Mountains and is much shorter. Most of the peaks are not as high as the ones to the south but as I found out – that did not mean easier to hike.
Beskid Wyspowy takes its name from the very unique way the range looks. Instead of long connected mountains and peaks, it looks like a flat area where isolated mountain peaks make islands – hence the name. If you happen to be at a peak in the early morning, you can see a sea of clouds and tops of various mountains creating islands.
It sounded really beautiful and romantic in my head so off I went.
I reached Krakow, from where a small private bus took me south through charming villages and towns. I found a small village through which the trail goes and got off the bus at that spot.
Right from the beginning, it was not an easy hike. The air was humid and hot, I was out of shape. I quickly realized the downside of the mountains’ unique nature – you basically go up, up, up, reach the peak – then go down, down, down, cross a valley or a pass and repeat. There is not much diversity in the path, no ups and downs, gentle slopes and traversing on similar height.
Towards the end of a very hard climb, during which I was gasping for air and worried about my asthma coming back, I started to hear rumblings of a storm coming. I really didn’t want to get surprised by thunder when out in the open, so tried to speed up. I stopped only to hide my camera, pull rain cover on the backpack, and put a rain jacket on.
I was lucky there was no thunder – just some raining. When I reached the mountain shelter the rain was basically over.
I was rewarded with lovely views from the top of the Luboń Wielki (1022 m) – not a given thing around here, as many peaks are covered with forest and you have zero views. The mountains shelter is very basic but I loved its charming shape.
I couldn’t stay very long on the top as I had to reach my accommodation before the night fell. After eating a sandwich and taking photos of the gloriously gloomy skies, I started my trek down.
As I stated above – the path down was extremely steep and at times required a lot of care as not to slip or fall. My knees and toes were not happy with this trail!
After reaching a road I had to walk a long way down toward the Mszana Dolna town. I reached it when it was getting dark.
The next day, I had to cross the whole town to get onto the hiking path. And that day was a repeat of the day before – crazy steep climbs, very hot weather with humid air and no strength to push.
Even though the hiking was really hard at times, the woods were beautiful. At some points, I had lovely open views to the valley and the images were just straight from a fairy tale with white clouds and crisp green trees.
I planned some 23 km for that day – seemed a pretty regular (although slightly on the longer side) hiking distance for me. But in the Beskid Wyspowy distances should not be counted the same way as in other parts.
After just 10 km of walking, I was dying. I am serious – I can’t describe how tired I was and how shocked when I saw the distance I’d done. These were some of the hardest hiking trails – no rest, just up, up, up in the horrible heat.
When I reached the top of Lubogoszcz (968 m) – I was almost angry with disappointment. After so much hardship I had no views to reward me. The forest densely covered the slopes and you could see nothing. Just a spot to sit and rest before going steeply down.
The plus side of the need to cross through valleys is that the villages were really charming and many of the houses were in the old mountain style (with steep roofs).
I reached old train station at Kasina Wielka which was transformed into a B&B and a popular place with mountain bikers.
There is a lift and downhill trails for MTB so there were crowds there. I was (again) exhausted and didn’t want to move on – but there was nowhere to stay, my planned stop was at the next mountain shelter, still some 10 km away, on the other side of two mountains to climb.
As much as I didn’t want to move – I had no other choice. Majówka is a very popular time so all accommodation around here was booked well in advance.
After a longer rest, I forced myself to move – it was getting late and my chances of reaching the shelter before nightfall were getting slimmer and slimmer.
But up I went – stopping every few meters for a break and catching a breath. When it was getting closer to 6:30 pm I knew I had to look for a wild camping spot. The problem with such steep slopes is, it’s hard to find flat areas for camping.
I was lucky – close to a smaller peak there was somewhat hidden from the trail grass area. I pitched my tent at the very edge of it – I am sure it was someone’s meadow for growing grass and I didn’t want to have any problems.
It was actually a really nice place, with a lovely view. I had no access to extra water, though, so no hot meal for me for the night (or breakfast). Had enough water to quench my thirst but not to cook (or clean).
When I was all settled in my tent, I got a text from my Mom telling me to find a shelter today because big thunderstorms are coming. I got seriously scared – although I was close to a forest, not in an open space, I didn’t want to be out in a tent during a thunderstorm. I didn’t write to my Mom that I was wild camping – didn’t want her to worry but I was anxious like crazy.
I was lucky – the wave of storms and rains went somewhat to the side. I had dark skies, clouds and heavy wind but no rain or storm.
Next day, after a couple hours of hiking, I reached the peak of Lubomir with an astronomical observatory on top of it. I didn't have a chance to have a coffee in the morning (bad idea) and the breakfast was made of a candy bar.
I saw on a map that there was supposed to be a restaurant at the foot of the final climb up the Lubomir mountain. I was crazy happy when I reached it and it was open! I could have my morning coffee and breakfast made of a huge plate of french fries.
It was still too early to get anything else, the kitchen wasn't properly open. I didn't care - I had my coffee and could rest some before the final climb up to Lubomir.
The walk up, other than being as usual hard and steep, had some great educational boards. Typically, when you have education boards they are on local fauna and flora. Those were on astronomy, great discoveries and famous Polish scientist. I loved stopping and reading – a great excuse for short breaks but also to educate myself a bit on astrophysics.
The walk from the top of Lubomir to the mountain shelter Kudłacze was just lovely. Finally a nice flat or lightly downhill leading path so I could enjoy the Nature and occasional views.
I reached the mountain shelter pretty early on – at 2 pm or so but decided to stay and rest. It was a lovely day but I had my doubts about following the red trail on. I was fed up with Beskid Wyspowy and didn’t like it much. I wanted the time to research my options and see where I could go from there.
The campsite next to the mountain shelter was a bit far from flat so I was sliding when sleeping but had a pretty good rest nevertheless.
I spent the afternoon reading and enjoying the freedom to do nothing. When the sun started to set, most of the day tourists were gone and it was getting calmer and more beautiful with every minute - I could enjoy taking photos of the fantastic sunset.
The next day I walked down to the bigger town of Myślenice and grabbed a local bus to Rabka Zdrój. I decided to check the Gorce Mountains - a small range to the south of Beskid. It proved to be just the perfect decision!
The walk down to Myślenice was really nice most of the time. I could enjoy a lovely forest walking and some charming views.
Have you ever hiked in mountains you didn't like much? Although the Island Beskids were definitely beautiful - ask you can see in the photos, the type of hiking was too challenging and just not enjoyable to me. Or maybe I was just in bad shape doubled by the humid and hot weather. Great for a workout though ;-)
Have you had a chance to hike in Poland?
Do you have a "type" in hiking? Were there trails you really disliked hiking even if the place was beautiful? Let me know below!