Once upon a time... Dave and I moved to Prague and decided to celebrate the summer solstice by joining a slew of other revelers on...Read More
Snowshoeing in Snezka: A Story in Photos
Dave and I have a thoroughly delightful 19-year-old niece named Pepper, and her recent visit to Prague coincided with a snowshoeing trip to Sněžka, a peak on the Czech-Polish border in the Krkonoše mountains.
The trip was organized by Discovering Prague—a group that sponsors fun, mostly outdoorsy events designed to get locals and expats hanging out together. Our group consisted of 16 hearty souls from all over the world: UK, Czech Republic, United States, Bulgaria, Ireland, and the Netherlands. The Sněžka summit—at 5,259 feet (1,603 meters)—is the highest point in the Czech Republic. We hauled ourselves (most of the way) to the top.
Once upon a time…
We took an early morning bus ride from Prague to Pec pod Sněžkou, a small town at the base of Sněžka. The first village was established at this spot in the 16th century, and today, it’s one of the most popular ski resorts in the Czech Republic. We met our guide Ondra and our doggie escort and buckled ourselves into snowshoes for the first time ever. Pepper and Dave put on their game faces.
I should mention that we had totally geared up for this event: thermal long underwear, multiple layers of shirts and sweaters, cold-weather running tights, snow pants, new gloves, coats, and hats. After we walked about 15 minutes, directly uphill, the layers began to peel off. I eventually ditched my sweater and gloves; Dave killed his waterproof coat, and Pepper abandoned all but her t-shirt. Our trip was an overnight excursion, so everything had to be carried. We were no longer wearing our heavy clothing, but it was in our backpacks. Sweat poured down our faces and our hair was drenched, but you can see that the scenery still made us smile. (Not shown in the photo: our screaming quadriceps as walked up up up toward Sněžka.)
This makes it look like I’m a mighty conquerer, but that’s photo magic. The fast part of our group was already up this hill and around the bend while I brought up the rear.
The huffing and puffing of walking uphill was mitigated by these gorgeous trees.
After about three or four hours—I lost track of the time during our sweaty ascent—we arrived at our first stop of the trip: a chalet called Děčínská bouda that’s almost at Sněžka.
The plan was to eat a quick lunch at the chalet, then trek up to Sněžka for the view and sunset. But Dave, Pepper, and I enjoyed an alternate itinerary. We claimed our room in the chalet, went to lunch next door at Bouda Růžohorky where it was less crowded and blessedly quiet, and then devoured a big plate of the local specialty: enormous blueberry dumplings called borůvkové knedlíky, along with roasted pork, plenty of sauerkraut, and so many bottles of water. (You can see the dumplings here.)
Then we enjoyed a few minutes of the breathtaking sunset…
… and crashed onto our beds for napping and reading. By 7:00-ish, it was time to eat again. Trust me: You cannot eat too much pork, potatoes, and sauerkraut while scrambling around snowy mountain peaks. We sleepily ate our dinner, played cards, and retired for the sleep of the righteous.
In the morning, I made friends with this polar bear…
… and we set out for the peak of Sněžka. This time, our guides showed mercy and we rode the Sněžka Cableway to the top. The Internet has helpfully informed me that the cableway was updated in 2014 and its four-person cabins now carry 250 people per hour from the base at Pec pod Sněžkou to the top.
We had to wait about 20 minutes for the next ride, so we did what everyone does with free time on their hands: threw sticks for our dog escort to catch and posed for photos.
This snowball is for you.
It was kind of a mixed blessing for me to ride the cable car. One one hand: not walking up another hill! Major win. On the other hand: Did I tell you guys that I’m afraid of heights? Like, my palms sweat just thinking about riding a ski lift. I closed my eyes for most of the ride and practiced my yoga breathing, while Dave narrated, “It’s so foggy. You can barely see anything… whooooaaaaa (when we crossed over the tower and the car shook)… Huh. We just crossed above the tree line.” This looks like a smile, but that is me practicing my brave face with full commitment.
After about 5 minutes/an eternity, we disembarked into a station at the top (where they conveniently serve hot dogs and grog, should you ever find yourself there and need a snack.) Then we stepped outside into a white-out, fog-out snowstorm. The summit on the Czech side is home to a small hut and a post office—everything was covered in ice. Pepper is smiling because her time in the snow was coming to an end; she and another of our crew succumbed to blisters and took the cable car back down to town. Dave’s enthusiasm here is 100% sarcastic; he stayed on the mountain only to show solidarity with me. (I mean, the allure of hot chocolate and reading was very strong.)
I love how we look like we’re going on some arctic expedition…
… and this is the photo in which we realize the grave challenges we face…
What kind of grave challenges?, you ask. This:
Not gonna lie: I was pretty skittish walking down this icy trail. After a few minutes, I realized the metal teeth on the bottom of the snowshoes meant I wasn’t going to slide off the mountain and into Czech lore, but it did require lots of self-talk and singing. What?! I sing to myself when I get scared. Eventually, I had to laugh because it was so ridiculous. The wind was howling and shooting ice crystals into my eyes and mouth, my eyelashes were frozen together, my braids turned into icicles, and I was sidestepping down a wintery dreamscape while singing “Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!”
We really couldn’t see anything around us for quite a while. I shouldn’t have been at all surprised. The name Sněžka means “snowy” or “snow-covered.” (The old Polish name Góra Olbrzymia means “giant mountain.”)
But as we descended, the fog began to break up a bit, and we could see more of the Krkonoše Mountains.
As if by magic, a ski lodge emerged from the fog. One minute, there was nothing but white in our entire field of vision, and then bam! Luční bouda appeared. Our hair defrosted, our feet unfurled, and we ate: soup and sausages. Just when we were ready to nap, it was time to head out for our final three hours down to town.
Outside, the fog had returned but my insides were still warm from the Kulajda soup (paleo version coming soon!).
Everyone was feeling pretty pleased with themselves by this point.
I think it’s hilarious that I’m smiling in every photo because by now, in my heart, I was whining. A lot. My feet are tired. I don’t want to be cold anymore. When are we going to be done? I think I have to pee. I’m thirsty. I don’t want to stop and take off my backpack for water. OMG, am I getting dehyrated?
Somewhere between here and the end, we walked in deep, powdery snow—super fun!—and I got snow inside my boots—not super fun! By 3:30, when we reached town, my feet were squishing inside my sopping wet socks and boots. But I was so sweaty from walking that my feet weren’t cold, so WIN, I guess?
These are Dave’s snow shoes, removed for the last time when we arrived in Pec. Imagine the most massive sigh of contentment and relief you can.
I found a ski shop and bought fluffy, warm wool socks, then we joined the rest of the gang in a café where we drank ginger tea and ate The Best French Fries and Homemade Tartar Sauce In The World. When we were staggering our way back to the bus for the ride home, the Christmas tree lit up the slope.