I do not remember how many times I tried to go to the Mala Fatra mountains and for some reason had to postpone the trip ... in May the weather was just horrible, in October, I was already driving there but I had car crash (well, I was in a hurry and I have got a lesson) And finally, in February, at the end of winter - I made it.
The plan was ambitious already from the beginning - on Saturday, at dawn, I wanted to be at the top of the Wielki Rozsutec, then, through Mala Fatra's main ridge (Stoh, Poludniowy Grun, Hromove and Chleb) I planned to go to Velky Krivan to watch susnet there. After a brief calculation, it turned out that I had to leave home at about 0:30AM to make it, so I had to wake up at midnight.
I wanted to catch at least 3 hours of sleep, so lay down at 9:00PM, but as in those moments, most of the time I just rolled over from side to side or fell into a restless nap. In the end, I was able to sleep, but it was a moment before the alarm clock rang, so from the bed I got up completely unconscious. I prepared hot tee in thermos and hit the road. This time, remembering the October adventure, I drove slowly and carefully, especially that the road in Slovakia was strangely shinning in the car's headlights. But in general weather was promising - just stars and no clouds in the sky. Finally I reached the parking lot in Stefanowa and after a quick breakfast (if the meal at 3:00 am at night could be called "breakfast") I headed up.
Weather is (still) quite good
What in theory looks like a trival trail through the forest, in the winter and during the night turned out to be a challenge - the trail was covered in snow, which was in many places collapsing under my weight, so sometimes I had to wade in it to the knees. Additionally, signs on the green trail are not so well arranged, so in many places I had problems to find a way. Fortunately, with some astonishment, I noticed that somebody was walking the same night there already - and these traces in many places helped me, though it was clear that those who did them, were turning around in search of the trail here and there.
Suddenly, without any notice, trees dissapeared and finally I managed to get out of the pass between Rozsutec and Stoh, where the snow turned out to be better - hard, scattered concrete. I set up the crampoons, pulled out the ice axe, and went left, heading for Rozsutec. The path initially rises gently upwards through the forest, but after a while it starts to go in harpin bends steeply to the top. Trees fall behind and are replaced by steep slopes and rocks. And here, traces turned out to be my salvation again. It seems to me that without them, it would not be so easy to reach the top - searchiving for a correct way at night and winter when the path and signs are under the snow would be very time consuming (I only knew that you had to stick to the south ridge to avoid possible avalanches at the eastern slope). Here is another lesson for the future - even on such inconspicuous mountain as Rozsutec, you can have problems, so its better to prepare yourself upfront.
This dark pulp on the right will soon spoil the fun
Anyway, after a longer while, I went out to the underside saddle, which had to be traversed with steep slopes on both sides. There are no technical difficulties at all, but if you slip down, it may be very very dangerous. I went through this part rather cautiously. Then you only have to climb a few meters across the rocks to reach the summit. And there, finally, I met two Slovaks who made all these trraces I followed. They came (of course!) for the same purpose as me and had already started to prepair their photo equipment. It turned out that my timing was pretty good and there was still some time left until dawn. The weather was still very good, only the western part of Fatra was hidden under the huge black cloud. For the moment, it did not look like anything to worry about. And the view from Velky Rozsutec was great - rocks in the foreground, the main ridge of Mala Fatra with Stoh and the Velky Krivan at hand, the Wielka Fatra and the Low Tatras somewhere in the south-east, and the Tatras on the horizon exactly in the east.
Rocks at the top of Velky Rozsutec
After a dozen or so minutes, however, it turned out that this huge black cloud I had seen in the west began slowly swallowing the central part of the range, which meant that it would soon cover Rozsutec too. Unfortunately, this time I was right - just before sunrise, everything turned white. Well, only thing I could do, was to pack my gear and go down. Fortunately, descent was relatively easy and soon I found myself back on the wide Medziholie pass. The weather broke down to such an extent that I began to consider descent down to car and going back home.
Descend from the Velky Rozsutec, clouds lower and lower
In the end, however, I decided to take my chances and - as planned initally - I headed towards Stoh. I do not remember any other trail as this - a steep path through the forest, and then trudging from one pole to the other. To make everything even worse, the higher I was, the heavier it was snowing. I started to be rally tired, so my pace was rather embarrassing (of course there was nobody around, so I did not have to be ashamed of it). When I reached the summit, I was so happy that for the moment I nearly missed the trail - I just passed the apex and headed for the peg I saw straight ahead. But something touched me and I came back to check the signposts - they were icy, but I was able to read that the red ridge trail turns right on Stohh, and what I took for its continuation was actually the green trail going down to the south.
End of good weather :(
All in all, Stoh's summit is quite flat, so the views probably are not so spectacular. Thanks to that I did not even regret that almost nothing is visible. Or maybe I am wrong...? Maybe one day I will try to find out.
The descent from the summit was almost as boring as the ascent. In the meantime the visibility dropped to about 15 meters, so further poles had to be found blindfold. At one point I stopped at a place where neither the previous nor the next one was visible - only the glacial slope, the ice-snowshoes and the snowing snow. For one tiny moment I felt some sort of strange anxiety, but it was gone as soon as the next pole loomed in the distance.
Somebody painted it white
Finally, when I found myself on the next pass (Stohove Sedlo),it stopped snowing, the wind went away and even in the distance one could see some parts of Rozsutec (of course still there was no sign of a sun). That is why I decided to go further, not to descend to the car from the Poludniowy Grun Mt. And nearby its summit finally I met some other people on the trail. Somehow it happened that I started talking to a few Hungarian tourists, so that the further way through Steny and Hromove passed pretty quickly. This part of the ridge is very narrow (I immediately associated it with a saddle on the Velky Rozsutec),but at that day somehow I did not pay much attention to it. The next day it appeared to be crucial place to pass, but let's not forestall next events. In the meantime the weather started to improve, the clouds escaped and the sun began to go out. This was the final confirmation that I did well staying.
And I thought that I am alone here
You can actually see something finally...
As I mentioned, I was having a conversation with some nice Hungarian girls when suddenly we heard a strange shout somewhere ahead. Suddenly, we saw that one of tourists walking a few dozen meters in front of us (later turned out to be a fellow of the girls) began to slide down the icy slope. The slope was't steep (max 45 degrees) and after about 100 meters it was almost flat, but then again it was a very steep slope towards a forest a few hundred meters below. The tourist did not have any crampons or anything like that, so he was just sliding down helplessly. Finally, however, somehow he stopped on a flat part of the slope. At this moment he was safe, but he wasn't able to get back to the trail. Fortunately, I had a pair of mini-crampoons with me as a backup of my full size ones, so I went down carefully to the unfortunate tourist and then we came back upstairs together - he using my mini-crampoons.
Even sun appears again
Few moments later, after thanks and goodbyes, I parted with Hungarians - they seemed to have had enough of an adventures for that day and decided to take the Chleb cable car down, and I - still having plenty of time to the sunset - went to the local bar for a meal. The food was not very good (that actually could be expected - usually in such places you cannot expect anything delicious. For a moment I even regret that I did not go to the "Chata pod Chlebom" refuge to eat there, but it was more far away and lower, so I was just too lazy. However, I was so hungry that I ate everything.
That's the weather we like :)
In the meantime, the weather improved dramatically - finally sun was shinning and amount of clouds in the sky was "just right" for shooting landscapes. There was still time to the sunset, but I was afraid that these conditions would not last forever, so I finished my meal quickly and went to the Velky Krivan summit. The approach leads first next to the main ridge (which is veeeeeeeery wide here) and then turns left and leads through slightly narrower (but still quite broad) ridge of Krivan. And actually I believe that from this ridge you can shoot the best pictures - thanks to many rocks that can be nicely incorporated in the foreground. Anyway, I spent there all afternoon, shoting and enjoying the views. Unfortunately, the Tatras were still covered by clouds, so I focused on views to the west, where you can see huge and very steep slopes of the Maly Krivan.
Only when the sun disappeared behind the horizon, I began to descend to the "Chata pod Chlebom" hut (which is quite close, so I didn't even need my headlamp to get there). Soon I found myself in a refuge, in the middle of cheerful, mostly Slovakian-Czech company. Well, finally in the hut I was able to ate some really good stew with a big bundle of bread, chatting with the Czechs sitting next to me.
Mt Wielky Krivan
Last minutes before sunset
Fortunately, the sunset in winter is early and the sunrise is late, so this time I could sleep little longer. When I came out from the hut, the stars were shinning in the sky, so I was hoping that this time the sunrise would be better than the day before. I was planning to take a photo of the dawn from around the top of the Chled and I went directly there. It was pretty warm (as for a winter) but it changed radically as soon as I reached the ridge. Immediately, I was hit by the horrible wind from the east that was bringing tiny, razor-sharp bits of glaciated snow. I was wearing a balaclava, but I did not have goggles with me, so I reached the top almost blindly. Worst of all, it turned out that the wind blew the mass of heavy clouds and there (again!) will be no dawn at all.
Only 30 seconds of sub on Sunday
Fortunately the base of the clouds was much higher than the day before, so something was still visible and I even managed to take some pictures. The worst part still was in front of me - I went as I planned, following the main ridge to the east, through the Hromove and the Steny to get down to Stefanowa village. At some point the ridge turns north, and its width does not even exceed half a meter - that was the critical point I mentioned earlier. That day the wind was so strong that it was actually even hard to stand there. I preferred not to risk the fall on the steep icy slope, so I crossed this part on all fours using my ice axe to secure myself. In the meantime weather became gray and quite dark, so I descended without any regret from the ridge using the fastest route down. I have just stopped at another hut (Chata na Gruni) where I had my breakfast and then I went down through the woods to the Stefanowa parking lot where my car was waiting for me and I drove home.
Overall, it was a nice trip - I was for the first time in the Mala Fatra in the winter and I really enjoyed it. Only weather could be better, but nothing is perfect. We will see, maybe next winter will be better.