It's 2AM, pitch black outside and not a single star in the sky... should I stay or should I go? Almost all forecasts promise a beautiful night in Slovakia and a sunny day, but somehow I find it hard to believe in it when I look through the window. In the end, somehow, I manage to make a real man's decision - let's go!
I have only to prepare some hot tea in a thermos and I jump into the car. Then I have to drive for two and a half hours. Surprisingly, even though it's the middle of the night, there's a lot of traffic on the streets and roads in Poland. Only when I reach Slovakia, roads are empty and quiet. I look at the sky from time to time and I have more and more doubts whether my trip makes sense at all. Still not even a single star in the sky... but it's only half an hour left to my today's starting point in Valaska Dubova village, so it is too late to go back. Of course, I have chosen the fastest trail to the top, but in case of the Veľký Choč there are no short or easy routes - it's always at least two hours of walking and 900 meters of elevation gain, does not matter which trail you choose. Meanwhile, a bit after crossing Polish/Slovakian border, weather - by some magic wand - changes. Clouds stay on the Polish side, and in Slovakia beautiful starry sky and fog in the valleys promise great sunrise.
Where did this Veľký Choč come from? In Poland, it's rather unknown place. I turned my attention to this clumsy, crooked mountain with a rocky peak only because I passed it many times when I was going to the Veľká Fatra Mountains. But if you google its name, then you will find out that it is one of the most beautiful panoramas in Slovakia... well, I will find it out soon. And here are few words of explanation: I had the opportunity to be at the top of it a few weeks earlier, but it was so foggy that there was not much to be seen from the top. But at least now I know what to expect on the trail.
I reach Valaska Dubova village at the very last moment - it's only 90 minutes to the dawn, so I will rather have to hurry to be at the top on time. The trail from this side of the mountain is not particularly attractive - most of the time you simply go through the forest, climbing up the path quite heavily. It's boring and horribly tiring, especially in the night, only from time to time some strange noises in the dark lift up my blood pressure ... but I prefer not to turn around to see what's that and I do not want even to imagine what I could see in the light of the headlamp (maybe just a hedgehog or...?).
Finally, the path approach big glade, where you can catch your breath, because the trail runs almost flat for a few moments. And here I pass few Slovaks who, like me, go to watch dawn from top. And from here, you can see in the darkness black dome of Choč. It seems that it will be rather crowdy up there today - there is a lot of other headlamps glowing in the dark.
During my ascend I choose a winter variant of the trail (marked with a signpost and some poles) - it is much more convenient than the standard summer route (marked with green signs),where are several very steep and slippery parts. Along the way I pass a few more groups of tourists and finally I am at the top, where quite large crowd has already gathered. And the view which is waiting for me there is so stunning that it is difficult to find proper words to describe it!
Sea of fog just before dawn
Island called The Tatras
The Veľký Choč from the eastern side drops with a very steep, rocky-grassy slope. When you go to the top from the west side (from Valaska Dubova) and suddenly you find yourself standing over the edge, the view is simply breathtaking. All the surrounding valleys are covered with a sea of fog, which seems to be almost under your foot. Only the highest mountain ranges are visible... the Western and High Tatras in the east, then the Low Tatras in the southeast, glades of the Veľká Fatra in the south, and in the west the steep slopes and glades of the Mala Fatra with the eye-catching rocks of the Velky Rozsutec. In the north, on the Polish side you can see only the cone of Babia Góra, all the rest is under the clouds. Simply beautiful!
I think we'll all bring good pictures
And I didn't want to come today...
Fisheye fun at the top of Choč
Only terrible cold and blowing wind annoys me a little, so I decide to put hat and gloves on. Fortunately, when the sun goes out, immediately it gets warmer. And beautiful light helps me to forget about the cold right away. Interestingly, all the others decide to go down just few moments after the sunrise. It does not bother me at all - it is really worth living for these lonely mornings in the mountains.
Archipelago of the Veľká Fatra - the Rakytov on the left, then Krizna, Ostredok, Ploska ...
Fog disappears slowly and - surprisingly! - there is something under it!
Some mountains still below the surface, others above
It's not only me who came here for pictures
And this is a full panorama from the top
Western slopes of the Veľký Choč
Only few clouds over the Tatras, and strange dark sky on Polish side
Almost aerial view of surrounding mountains
There are still clouds on the Polish side
I spend dozens of minutes on surrounding rocks making a lot of photos, then - about an hour after sunrise - I start my descend using the same trail I used to get here. On the way, I stop again a few times to take pictures. It looks like the western edge of the top dome must be a great place to watch the sunset ... well, maybe someday...?
View to the west, with the Veľká Fatra and Mala Fatra on the horizon
That seems to be a great spot for sunset
It's getting late so I speed up and run down following green trail to Valaska Dubova. Along the way, I pass a real crowd of people going up - it's really a popular mountain for the Slovaks and no wonder - the views from it are really stunning. It is a pity that the bottom part of the trail is so boring. Fortunately, it takes only 30 minutes to go through this part of the trail and get to my car. Now only two and a half hours of drive and I reach my home (and sky on Polish side is still overcast) ...