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Snežka – the tallest Czech mountain

 
photo:  (Snežka, photo: Magdalena Kašubová)
 

Snežka is the highest summit in the Czech Republic, and is found in the Krkonoše mountains in the far north-east of Bohemia. The Krkonoše mountains are synonymous with wintertime skiing in the country. Between roughly December and February, the numerous ski slopes there are filled with tourists from the Czech Republic, as well as Poland and Germany. The central hub for this is the tourist town of Špindlerův Mlýn. But Snežka is best to visit after the snows have thawed...

 

Just a few kilometres east of Špindlerův Mlýn is another small town called Pec pod Snežkou. This serves as the gateway to its namesake mountain Snežka, whose peak is about 7 kilometres, or between 2-4 hours walk away, depending on the route and one’s pace. At the edge of this small town is a cable car track which traverses from Pec pod Sněžkou to Růžová hora mountain and then just below the 1603 metre high summit of Sněžka.

The cable car is an experience in itself, offering stunning views of the mountains. But for anyone wanting to experience the area on foot as well, the best option is to walk up Snežka and then take the cable car back down. But it is best to check the weather conditions beforehand, as during periods of severe weather (meaning winds above 60 km/h) the cable car only traverses between the first two stops – and up in the mountains the weather can change very fast...

Czech tourist paths across the country are colour-coded – blue, yellow, red and green; with purple used for bicycle paths. There’s no hiding the fact that this system is highly effective, and even neighboring countries like Germany and Austria are gradually adopting the Czech systems, especially in border areas. There are a number of such colour-coded options for the walk up Snežka. Beyond taking a round trip, it’s also possible to continue on into Poland, or along the mountain peaks to the nearby town of Svatý Petr, or even to walk directly under the cable car.

Probably the most scenic route from Pec pod Sněžkou is the blue-coloured one, which takes the hiker along a crystal clear fast-flowing river called Úpa. The path also passes the důl Kovárna mines. Open in July and August – and requiring visitors to book tickets ahead – these underground mines date back to the 15th century, with mineral extraction activities peaking in the 1950s. Today, work there continues, albeit of the scientific research variety. A guided tour offers visitors the opportunity to see an array of caves, some vast, some decidedly cramped.

Back up towards the summit, and past a number of small waterfalls, it is only near the peaks that the trees give way to shrubs and bare rock. The blue route first takes you to the Obří sedlo peak, just west of the Sněžka summit. By now, one is standing at the Czech-Polish border. On the Polish side is a lodge containing a restaurant. Then the final (admittedly now a little exhausting) trudge begins along the bare slopes along a singular path up to the summit, clearly visible in the distance now like some cathedral in the sky. Even on the hottest of summer days it’s crucial to pack some protection from rain and fierce winds. Up here, severe gusts are common. You definitely don’t want to have just a t-shirt with you when the weather takes a turn for the worse.

Upon reaching the Snežka summit, one can’t help but feel a slight sense of being in a sci-fi film, visiting an astronaut base on some foreign world. That’s because of the fantastic design of the Polská bouda – Polish lodge – with its multi-level spherical saucer-like pods. The building was completed in 1974, serving as a meteorological and scientific research station. Czech-Polish border stones traverse the middle of the summit along the gravely ground. On the Czech side is an equally futuristic-looking grated metal cube of a building called Česká poštovna (Czech Post Office). Yes, it really is a post office with plenty of postcards on offer. But inside, where a wood paneled designed plays tricks with the mind given the look of the exterior – one can also sit down at a mini restaurant and order something hot to eat or drink. Incidentally, this is the highest situated building in the entire Czech Republic. Next to it, just on the Polish side, is the small rotunda-shaped Kaple sv. Vavřince chapel. Dating back to the 17th century, the structure underwent a major renovation in 1999. Services are still held there regularly buy both Polish and Czech faithful.

Back down via cable car (the service operates from May until the end of September) the journey is surprisingly quiet. As the car sways gently in the wind, and the cable mechanism creeks and churns, the trees below grow thicker and taller, almost brushing under your feet. Snežka offers a great escape from the day-to-day grind, and up, almost into the clouds. It’s well worth visiting.

 
 
Author: Český rozhlas Radio Praha
 
Added: 01.07.2016
 
 
 

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