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Avalanche ruins Rysy cottage

One of the most popular sites in Slovakia's High Tatra mountains, the Chata pod Rysmi (Rysy Cottage), was demolished by an avalanche in late January. Viktor Beránek, the Slovak mountaineering legend who has managed the cottage for 31 years, discovered on climbing to Rysy on February 3 that little more than loose stones and timber had survived the disaster.
"I spotted some pieces of the roof about three hundred meters below the cottage, near a waterfall, and when I finally mounted to the site I realized that the cottage was practically gone," Beránek told The Slovak Spectator on February 8.


Only the kitchen remains of what was once a popular destination in the High Tatras.
foto: TASR

One of the most popular sites in Slovakia's High Tatra mountains, the Chata pod Rysmi (Rysy Cottage), was demolished by an avalanche in late January. Viktor Beránek, the Slovak mountaineering legend who has managed the cottage for 31 years, discovered on climbing to Rysy on February 3 that little more than loose stones and timber had survived the disaster.

"I spotted some pieces of the roof about three hundred meters below the cottage, near a waterfall, and when I finally mounted to the site I realized that the cottage was practically gone," Beránek told The Slovak Spectator on February 8.

Rysy's owners and supporters have promised to rebuild the cottage, which was erected in 1933, but Beránek himself said he was fed up with recurrent avalanches and rockslides and wanted to establish a new Chata Rysy in a safer location.

Living dangerously

Rysy Cottage, at 2,250 meters (7,380 feet) above sea level, is the second mountain chalet in Slovakia's famous High Tatras to have been destroyed in the last two years. In July 1998, Zbojnícka Chata (Outlaw Cottage) burned to the ground after a fire was accidentally started.

Beránek said the Rysy Cottage has been "80% destroyed" by the latest snowslide, which was the third to have hit the building in his memory. "The roof and the lodgings are completely gone. I still don't know if the remains will be of any use at all. That's why I think the best thing would be to build a new cottage in a safer location," said Beránek. "The place is not safe, and in the summer we also get slides of rocks falling from the massif above. If anyone had been in the chalet, they wouldn't have survived the [most recent] catastrophe."

With the number of visitors the cottage attracts, finding a safe site has become a real concern. Beránek said that during the summer months, up to 300 tourists a day might pass through the Mengusovská Valley, where the cottage lies just below the peak of Mt. Rysy.

The cottage is jointly owned by the James Mountaineering Club, the Slovak Ski Organization and the Slovak Hikers' Club. According to Michal Legutky, legal representative of the Slovak Carpathian Association which manages four cottages in the High Tatras, Rysy's owners will meet on February 16 to decide what should be done with the cottage.

"I am skeptical as far as the building of a new cottage is concerned. It would be far too demanding financially. But the owners will decide what they want to do," said Legutky. "However, I think we should build a roof over the part that wasn't destroyed and reconstruct the cottage as soon as possible. By the summer it could be available for tourists as a shelter and a place to get refreshment," Legutky concluded.

Beránek explained that a bank account had been opened on February 7 at the Poprad branch of the VÚB state bank, where people wanting to assist the Rysy reconstruction could donate money. "We've already had some feedback from our friends in the Czech Republic and in Italy," he said. "They promised to collect some money to help us out with the construction. I even found four thousand crowns on my table this morning, which somebody obviously left for me. But that's nothing compared to what we'll need."

Slovak ironman

Beránek has worked at the chalet since he was eighteen, and is widely respected for his stubborn refusal to allow Rysy to be supplied by helicopter. Now 49, and a wiry 170 cm and 80 kilograms (5'6", 176 pounds), Beránek still carries supplies like coal, milk, pop and kegs of draft beer up the steep four-hour trail from Popradské Pleso below the cottage. His record load up the trail is 118 kilograms.

"I prefer to carry supplies up than to have them flown in by helicopter," he said, adding that five other human beasts of burden help him during the summer to keep the cottage supplied. "I think the fact that these things are hauled up to the cottage by human means makes them more valuable, somehow."

Beránek's on-the-job exercise has kept him in shape for the 'mountain carrying' competitions he regularly enters in the Alps, and for the 'Sherpa Rally' which is orgainsed in the High Tatras every year. Although he is not as fast as some of his competitors, he is one of the strongest; his 118 kilo trek to Chata Rysy remains a record.

(Donations to the Fund to Rebuild Chata Rysy can be made to the Poprad branch of the VÚB bank, bank code 0200, account number 137 542 5456).

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