Death and how to avoid it in the High Tatras

STARÝ SMOKOVEC - Štefan B., 55, died October 15 in the High Tatras when he fell 100 metres down a cliff in the Zelene pleso (Green Lake) valley. He was the 15th Tatra casualty of the year.
"Every year 15 to 20 people die in the Tatras. This year is no different," said Pavol Kuna, a rescue worker for the Tatranská Horská Služba (Tatras Rescue Service) in Starý Smokovec.
Since 1990, 167 people have died in the Tatra mountains. Kuna said that the biggest factor was the often volatile weather at higher elevations.

STARÝ SMOKOVEC - Štefan B., 55, died October 15 in the High Tatras when he fell 100 metres down a cliff in the Zelene pleso (Green Lake) valley. He was the 15th Tatra casualty of the year.

"Every year 15 to 20 people die in the Tatras. This year is no different," said Pavol Kuna, a rescue worker for the Tatranská Horská Služba (Tatras Rescue Service) in Starý Smokovec.

Since 1990, 167 people have died in the Tatra mountains. Kuna said that the biggest factor was the often volatile weather at higher elevations.

"This is an alpine climate, and the weather can and does change very quickly," he said.

"People often have a false sense of security here because there are no glaciers. Without the permanent ice, hikers think they don't have to be as prepared as they would be in other mountain ranges," added Tomáš Petrik, another rescue worker.

Deaths occur in both winter and summer seasons, said Kuna.

Tatra deaths have become so regular that a 'symbolic cemetery' was established near the Popradské pleso alpine lake in the 1930's. Several wooden crosses and 250 plaques mounted on the stones serve as a memorial to those who have lost their lives.

Petrik and Kuna said that hikers and skiers should always check weather reports before heading into high country. But given the unpredictability of the weather, even that is often not enough.

"There can be sudden storms on any day. If the weather changes, turn around and go back. Or head immediately for a chata (mountain cottage) and wait for the storm to pass," Petrik said.

Other safety tips: bring a small first aid-kit, an updated map, and a mobile phone if you have one.

In an emergency, call the Horská Služba at 052/442 2820, 052/442 2855, or 0903 624 869. All of the mountain cottages have telephones.

"The Tatras cover a small area, but they are very high and very dangerous. You have to prepare for them like you would in the Alps," Petrik said.

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