Head in the clouds: Three hikes worth the effort

Take out your hiking shoes and backpack, these trips will enchant you.

Between Veľký and Malý Kriváň in Malá Fatra mountain rangeBetween Veľký and Malý Kriváň in Malá Fatra mountain range (Source: NHF)

When Slovaks want to go on a good hike in Slovakia, they usually head north. When planning the route, the condition, time options and views that hikers want to see from the top will be considered.

We have chosen and tested three hikes in the northern-Slovak region of Žilina, each completely different from the others, yet each suitable for weekend hikers as well as more experienced hikers.

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Two peaks with one name

On the first trip, we set off from Vrátna Dolina Valley near the well-known tourist spot of Terchová. We are planning to cross part of the ridge of Krivánská Malá Fatra, but for we opt for an easier start and take a cable car from Vrátna Dolina to Snilovské Sedlo saddle. The cable car operates all year round and while it serves skiers and snowboarders in the winter, it is mainly used by hikers in the summer. Parking at the lower cable car station is free. Tickets can be bought on the spot, but also in advance via the Vrátna online shop. This will save you waiting in a queue, especially on weekends.

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The eight-seater cable car will take you to the Snilovské Sedlo saddle in a few minutes. You have thus easily overcome 750 metres in height and you are reaching an important crossroad. From here, hikers most often go right (to the west) to Veľký Kriváň or left (to the east) to Chleb.

We take the route to Veľký Kriváň and then a little further, towards its smaller namesake. From Snilovské Sedlo, we go to the Hrana Veľkého Kriváňa junction. From there, it is only a few minutes to the peak. The total climbing time from the cable car upper station is approximately 35 minutes. From the top, we can see the neighbouring Chleb Peak on one side and the dominant rocky peaks of Veľký and Malý Rozsutec, which are difficult to mistake for others. Looking at the other side, it is Pekelník and Malý Kriváň, where we are still planning to head.

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The path to Pekelník mostly descends, so no great effort is needed. From the Bublen saddle, we continue our descent to the foot of Malý Kriváň. Here, we start to climb again - it takes us about an hour to reach the peak.

After the initial steep climb, our route mostly leads directly along the ridge and it one finds it hard to decide whether to look to the right or to the left. At the peak of Malý Kriváň, there is a stone pillar with a tourist memory book. From the top, we look back towards Pekelník and Veľký Kriváň, where we came from, but another part of the Malá Fatra ridge is revealed to us - Kľačianska Magura, Suchý, Biele Skaly, Stratenec as well as Žilina, Martin and the Veľká Fatra mountain range.

The views are not all that will impress you on this road. Malá Fatra is home to rare animals and plants. Botanist Jozef Limánek, from the administration of this national park, draws our attention to species of European importance – Campanula serrata and Carpathian glossy pink, which in Malá Fatra has one of the most numerous populations in Slovakia. Careful eyes will also notice some species of orchids, for example chalk fragrant orchid.

"The area around Chleb, in particular, is rich in protected and endangered species, but precisely because of the unbearable traffic, many are retreating," says Limánek. "I recommend less frequented and harder-to-access hiking trails, but there are always interesting views of fauna and flora if the visitor has an attentive eye and an open mind."

We return along the same route to the mouth of the cable car. In total, the hike took us about four hours, including breaks, and we covered almost 11 kilometers.

Other places in the Žilina Region where you can combine your trips with cable cars are Kubínska Hoľa, Oravice, Roháče - Spálená, Jasná, Malinô Brdo and Veľká Rača. The first three are in Orava, the next two in Liptov and the last one in Kysuce.

Above the stream

Hikers looking for a bit of adrenaline will appreciate the via ferratas. In Liptovské Revúce, there is a via ferrata called Dve Veže, but we chose the HZS Via Ferrata, which leads to Martinské Hole.

"The ascent is also suitable for families with children," says Miroslav Dolinský from the Fatra Ski company, which rents ferrata sets and mountain scooters. Dolinský explains that there are limitations that result from the children's physical fitness, as well as the technical design of the route, especially the distance of footboards and fixtures. "In general, I would recommend the via ferrata to families with children over 10."

We start the ascent in the Martin-Stráne district, where you can park for free. We rent a ferrata set at the local Ferrata guesthouse. The second option is in the Fatra Ski equipment rental shop. In both cases, a reservation at least a day in advance is recommended.

We start from the guesthouse and continue along Pivovarský potok. The beginning of the hiking trail is not yet a via ferrata, a regular hiking trail that crosses the stream in several places with wooden footbridges. Dolinský says that this access path is also very attractive. Along the way, there are several places where you can rest on wooden benches with tables.

After about an hour and a half of walking, we arrive at the place where the via ferrata begins - there is a sign to make it clear. It is also possible to go up by an ordinary hiking trail, since the via ferrata is one-way and there is no way to return.

At this point, we need to put on a helmet, harness and fall arrester, possibly gloves. Tourists walk on steps nailed to the rock and secure themselves on a steel rope at waist height. Some parts are secured by ladders.

In a little while we reach the most interesting part of the route – the two rope bridges that lead over the stream. They offer beautiful views and a great adrenaline experience at the same time. This part has an A difficulty, being the easiest ferrata possible. After a short climb through this section, the via ferrata splits and there are two routes to choose from – while the left one is shorter and easier, containing B and A/B difficulty sections, the right section is longer and more demanding. Here you can find sections B and even C. Both alternatives will take you to the same place, the hikers' book.

If you do not dare take the route alone, you can hire a guide. "The advantage of climbing with a guide is that they will train you on how to properly use the via ferrata equipment and ensure that the ascent goes smoothly," says Dolinský. "They will advise, help and make the hike safer. Providing information about the location is also an important aspect."

From the hikers' book, with solid ground under your feet, you will reach the mountain resort of Martinky in 10-15 minutes, a popular skiing resort. In addition to various accommodation options, you can also have refreshments here.

Since the via ferrata is one-way, you can use the regular hiking trail that will lead you back to Stráne. To make the journey a little more interesting, we recommend renting mountain scooters in the centre near the Nová Ponorka chalet.

"Mountain scooters are a faster and also more adrenaline-filled alternative to descending from Martinské Hole," says Dolinský.

The driving route initially follows an asphalt road, explains Dolinský, then connects to an old serpentine road, a paved forest road with different surfaces - clay, stones, gravel. The length of the route is approximately 7 km, it overcomes an elevation gain of 700 metres, and you get down by scooter approximately an hour earlier.

"A significant advantage is that by riding scooters, we save our joints, which get used when going down on foot," says Dolinský.

Rocks, everywhere you look

The last of the hikes we recommend is the most demanding of the three - there are neither ladders nor a cable car to make things easier. Sivý Vrch (Grey Hill) in the Western Tatras is unknown to many tourists. Its upper part resembles a rocky town, where you sometimes feel like you're not even in Slovakia.

We start at the Biela Skala gamekeeper’s lodge, where it is also possible to park. Following the red mark, we climb steeply upwards. After about an hour and a half, we reach a point called Biela Skala (White Rock). The site offers views of the surrounding countryside with a double cross on site.

After another 30 minutes, the characteristic peak of Sivý Vrch will appear in front of us - a rocky town interspersed with paths, where our steps will now lead. Two more difficult climbing sections are equipped with chains.

We will reach the top after about another 45 minutes. The view is circular. You can see from Liptovská Mara to Orava Dam, surrounded by Babia Hora and the Western Tatras.

The article has been brought to you thanks to a partnership with the Žilina Tourism Region - www.zilinskyturistickykraj.sk.
Implemented with the financial support of the Ministry of Transport and Construction of the Slovak Republic.

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