When a friend of mine approached me with the idea of climbing the 2,495-metre Kriváň peak in the High Tatras, I nodded in agreement: Why not? While there are some other Tatras peaks higher on my hiking wish list, it is said that each Slovak should climb this symbol of the Slovak nation – its crooked profile was chosen for the smaller Slovak euro coins – at least once during his or her lifetime. My only condition was that we would climb it outside the summer tourist season, to avoid the crowds.
- Kriváň, 2,495m, is the second highest peak in the High Tatras that is accessible via a marked touristic route. The highest is Rysy, 2,503m. The fact that one does not need to be accompanied by a mountain guide to climb these peaks makes them the most popular in the High Tatras. On August 4, 2022, a census recorded 1,188 tourists climbing Rysy and 566 ascending Kriváň.
- There are three localities from where one can start or end a hike to the summit of Kriváň: Tri Studničky (Three Wells), Rázcestie pri Bielom Váhu, and Štrbské Pleso. The duration of the hike depends on the route and the ability of the hiker – but be prepared for it to take a full day.
- There is no hut or cottage on the route up Kriváň, so you will need to take with you all the food and water you need.
- When climbing Kriváň, tourists should bear in mind the length of the hike and start early enough. They should be prepared for sudden changes in the weather and expect the temperature at the summit to be far lower than at the start of the trail. Special mountain insurance is recommended.
- The first recorded ascent of Kriváň took place in 1772 (some sources give the year as 1773) by Andreas Jonas Czirbesz, an Evangelical (i.e. Protestant) preacher, mining entrepreneur, natural scientist and historian from Spišská Nová Ves, accompanied by friends. But he and his party were certainly not the first people to climb it. Undoubtedly, the first climbers were poachers or miners. To this day there are visible traces of gold mining in the area around Kriváň, dating from the 14th-18th centuries.
We settled on a late September working day, hoping for some of the mild weather that often comes with a Slovak ‘babie leto’ (Indian summer). While this did not come to pass – there was consistent snow cover from 2,000 metres above sea level and Kriváň’s summit was in cloud, precluding any scenic vistas – it was a remarkable hike in the gorgeous natural surroundings of the High Tatras. Along with testing my hiking abilities as well as my hiking equipment, it set a new benchmark for me – never before had I ascended more than 1,300 metres in one day.
An early start
The hike up Kriváň is rather challenging as there is no hut or cottage on the way at which hikers can sleep or get refreshments. This makes the hike demanding in terms of kilometres hiked as well as the total ascent.