CHAPTER 1 – THE TRIP UP
Following on from our highly successful trip last week to the restaurant at Švýcárna, we decided to push it a bit further and leave home in time to make it to the top of the highest mountain in these parts. Praděd (Great-Grandfather Mountain, or something similar) is 1491 metres above sea level, according to the sign at the summit and I was keen to make it to the top this year because it will soon be too cold to take Our Kid hiking in the mountains and by the time it’s warm enough next year, he’s going to be heavier and I’m going to be older – particularly my knees and shoulders!
I also wanted to try out my modifications to the Vaude baby carrier Our Lass won on eBay. It’s great for carrying babies in, as well as their kit, and it’s very comfortable to wear but once the luggage space is filled with nappies, creams, warm layers and a first-aid kit, there’s no space for the other essentials of hiking like my warm layers, water and food.
To this end, I acquired the side pouches from a British Army Bergen, some nylon webbing and plastic clips and spent a happy afternoon sewing what I hoped would be the right sort of adapters to make it fit the baby carrier. It looked and felt OK when I took him for a test walk around the local woods so a proper field-test seemed the next logical step.
After the usual 2 hour journey required to get right into the heart of the Jeseniky mountains, we parked up in a bus-stop-cum-car-park-cum gravel depository and set about organising Our Kid in his new baby carrier. While we worked, several groups of cyclists, clearly mad or lost, disappeared up the path we intended to take. I double-checked the map, especially the bit where the contour lines got so close together you couldn’t count them and realised that these fools would soon be coming the other way, possibly at high speed!
Our Lass had a plan to counter this threat, however. Instead of taking the steep yet manageable hiking trail, we would climb up the insanely steep slope to the side and look for edible mushrooms on our way. Simple.
Well, we never saw or heard the cyclists again, so either they made it up the mountain and went down the other side or they got eaten by wild animals. In the event we never found any edible mushrooms either. Conditions have to be pretty specific for them to grow and they seem to grow pretty specifically wherever we are not. Never mind, the hills have more than just mushrooms to delight the visitor. More detailed information is often posted in the form of QR codes or Beetaggs on handy trees, as in the picture. I don’t have a smart enough phone to read them, though, so I can’t tell you what this more detailed information actually is.
Maybe the mushrooms were in hiding, but the blueberries had positively burgeoned in the week since our last visit. More than you could safely shake a stick at. Our Lass was making slow progress up the hill due to trying to eat all of them and Our Kid was screaming his head off at something, so as I waited for her I began the Screaming Child Checklist, starting with Hungry, Cold and Bored. Bored seemed to be the trouble so I took him out of the baby carrier and started to teach him to walk on mountains. He’s very good on level surfaces but hasn’t had a lot of experience on slopes, so there were some interesting moments there. Next I tried him on Blueberry Eating but he has some strange aversion to eating round things, so that didn’t work and it was quickly back to the screaming. I had just got his wind-proof body-suit off to do the Nasal Nappy Inspection when Our Lass caught up with us, took him away from me and told me his nappy needed changing. Thank God she was with us!
Like a gentleman, I left the nappy change to her and went off to get my own blueberries. I found the best technique was to hold my hat under the bush and use my thumb and forefinger to gently twist the berries. That way they seemed less likely to burst and I could check for spiders before eating. After 15 minutes Our Kid let it be known that he’d had enough of walking on a slope with a clean nappy and it was time for me to carry him again. I gave about half of the berries I’d collected to Our Lass but I’d still eaten enough to feel vaguely ill and we both had deep purple teeth.
The path on the other side of the mountain is tarmac and serves as a road for people who work up there in the restaurant or on the ski slopes. It’s also great for the kind of cyclist who doesn’t need a barely navigable boulder-strewn hiking trail to get the most out of a day in the fresh air, so as we set off along the saddle for the summit, the occasional kamikaze biker screamed past us at terminal velocity. Well, the ones going downhill did, anyway.
All around us was the wild scenery which I love so much in the Jesenikys; the impression that nobody has been here before you, that nothing has changed in thousands of years, that you could be in any century since the last ice-age. The old trees, rotting where they fell, are not characteristic of the highly-managed forests or timber plantations which I grew up with and which comprise the majority of British woodland. This saddle is a National Nature Reserve, so Nature is pretty much left to her own devices. The sense of timelessness kind of depends on ignoring things like the restaurant, the tarmac cycle path and the 162 metre TV tower on the summit, but there’s so much to look at other than the 20th century embellishments that anyone with a bit of imagination can transport themselves as close to nature as they please. Here are a few pictures to give you an idea of what I mean…
Once you get over the saddle, the cycle path does kind of dominate the trail. Walking off the trail is technically not allowed, although some people do, so the last hour of the walk is pretty much on a road. The road winds around the summit as well, so if you’ve been walking for a few hours it can be a bit annoying that for the last kilometre you are never more than about 300 metres from the top but never seem to get any closer!
However, the views from the road, unhindered by trees, can be quite beautiful, especially with sunshine. We didn’t have sunshine by this time but we did have brooding cloud. Just enough to hint at the challenges of staying warm, dry and fed up there!
On the subject of being warm, dry and well-fed, there is a typically hospitable restaurant at the bottom of the TV tower. There’s also a hotel as well, though relatively expensive and an observation deck 80 metres up which affords a view of the Lower Alps in Austria under ideal conditions.
In our condition we were barely able to afford lunch, so we bundled Our Kid and Our Dog into a snug corner by the heating and got settled in with a menu. The choice, given the price, is unbelievable. In a good way, I mean. All this stuff has to be carted up a mountain and yet it’s not the freeze dried microwaved rubbish you pay a small fortune for in a British pub for Sunday lunch. We had locally dispatched venison with potatoes, a kind of pork schnitzel (a pork cutlet half the size of the plate, fried in breadcrumbs and stuffed with blue cheese) served with lots of fresh green vegetables and a couple of drinks, all for 400CZK including tip. What would you pay for that in your local currency?
Soon we sat stuffed to overflowing, our sweat-soaked jackets steaming nicely on the radiator, feeding scraps of green vegetable to Our Dog (who is a very strange dog in this respect), trying to stop Our Kid from climbing up the floral decorations on the wall and coming to the slow realisation that a) we couldn’t afford coffee and b), what is climbed up, must be climbed down.
CHAPTER 2 – THE DESCENT
With a light step but heavy stomachs, Our Lass, Kid and Dog were ready for the slightly less difficult trip back down the mountain. First though, like any good tourists, we needed some photos to prove we’d been to the top.
Our Lass struck a pose next to the statue of the Old Man. Information on this character is scant and asking people has left me none the wiser. Most of the people I know are from the area around Ostrava and not familiar with the folklore of the Jesenikys but I didn’t get much further with an internet search, either.
As far as I can tell, the Old Man is just that, an old man who came to the mountains, possibly finding gold and becoming rich, who takes care of the animals and natural surroundings of the mountains. Unlike Radegast, of the Beskydy mountains, he is not a god and has no special powers but seems to have become worshipped by the people because he helped them.
All of this has been hand-carved out of 1.2 tons of solid oak by a chap called Jiří Halouzka, so that tourists like Our Lass could lean against him and have their picture taken!
Yet again, due to waking up late, we were faced with the prospect of getting off the mountain before dark. Drastic measures were called for…. we hopped the fence and set off across the forbidden Nature reserve. Fresh footprints suggested we were not the only ones and there was other spoor of tourist, such as beer-bottle tops and an apple core. Theoretically, I know that if everyone picked up 2 pieces of litter on their trip, there would be no litter but Our Kid and all the clobber in the rucksack weighs 23kg and to be quite honest, I couldn’t be bothered to squat down and pick anything up.
Two hours later, just as it was getting too dark to see, we made it back to the Van Rouge. Either we’re going to have to get up earlier or start getting seriously into night navigation, not something I fancy trying with Our Kid on my back because if he’s unhappy about something, he lets me know about it right in the earhole!
So that’s probably it for the Jesenikys this year unless we go skiing and stay in a hotel somewhere. Here are a few more pictures to round off the hiking-with-small-children season. Do join us for autumn mushroom-picking and hopefully, some skiing in the winter!