Winter geocaching in the valleys mainly consisted of buying a pair of gloves with special conductive fingertips that allowed me to use my phone screen without taking them off. Winter geocaching in the mountains poses other problems, such as searching for a small plastic box hidden ‘under a small tree’ in a forest of dwarf pines buried under two metres of snow.
Winter geocaching on Smrk (Spruce Mountain) in the Beskydy Mountains of the Czech Republic means, quite frankly, that either you spend a lot of time shovelling metres of snow around likely-looking trees to the bemusement of other hikers, or you just give up, promise yourself that you’ll come back in the spring and enjoy a nice little hike up the second-highest peak in the Beskydys.
Winter Geocaching in the Czech Republic – a word of warning…
The Beskydy Mountains are, by and large, a pretty user-friendly range of mountains. You are never truly far from help and the trails are well-marked, even by the standards of a country which boasts some of the best-marked trails in the world. With few exceptions, these trails are regularly maintained and easy to walk on, avoiding steep slopes covered in loose rocks and accessible to anyone of moderate fitness. Most of the exceptions I’ve come across are, in fact, on Smrk.
Smrk gives the impression of a mountain that doesn’t much care if anyone climbs it or not. There are no sweeping vistas across to the Tatras in Slovakia, the trails are tricky and steep, there’s no restaurant at the top…. which is why you will meet friendly people who are there because they don’t like typical tourist trails. It’s also why you’ll find the memorials to John Lennon and Jan Palach near the summit.
Jan Palach was a young man who set fire to himself in Wenceslas Square, Prague, in 1969 in protest at the lack of resistance by Czech people to the Soviet-led crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968. Like the John Lennon memorial, it is there because it’s in a really inaccessible spot. The last time I was up Smrk, it consisted of a water-damaged photo in a broken glass frame. Since then,someone has had his picture engraved in stone with a legend which is a bit hard to translate. It talks about a ‘people’s monument’ but not in the Communist sense, where everything official was ‘the people’s’. In this case, it truly means ‘the common, everyday people’:
‘The people’s monument of John Lennon was built in 1982 on the place where secret meetings of people with anti-communist opinions took place in the 1980s.’
It may sound a bit silly and romantic these days, but the people I know who used to attend such meetings all tell me that if you wanted to be able to speak your mind and be reasonably sure that someone who had been blackmailed by the secret police wasn’t spying on you, then an awkward and inhospitable peak like Smrk was the place to do it.
So maybe Smrk doesn’t care if you climb it or not. But if you’re the sort of person who climbs mountains like Smrk rather than sit at home watching TV on the weekend, you’re going to meet a whole bunch of people just like you. Just maybe leave the geocaching until the spring thaw!