This past summer I went to the Tatra Mountains in Poland for three days of intense hiking. My brother asked his instagram followers for recommendations of which trails to take on the mountain. Some random follower of his on Instagram proceeded to send him the most robust set of instructions I have ever seen in my life. If there was a rock that looked out of place it would be in those damn instructions. In his pride, my brother told this follower that we were all strong hikers, resulting in a challenging set of directions and trails being laid out for us by our virtual guide. I had no idea that he had sealed our fate however by sending us to Orla Perc.

I had seen videos of Orla Perc on Youtube before heading to the mountain and I definitely said that I wanted to try hiking it. I didn’t truly believe that we were going to hike on this trail due to its difficulty. It is the most challenging path in the Tatra Mountains, and since its opening, 112 people have died there. On this path, you hike up and down peaks and valleys along the mountain ridge. One wrong step could mean death. 

Unknowingly on our second day of hiking, we gradually hiked closer and closer to this demonic area. It took roughly 4 hours to get to the beginning, after which I noticed a considerable increase in difficulty. I was basically climbing on all fours like a cat across a section of rocks that looked nothing like a trail. I was comforted to see the occasional rock spray painted red to indicate we were on the correct path. As we ascended, the view of the lakes behind us became glorious. I also noticed that the wind was getting strong enough to blow me like a kite off of the mountain. That shit was FREEZING. 

We began to see a bunch of people descending from what was supposed to be a one way path. They were all wearing helmets and carrying walking poles. Seeing that none of us had either of these items, I inquired as to what they were for. Apparently rocks falling off the mountain and bashing your damn head in is not an uncommon occurrence. As I got colder, the wind got stronger, and the thought of a rock hitting me in the back of the head became greater, I pointed towards what looked like the top of the mountain. It was engulfed in snow (it was summer) and appeared nearly perpendicular to the ground and littered with large boulders.

I’m still crawling on all fours at this point when it seems that the trail is leveling out. Momentary relief was immediately followed by the beginning of my horror as I saw a walkway about a foot in diameter. On the rocks was a chain for grasping, and on the right, a magnificent view over a lake appearing as the blue eye of a giant. We were at the level of the clouds now, I could see them crawling over the mountain briskly with the wind. The sight was truly beautiful but my terror in trying not to fall off reduced the grandiosity of the moment somewhat. This set the tone for the rest of the trail.

After hours of deliberate steps one by one up this snow covered peak, we reached what I initially thought was a peak. I was met only with the view of a significantly higher peak obscured by dark gray clouds the same color as the dirty snow beneath us. Few plants inhabited the area outside of small patches of grass on flatter portions of rocks. Deep blue flowers could be seen growing from this nearly lifeless area, standing three to four inches tall and resilient. In the distance I could see two fluffy horned creatures scaling up the side of the mountain with ease. These goats were an enigma, the fact that they could do shit like that boggled my mind. 

After more and more climbing, alternating from all fours to grasping chains I see a gap in the trail from a distance. Ahead of us was a four foot gap in the stone leading to nothing but absolute death. Going across the ravine was yet another chain composed of the dark and cold metal I had become suddenly acquainted with. Approaching this gash in the mountainside felt as if it was in slow motion, and I found myself repeating “holy shit, holy shit holy shit. Am I insane enough to do this?” When you think about it, the risk and reward of this action really does not line up. If I get across this deathtrap, I get to go further down this ridiculous trail and get a “cool view.” If I mess up, well I stand to lose quite a lot. 

After mustering the confidence to pass, I grabbed the chain with both hands like my life depended on it, which it did. I reached my right leg as far as possible to get a foothold, and proceeded to push off my left leg with enough force to swing on the chain and get both feet on the other side. My heart had not beat that hard in a long time. It genuinely makes you consider other issues that bothers you though. If I just did something like that, why would I have any cause to be shy of social interactions, to be sheepish in asserting myself, or in telling others what I want. It gives a very valuable perspective. If you feel as if you are stagnating in life or are a bit depressed, I can guarantee that this will shock you right out of it. 

After passing this ordeal, I take a moment of rest to reflect on this accomplishment. This was cut short however due to the wind that was slicing through the several layers of my clothing with ease. The sound was deafening and constant. Hiding from the elements was impossible. I found some cover behind a rock that was most likely unstable but I had no other alternative at the time. I put on the last jacket I had, which was a rain jacket providing me with nearly no additional benefit considering there was no rain. Any protection was appreciated. It occurred to me how unprepared I was for such an expedition. No prior experience on this caliber to speak of, incorrect clothing, I was out of water, and no helmet or walking poles. Every time I looked up I saw an army of jagged boulders just waiting to jump on me by surprise. 

The conditions were grueling to say the least. My dad was wearing his extra pair of pants like a scarf and we were all cold as hell. That’s when our angel appeared. He greets us, and my brother inquires if he is familiar with this mountain. This guy had 30 years experience hiking through this area and offered to guide us through without a second thought. Keep in mind, he was about 60 and I saw him catch up to us in these insane conditions from about a mile away. He fucking flew up this mountain like it was NOTHING at his age. As he guided us, he kept on casually talking and notified us that there would be an opportunity to get off the mountain on an easy path in a few hours. I had never heard anything more inviting in my life. The random guy off of Instagram that gave us the instructions had the intention of guiding us through a portion past this exit which was equally as perilous. The angel sternly advised that we should not go there due to the weather and lack of experience. 

As we made our way gradually to the end of this journey, I felt like I was in the Lord of the Rings completing some grandiose task for our wizard guide. The amount of relief I felt seeing the green trail market indicating the branching of the paths was matched by the pure happiness of completing such a task. I felt my heart rate decrease, and my nerves fade. I realized that in my fear, I had failed to personally take a single picture along this trail. I immediately drew my phone and recorded the moment. Nothing could feel better than that moment. My head was clear, and I felt confident enough to conquer the world.

2 thoughts on “A Trek Through Orla Perc

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