Nutshell

Michal Medek made these pages to inspire others for hiking the Carpathian arɔ as some did before him and many others shall follow in the years to come.

In 2019 Michal walked across 49 Carpathian mountain ranges in 74 days. He started his journey in the westernmost Pálava range in the Czech Republic on 10th June and descended to the Danube on 23rd August from Munții Locvei near Coronini, Romania. He walked 2200 km across the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Ukraine and Romania. Along the way he gathered coordinates of shelters and water sources you can download.

In 2020 he walked the northern trail through Poland (Krynica-Zdrój – Moravia), the account, trail and POIs are about to be published in 2021.

 Take a look at the blog and move your mind to the Carpathians. You can also watch some talks Michal gave about the journey. Your comments and insights are welcomed.

If you consider taking similar challenge, browse the pages with practical information and join the Carpathian thru-hikers group to meet with like-minded hikers.

Journey overview

The trail

Map | Download | Other hikers | Timing | Thanks

There is not a single trail across the Carpathians at some parts the main ridge is obvious (Făgăraș) while in other sections a hiker can choose from different mountain ranges.

Some have already tried to chart Via Carpatica or The Carpathian Divide Trail but these plans are materializing slowly and have not been completed. Meanwhile handful of people are walking across the whole range every year. From the conversations I have had, most of them would love to keep Carpathian thru-hiking as it is without an official trail in place. The reasons are simple: 1) charting an “official route” invites sports(wo)men who feel the need to compete and bend everything to their achievement not respecting the fragile nature and relationship with the locals; 2) while charting a route means taking responsibility towards nature, local communities and hikers, it also takes some responsibility from the hikers and invites less experienced characters; 3) official route enables comparison but takes away uniqueness of the individual experience; 4) the official routes are usually someone’s business projects, the less commerce we see at the expense of the mountains and the locals, the better.

I planned my own trail the way it connected ranges that have place in my memory. I also tried to avoid civilization as much as possible, only once I left the planned trail to get supplies. It started at Pálava – the westernmost point of the range, where Carpathians collide with much older Hercynian platform. Through Slovakia I followed footsteps of Svetozár Krno, Ľuboš Calpaš and Pavel Mach who traversed the Arc in 1984.  Unlike most other hikers, I did not finish in Orșova, but reached the Danube in Coronini walking extra 100 km to the west. As there are Czech settlements in the area, it made the magic of hearing my mother tongue at both ends of the Carpathian journey.

Map of the thru-hike

To download:  

Download instructions: based on several feedbacks the download does not work by clicking the link in some browsers (Chrome, Safari). In this case, right-click the link and choose the save-as or download option. Based on your online safety settings you might receive a warning that the file is not secure. The reason is the browser/antivirus cannot see inside the zip files containing gpx. Here is an alternative link to a Google Drive folder.

Other hikers

Pages of (reference to) other hikers who walked across the whole Carpathian mountain range:

Łukasz Supergan manages this more comprehensive list of hikers in Polish.

I must note that “walk across Carpathians” can mean different things depending on the trail and philosophy you choose so I would be very cautious making any comparisons.  Weather plays significant role while on the hike. Starting and finishing points differ. Some walk highest peaks only, some also walk valleys or lower ridges. Some avoid civilization, some pay for accommodation in mountain chalets and villages or make detours to cities. Some have support teams, some depend on local resources. Some walk fast, some slow. Some collect thousands of Euros for their journey, some set their survival limit to 1€ a day. Some sell their experience, some keep it for themselves; I decided to make these webpages to inspire others to fall in love with the Carpathians.

If I was asked to set rules for what “Carpathian thru-hike” means, I would say: 1) walking at least 2000 km touching all the Carpathian countries in a single trek, 2) walking highest ridges or the ones connecting them, 3) at least two thirds of overnights without touch with civilization (i.e. also out of mountain chalets), 4) no support teams.

Timing

If you want to hike all the highest mountain ranges in the Carpathians without special equipment for snow conditions both timing and direction matter. The Romanian part of the thru-hike is definitely more demanding than the Slovakian and/or Polish. That is why many hikers rather start from the Danube in Romania. In this case you need to take into account that in early June there are still snow patches in Godeanu and Retezat mountains and you might not be able to cross Făgăraş till the end of June. Safe date to start from this direction is mid-June.

In case of the start from the Danube in Slovakia (or like in my case the westernmost Pálava range) the timing depends on the route: 1) if walking north from Vysoké Tatry through Poland, the start is possible as early as April. 2) Nízké Tatry are passable from early June so mid-May start is OK. 3) If you want to cross Vysoké Tatry the situation is similar to Făgăraş – mid June can be considered safe start, however, the considerable difference is that camping is not allowed in Vysoké Tatry so you are obliged to stick to mountain chalets.

Expect below zero temperatures overnight at both end of the arc in the second half of September. The first snow definitely comes before the beginning of October to the highest peaks but it should enable passing. The mountains in Romania become deserted once the shepherds descend with their herds to the valleys in September (in one dry year I experienced deserted shepherd’s houses at the end of August in the Banat mountains). The same applies to early June before the fresh grass grows. The advantage is you can use shepherds’ houses for overnights then.

Your experience from the thru-hike will be highly impacted by weather. The very same ranges can be experienced as muddy or dry in the same week in different years. There is no general advice regarding the weather, however, expect not more than half of your hiking days without a thunderstorm or a shower.

Thanks

I am grateful to my friend Horaţiu Popa – a keen tourist from Cluj for tips regarding Northern Romania, updates on snow conditions in Făgăraș and help with the support parcel. Joachim Bungert for his superb Quo Vadis software I used for planning and processing maps, POIs and the final version of the trail.

And of course Miloslav Nevrlý for his inspiration.

Blog

Hike blog overview

10. 6. – 17. 6. 2019 The hot first week Pálava, Modré hory, Bílé Karpaty, Strážovské vrchy, Malá Fatra 18.6. – 25. 6. 2019 In the high mountains Velká Fatra, Nízké Tatry, Slovenský raj 24. 6. – 30. 6. 2019 Landscapes touched by warfares Levočské vrchy, Čergov, Ľubovnianska vrchovina / Góry Leluchowskie, Busov, Ondavská vrchovina …

Practicalities

Specifics | Supplies | Risks | My gear | Philosophy

What is different in the Carpathians

Contrary to many other long-distance hikes, in the Carpathians you find few ranges where you can meet scores of tourists – Tatry, Východní Beskydy, Munții Rodnei, Piatra Craiului, Făgăraş, Retezat – these account for about 16% of the thru-hike. So mostly you walk trails, ridges and forest roads where you are the only hiker in a day, a week or two. At some places there is no trail visible and you need to make a trail on your own.

To make the point, in Slovakia I met only 1 multi-day hiker on 200 km between Slovenský raj and the Dukla pass. Apart from Polonina Borzhava I met only 2 trekkers in Ukraine but could see 3 tents at Polonina Svidovec. The number of trekkers I met between Rodnei and Piatra Craiului was 2 (two!) on the distance of 550 km. So apart of the few popular ranges I met on average one trekker per 137 km.

This does not mean there are no humans in the mountains. A settlement is rarely more distant then a day walk and the mountains are inhabited by shepherds along with their herds and dogs in summer. Hikers are visitors in their land and it is better to avoid Carpathians unless you want to accept this fact. Hiking trails follow the paths shepherds have been using for centuries and that is why the sheep-dogs attacks are so frequent in Romania. At many places a walking hiker is treated as a being that appeared out of thin air and the locals simply do not know, how to react in this situation. On the other hand, you can be sure they help you, when in real need.

The Carpathians run through several nations so it gives a hiker the pleasure of using many languages. Do not expect locals to speak any international language. Hungarian is spoken on western slopes of the Eastern part of the Carpathians. Young Romanians, Czechs, Slovaks and Poles are usually fluent in English. Many Ukrainian men understand Czech, Slovakian, Polish and Lithuanian from their working abroad experience.

Apart from Slovakian E8 it is very unlikely you meet any long-distance hikers. I almost met with Michał Kulanek who was walking across Carpathians in the same direction and we connected through Facebook.

The other side of the coin of this solitude is freedom. Freedom to walk and camp and collect forest fruits, freedom one hardly experiences in other European mountain ranges today. This of course does not apply to strict national parks (Tatras, Bukovské vrchy, Rodnei, Ciucaș, Bucegi, Piatra Craiului, Făgăraş, Retezat), where hikers must stick to the designated paths and camping areas.



Supplies

Supply of food for hiking in village shops is wider in Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic, especially dry instant food. Expect limited offer in Romania and poor in Ukraine. However, the supply of basic food is easily accessible in all the countries. I mean oil, sugar, rice, buckwheat, cous-cous, chocolate, raisins, instant noodle soups. Lentil powder is available in Romania as well as sunflower halva, which has superb price/weight/energy ratio. Cottage cheese and milk can be obtained from shepherds. Special food like full-nutrition powder, isotonic drinks tablets, frost-dried fruits is not available along the trail.

Sport/outdoor shops are located in big cities far from the trail. Expect them in Trenčín, Poprad, Sighetul Marmației, Buşteni and Petroşani. Some hikers detour to Braşov or Bistrița to get necessary stuff. I tailored my gear to stay in the mountains for the whole hike.
While in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, alcohol fuel can be obtained in drugstores, in Ukraine and Romania in pharmacies. Ukrainian alcohol was the finest quality, cheap Romanian 70% blue liquid was always leaving some unburned leftovers.

I tested poste-restante delivery to post offices in Slovakia and Romania and it worked fine (apart from one case). In Romania I received the first parcel in Borsec, took some stuff and split it to two – one went to Bușteni, the other to Petroșani.
Only once I took a 10 minutes lift from a mountain pass to a nearby village for supplies. All the other supplies I got along the trail.

Water is mostly available across the Carpathians. Eastern Beskydy range and limestone mountains are drier. There is no necessity of filtering water unless dirty or taken from stagnant pools. You can download the water sources coordinates here and look at the description of my daily water management.



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Risks

Sheep Dog Attacks | Bears | Other Wildlife | Ticks | Thunderstorms

Bears, aggressive sheep dogs, ticks and thunderstorms are the realities you cannot avoid walking across the Carpathians.

Out of those, SHEEP DOG ATTACKS are the most exhausting for a lonely hiker. Expect them in Romania, everywhere out of the few areas with tourist presence (like Rodnei, Bucegi, Făgăraş). I went through as many as 10 attacks a day. Dogs understand well, when in superiority and are naturally set up for attacking lonesome individuals. Being in a group is the best protection from severe attacks.
The worst attacks happen in early morning and in the evening, when shepherds are busy with their sheep, meanwhile both dogs accompanying herds and those staying at the base are united in one pack and got nothing to do. Each attack is individual so there is no universal advice, however, I would suggest the following:
1) track and watch – it is always better to be aware of the dogs before they sniff you. Try to avoid the attack if possible.
2) always keep 3-4 stones in your pocket. If expecting an attack, hold both trekking poles in one hand (dogs are regularly beaten by shepherds and seeing a long stick scares them). Keep pepper spray in your pocket and increase the ammunition of stones.
3) seek for the shepherd’s help first, only he can calm down the dogs.
4) ignore the dogs to the point when the attack is imminent and they break your perimeter (12 meters), do not bother with 1 or 2 dogs, they either do not attack or you can easily repel them. If dogs are only scaring you off by barking (most of the cases), do not pay attention to them and do not follow the next point, which definitely opens up aggression.
5) if the pack of more than 3 dogs is aggressively approaching, do not show fear and attack the pack leader first, the bigger the stone is, the better. If there are no stones in the area, make movements as if you were picking them up from the ground and throwing in between throwing your reserve real stones.
6) try to keep dogs in the distance and far from each other (split the attackers – if 2-3 hesitating dogs leave the pack after being hit, the others stop attacking).
7) constantly search for the shepherd’s help.
8) if they manage to get closer: face them moving towards a shepherd or your direction, continue throwing stones, do not turn your back or run away. Do not rely on trekking poles – they are too short, block your palms and make dogs more furious. Shouting loudly sometimes helps to stop the attack. I was advised firecrackers are the best solution. Whip should work as well, I tried slingshot for few Romanian treks but it did not work as the dogs do not know it.
9) respect that the dogs are just doing their job and be nice to a shepherd. There is an ongoing conflict between shepherds, hunters and tourists in Romania even at legal level. Showing your sympathy to a representative of this centuries old craft is appreciated. Give a smile, shake a hand with a shepherd, exchange few words and apologize. Make mountain brotherhood, do not feed animosity.



I got five BEAR ENCOUNTERS during my Carpathian solo thru-hike. It is hard to say how many times a bear got out of my way without me noticing, but my guess is at least dozen times. On the other hand, I had not encountered a single bear on dozens of my previous Carpathian hikes. I can see the following reasons for that: a) bears usually avoid the popular higher ridges with tourist footpaths, b) while walking in a pair or group we make more noise and watch the surroundings less, c) bear population was considerably smaller in the past.
In the Carpathians there are ranges with high bear density (Veľká Fatra, Călimani, Vrancea) and then there are spots and daytimes where meeting a bear is imminent. I shall not write about the bears used to humans that are begging along roads in Romania or regularly attack tourists at the footpath between Bușteni and Cabana Caraiman. They are the most unpredictable and the only advice is to avoid them.
Unless curious (happened to me once), the brown bears you encounter in the wild have the paramount desire of not meeting a human. And we should help them with it following few simple steps:
Do not walk at dusk or at night (this is no. 1 advice).
– Keep pepper spray easily accessible (I have it in the pocket of my hipbelt and move it to the pocket of my trousers, when the signs of bear presence occur).
– When in the terrain with visibility below 150 meters, make noise (I use jingles), this study shows that a third of bear attacks in Europe happen because the animal is caught by surprise.
– Keep your food in a sealed drysack and near to you overnight (some might dispute this, but it has worked for me as well as other hikers). Avoid any attractive smells around your campsite (e.g. food leftovers, grilled meat). If cold soaking in a pot – seal it and keep it either close to you or away from your campsite.
– When you can see the signs of bear presence, be vigilant and make extra noise (e.g. combine jingles with singing). The signs of bear presence are: bear tracks, shattered rotting trees, upturned stones (bears search for insects below stones and in the wood), rummaged anthills and wasps’ nests, scratched tree-trunks and of course bear droppings. In summer bear droppings are typical by the purple color and it is quite easy to assess, how fresh they are.

Signs of bear activity
Signs of bear activity (a mother with a cub was just 100 meters away from her tracks)

In case you meet a bear:
– assess the situation, if the bear is far from your trail and your movement cannot be intercepted as dangerous, follow your way, without paying attention to the animal.
– if the bear is close to your trail and has not noticed you, slowly and silently retreat and try to walk around in considerable distance.
– if the bear has noticed you, identify as a human by speaking softly while retreating. Once I made a nice monologue lasting several minutes with a bear staring at my campsite from 60 meters distance. However, try to avoid looking into its eyes or casting flashlight during the conversation.
– if you meet a playful cub, retreat immediately. No time for pics or selfies with it, frightened mum will follow. According to this study, 50% of bear attacks in Europe is associated with female bears with cubs.
if the bear charges, it could well be a false charge and the bear stops near you. I have never been in this situation, however there are two options depending on your equipment:
1) You have your pepper spray ready: discharge it from about 3 meters towards the bear’s face.
2) You do not have a pepper spray: the advice is to stand still or slowly lay on the ground with your face down. When lying on the ground, put your hands around your neck to protect your head and face. Be passive and remain as quiet as possible until the attack ends.

I can remember an account of a Slovakian surgeon who was treating many forest workers injured by bears during his career. He was surprised that such a mighty animal makes relatively mild wounds to humans. It is obvious European bears do not treat humans as food for they are able to tear a horse to pieces. We should also mention, there has been on average one fatal bear encounter a year in the Carpathians over the last 20 years.

What not to do: do not immediately lie down on the ground – this could make the bear curious, do not scream, do not make fast movements, do not try to scare the bear away – might work several times but could as well turn into disaster. Do not run away. I could see a running bear near the Oituz pass and believe me they can run really fast. Do not leave food leftovers near your campsite.


OTHER WILDLIFE
I encountered a wolf only once, but could hear howling and tracked it quite frequently in different parts of the Carpathians. They pose no danger to humans. My friend even encountered a wolf-pack in winter while camping on a remote ridge and they passed by the tent with two frightened humans inside.
Seeing a lynx is a lifetime experience. I could see it only once from distance in Eastern Poland. They pose absolutely no danger.
Some people (UK hikers in particular) are afraid of wild boars. There are cases of their attacks in Central Europe, but I got several close encounters without any trouble. One night we even got to the middle of a wild boar herd crossing the footpath. I could feel them touching my legs but they were just going their way. Once we found a den with three piglets and could see their mother running away. However, in this case it is advised to leave the site immediately. Wild boars are more frequent in the western Carpathian ranges, less in Romania and Ukraine.


TICKS are very common all across Carpathians in altitudes below 900 meters. They transmit two diseases: Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) and Lyme borreliosis (LB). Vaccination is the best protection against TBE virus. From the time my friend ended up confined to bed totally paralyzed, I suggest everyone to apply the vaccine.
Lyme borreliosis is a bacterial disease, while vaccination is possible in North America, European vaccine is still in the testing process. However, it could be easily cured if discovered in early stage. First step in prevention of the disease is taking tick out of your body as soon as possible and disinfecting the spot immediately. Normally the place is itching for few days and small red circle (an inch or two wide) appears around the spot. However, if the red spot grows over time into several inches or even palm-size, the LB bacteria got into your body. In this case you need to apply antibiotics (like amoxycilin). Keep in mind that many times the tick leaves your body unnoticed. To comfort folks from non-tick areas: I personally caught well over 1000 ticks in my life and am still alive, no TBE and (hopefully) no LB.


Thunderstorm over Neamtu

There are basically two types of THUNDERSTORMS in the Carpathians:
1) thunderstorms originating from local evaporation. These thunderstorms occur more often later in the day. They are bound to cumulonimbus clouds and thus localized to area of few square kilometers. One year we got this type of weather for 5 days in Grohotiș and Ciucaș mountains – every afternoon there was a thunderstorm. As these thunderstorms are well visible from distance in the high mountains, their movement can be predicted and a hiker got time to get ready.
2) thunderstorms during cold front crossings. These thunderstorms happen over large areas, can come any time of a day, last longer (especially when the head of the front stops at the mountain range) and are usually followed by hours of rain. Lightnings during these thunderstorms can turn night into a day with constant light and thunder drumming. As weather forecast is easily available these days, I suggest hikers to watch it and find a shelter out of the high ranges for the hours of a cold-front crossing.



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My gear

Unlike in the Alps, outdoor shops are far away from the mountains and you can easily tear your gear while elbowing through bushes or new growth at places where once might had been a path. The “land management” has been changing significantly in Romania and Ukraine since 1990s. After clearcuts and thunderstorms paths are blocked by logs and overgrown by high grass and bushes. Often old paths diminish in the new growth as they are not used so frequently today. This means lot of improvisation and preparedness.

My backpack was not the lightest one for I knew I might not meet a person for days and wanted to be prepared for all sorts of troubles. Its base-weight at the start was 9,3 kilos (including trekking poles, fuel, smartphone = 750g other hikers usually do not count to the baseweight) but I reduced it later to 8,6 kilos (= 7,7 kg standard counting). Along with water for a day and food for 7 days I tried to be always below 14 kilos of the total weight. Anyway, water and food management play the most important role at the end of the day.

Thinking back I did not use about 450 grams of repair kits, first aid stuff and pepper sprays but I would not give up more than a third of it next time to keep on the safe side.

Things that are most probably not relevant to other hikers: keyboard (177g) for e-mails and the blog; Epipen (2x55g) as my beekeeping led to a bee-sting allergy development, 5 drysacks (total 157g) because I like to have order in my stuff, 3 pieces cookware for I like cooking, scout scarf (50g).

Changes I have made and have applied to other long-distance hikes (in total minus 1000 g):

  • lighter sleeping bag – 400g of 800+ cuin down was too much, 250–300g should be enough;
  • replacing Leatherman Charge with combination of Leatherman Squirt and Leatherman Skeletool KB (minus 150g);
  • less medication (there are many pharmacies along the way);
  • fast charging power bank + 45W charger + lighter solar panel = minus 250g ; here is the description of my electricity management during the thru-hike;
  • better hiking shoes – either with a waterproof flap or lightweight ones that soak and dry out easily (for 500 km through Polish Carpathians in 2020 I was happy with Scarpa Zero8);
  • adding a pair of waterproof socks;
  • exchanging waterproof overpants (200g) for silnylon leggings (65g), which I wear along with shorts allowing circulation and mitigating damping;
  • lightening my woodstove and cookware by 40%;
  • take small 12V adapter – shepherds, some shelters and crosses with eternal lights operate on 12V.
  • exchanging cold soaking jar & aluminium flask for a titanium flask with these 2 functions combined (minus 15g).

In general my advice regarding the gear for Carpathian thru-hike is:
1) Do not apply experiences from popular (US) trails to the Carpathians and mind that the guys out there making videos about ultralight backpacking earn their money from your clicks.
2) Fast charging is a must. Unless staying overnight in civilization, there is no way, how to charge a powerbank with a 6 hours charging time. I got the opportunity of overnight charging only 5 times during 74 days.
3) Despite outdoor shops’ claims, hiking is not about gear.



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Philosophy

However much I did not considered my journey a sport performance but a pilgrimage, I must admit that the fact I wanted to walk all the Carpathians in the given time turned the hike into kind of a contest. Unlike during my previous journeys I felt I lost large part of the feeling of freedom once I was comparing my advance with the schedule I prepared before.

But in other aspects I followed the philosophy I had embraced 25 years ago: local sources + less comfort = less weight = nicer experiences. The philosophy I learned in the book Carpathian Games by Miloslav Nevrlý.

Media

I am not the guy who builds identity upon presenting to public, so the 2021 Obzory festival is probably one of the last chances to see talking me about hiking in the Carpathians.

Carpathian Games – the ultimate book about hiking in the Carpathians.

Video in Czech streamed as a part of CK Kudrna “Cestovatelské večery.”

Video in English streamed for the Czech Centre Bucarest, Cercetașii României and Asociatia Montana Carpati in March 2021.

Become a member of the Carpathian thru-hikers community and join the Facebook Group!

Sitting around a campfire with great people is the best medium. A unique meeting of 3 generations of the Carpathian thru-hikers took place in the Moravian karst (CZ) in June 2021: Michal Medek (2019), Viktorie Hlaváčková (2015, 2021) and Svetozár Krno (1984).