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Jun 09 2015

Hiking from Gora Chelm: Some Valuable Lessons Learned

Thursday last week was a national holiday in Poland.  That meant I had a day off – yay!  The thing is, it was one day midweek, so I couldn’t stray too far.  For that reason, I decided it was time to explore the area around me.  I live in a small town called Myslenice about 16 miles south of Krakow.  One of my colleagues had told me that I could get a chair lift to the top of one of the mountains from the nearby village of Zarabie, walk around for a bit, have a beer at the restaurant up there, and then make my way back.  She suggested it would be better for me to return via the chair lift to avoid getting lost as I was on my own.  Sensible!  Yes, I would do that.

After doing some work on my blog, I set off from my flat at about 12pm. When I got to the chair lift, while waiting in line, I was working out how to ask for a return ticket in Polish.  As it turned out, there was no need because the cashier spoke to me in English.  He said it was the first time he had spoken English in 15 years and was keen to practice.  That was certainly easier for me.  When he queried if I wanted a one-way or return ticket, I hesitated.  I was all set to get a return, but the adventurer inside of me was questioning that decision.  I asked about the route down if I only got a one-way ticket.  Apparently, I had three options for hiking down, and all the routes seemed pretty straightforward.  In the end, ignoring my colleague’s advice, the adventurous side of me won, and I bought a one-way ticket up the mountain, so I could hike back via the longer green route.  I had plenty of time, and it was a perfect day for it.

Chair lifts up to Gora Chelm

Having bought my ticket, I sat on the next vacant chair, and as I was waving ‘Do Widzenia!’ to the friendly cashier, I was in the air.  I was feeling quite excited because I was finally on my way up the mountain I had been looking at from my kitchen for the past eight months.  When I arrived at the top after a longer than expected ride, I saw the restaurant my colleague had mentioned.  There were a number of people having a beer, some were having picnics, and others were just enjoying the fabulous view.  It was only the start, so I didn’t fancy stopping so soon.

I surveyed the map that had the various routes the cashier had mentioned.  I took a photo of it, as I usually do, because it’s always handy to have.  At the time, I had no idea how reliant I would become on that photograph later on.

Map of hike from Gora Chelm to Zarabie

Without delay, I looked for the first green route sign.  Once I had located it, I was off.  By that time, it was about 12.30pm.  It was an easy hike at the start, on a tarmacked road.  With my track record of getting lost, I religiously followed the green signs.  I was told to follow them until I got to crossroads and then I had to take the road which intersected down to Zarabie.

I came across a couple of villages.  Life on the mountain looks pretty good, albeit a bit isolated.  I stopped to take photos of the view and flowers as I went.  When I came to the end of one village, I wasn’t sure if I should turn left because the trail on the map zigzagged a bit, or go straight on.  Once I spotted a green sign ahead I knew that had to be the way.  This took me onto a trail, which is what I had been expecting all along.  It was still wet and muddy in parts from the recent rain, but it wasn’t a problem.Hike from Gora Chelm

Further along the track, there was fork in the road.  Do I go left or right?  I saw a green and red sign ahead, so I thought I must be going in the right direction because that’s what I wanted.  When I got to the crossroads, I knew I was going in the right direction, or so I thought.

Villages on my hike from Gora Chelm

I checked the time.  That’s when I realised I had only been walking for a couple of hours.  The guy must have overestimated the time because he said it would take over three hours.

When I eventually reached a village, I was really confused.  I didn’t recognise the place at all, and there was a sign for Zarabie and Myslenice going back the way I had just come from with a time of over three hours.  What?  If that was true, where in the hell was I?  I continued walking, and came across the name of the village – Poręba.  I had no idea where Poreba was.  I’d never even heard of it.

‘How on earth was I supposed to get home when I had no idea where I was?’ I wondered.  I got my camera out and looked at the photo of the hiking routes I’d taken a few hours earlier.  I was trying to work out where I was.  I couldn’t find Poręba on it, so I decided to continue walking until I found a sign for a place I recognised.  Little did I know there would be a distinct lack of signs!  A short walk later, and I came across another town I’d never heard of – Trzemeśnia.  ‘What on earth do I do now?’ I pondered.  I got my camera out again, and looked at the photo of the map, hoping it was on there.  Sure enough, it was.  The only thing I was sure of was that I was miles away from where I should have been, so miles away from home.  As I found out after, I was seven miles from home.  ‘How could I have gone so far off track whilst following the signs I had been told to follow?’ I asked myself.  That question wasn’t going to help me get home.  I pushed it to the back of my mind, so I could think of what to do next.  If it had been a normal weekday, I could have got a bus back.  Being a bank holiday, however, I had no chance of getting a bus.  I had to walk, however far it was.  I had no choice.

Thankfully, the photo I took was good quality and not blurry.  This was important because the screen on my camera isn’t particularly big, the sun was beaming down which made it more difficult to see, and I could only zoom in so far.  Looking at the photo, I could see that if I turned first left and headed towards another town or village I’d never heard of, Bulina, that would bring me closer to home.  I was hoping to see some signs to confirm this, but that wasn’t to be.  I just had to follow the map.  Thankfully, I had a fully-charged spare battery for my camera, so I didn’t have to worry about my camera battery, at least.  This was one of those occasions when I could have done with having a fully-working tablet or smartphone.  My ongoing issues with technology meant that wasn’t to be.  Off I went, hoping I was going the right way, but having no real clue.

It was a beautiful day, and I was thankful of that and the fact that I had brought enough drinking water and rice cakes with me to keep me going.  It’s just as well because everything, I mean, everything was closed.  As I walked towards Bulina, there were two women coming the other way.  I decided to be brave and ask, in Polish, if I was going the right way.  I just wanted to be reassured.  I was, but one of the woman indicated that I would have to turn right at some point.   I thanked them, and continued on my way.Bulina

When I got to Bulina, the road forked.  ‘Was I supposed to go right here or continue on?’ I wondered.  I checked the photo again, and it looked as if I should continue straight on, so I did.  Eventually, I saw the sign I had been hoping to see for a long time – a sign for Zarabie and Myslenice.  Woo hoo!  Only five more kilometres!  I breathed an audible sigh of relief.  I continued on down the track, and came across a fork in the track.  There was no indication of which route I should take.  Fortunately for me, there were some female cyclists having a rest, so I asked them.  They told me that both routes would take me to Zarabie.  Going straight on was longer but more beautiful.  Excellent!  As it was about 4pm by that point, I decided to go for the longer route.  I had the time, and walking a slightly longer route wasn’t going to make a lot of difference considering the miles I had already covered that day.  At least, I knew I was going the right way and I wasn’t far from home.  You have no idea how happy I was to finally get back to Zarabie.

I got a lot of exercise that day, and I got to see villages I wouldn’t have otherwise seen.  The only thing is, it was hard to appreciate them while I was figuring out how to get back.

What I learned that day…

  • Until that day, I hadn’t realised the importance of taking a photograph of a map and hiking routes.  It proved invaluable.  Without that, getting back would have been a much bigger challenge and I would have probably walked further away from my town rather than going towards it.  From now on, I will make a conscious effort to photograph maps of the area, the routes etc.

  • Make sure you have a good quality photo of the map.  If it’s blurry, it’ll just make it more difficult to read.

  • Ideally, having a mobile device with data that works is useful.  It’s unusual not to have a mobile device these days.  Unfortunately for me, I don’t have one that works at the moment.

  • Make sure you have snacks and plenty of drinking water.  For some reason, I brought extra water with me.  That was unusual for me, especially as I wasn’t intending to go for a long hike.  The thing is, you just never know what might happen.

  • Make sure someone knows where you are going.  If you don’t arrive back from your hike then at least someone can alert the emergency services.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask the locals for directions.  I wasn’t keen to at first because I know very little Polish.  Nonetheless, I did and that also helped me to get home.

  • Have a back-up cheap phone with you, so you have a way of contacting people, if necessary.  I bought a cheap phone because I was having problems with all my ‘high-tech’ mobile devices.


Here’s a map which shows you all the places I’ve mentioned…

Center map
Google MapsGet Directions

Have your say

Do you take photographs of maps and hiking routes?  What have you learned from hiking by yourself?

About the author

Teresa Keane

Teresa has been to almost 60 countries. She started travelling independently at the age of 38 when she gave up her job, rented out her house, put her possessions in storage and spent a year travelling the world. It changed her life. She now creates, publishes, & promotes online travel content and is an experienced freelance trainer & EFL teacher.

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