16 June 2011

Suchá Belá

Hindsight doesn't always have its cliched eagle eye vision. Only twenty-four hours after completing our hike up Suchá Belá gorge, I began to think of an angle for this blog post. Well, it sorta felt like an obstacle course more than the natural wonder I was expecting. But then I looked at our pictures. Sometimes, I think my memory downplays cool experiences in order to make sure I keep searching out new ones. Sure, we scrambled across horizontal ladders set above rushing water and climbed up cliff faces on a veritable adult jungle gym, but it all gave us an opportunity to explore an otherwise inaccessible terrain that was truly beautiful.
We were almost scared off from the hike by a tourism brochure that lauded its 30meter high ladder and final walkway, which becomes completely submerged when the water is high. You see, between the two of us, we've got one fear of slipping on wet surfaces and one fear of heights. Neither are crippling, nor do they stop us from many activities. We just, you know, don't prefer them. Our decision was made, though, when the campsite receptionist waved at us and said "You going to Suchá Belá? Have fun!" Okay, he thinks we can do it. An out of shape father and his two small children joined us on the walkway to the trailhead. If they can do it. Off we went!
Fallen limestone and pines, the casualties of century old weathering, lay all around the trail. Some areas were bone dry, others necessitated skipping across stones in shallow ponds. In those situations, I find it best to just get your feet wet off the bat. That way, falling off a stone into the water loses its scariness. My hiking shoes were sopping wet only minutes into the trail on purpose. I promise.
The network of ladders and steps were first put into place in 1908, then available only to researchers. They were opened to the public in 1957 and are now traversed by more tourists than any other trail in Slovenský Raj Národný Park (Slovak Paradise National Park). Apparently, some elements were added for "playfulness," like these logs, set up to prevent the canyon from closing up. Whenever we reached a particularly dicey walkway with steps just a little too far apart, we would blame the playfulness.
Here's the fearsome 30 meter high ladder. The previous series of steps definitely reached up higher, but were not as straight and steep. I enjoyed having something more solid to hold on to than a chain. This was just one of the many waterfalls we walked up alongside. Passing by some people and letting others go ahead, we found ourselves with a rare moment of aloneness. It was perfect timing to really take in the simplicity of the path ahead and the amazing situations we find ourselves in.
Up, up, up, we went around a series of plunge pools that are said to resemble a set of plates. "Misore," this fall's name, actually translates to "Dishes." Even in the cool shade of surrounding pines, we wished we could take a dip. We've made it our habit to carry bathing suits everywhere we go. Wishful thinking, really, but they're very light. This section of the trail was the prettiest and made me feel very fortunate to be there in mid-June. Any later in the tourist season and I doubt I would have had time to stop and look down.
There's never a sign at the end that says, "You did it!" which often makes completing something like this anticlimactic. As the trail widened and led into a flat wooded area, we realized we were about to begin our journey back down. Suchá Belá is one-way only, obviously, and the hike back home was just a simple dirt walkway. We sat on a newly cut log to have our lunch of smoked sprats and bread. Then, we continued on past a logger and his draft horse, toward our campsite.

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