Karkonosze – The Giant Mountains

Yes, that’s what they’re called. Of course, they are not the Himalayas, but the name still fits. Karkonosze are a mountain range in the south-western Poland and a border region with the Czech Republic. Known for their picturesque landscapes, they are one of UNESCO’s biosphere reserves.

Poland has quite a few notable mountain ranges, and an enthusiastic trekker will definitely not be bored here. Karkonosze are one of the “mandatory” destinations of mountain hikers, both in summer and winter. The mountains themselves, as well as the rivers that run through them, carving romantic valleys and sustaining varied flora and fauna, are a pleasure to behold. The region is also known for its rapidly changing weather, which appeals to the more adventurous hikers.

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The range’s highest summit, Śnieżka (or, in Czech, Sněžka, as it’s technically on Czech Republic territory) is 1603 metres (5,259 ft) high and wrapped in either fog or clouds for most of the year. It’s a frequent destination of mountain climbers trying to test their abilities and techniques, since the climb can be tricky, especially in winter. Also, its name in Polish is the same word that is used for “snowball”. You know, like kids toss at each other.
The two corries known as Śnieżne Kotły (literally “snow cauldrons”), round indentations caused by glacier erosion, are typical for alpine landscape, and as such unique in the area. Their walls are over 100m high and can also be climbed, in January and February, though this is quite a dangerous endeavor and there have been a few fatal accidents.

The first people who explored the inner parts of Karkonosze were most likely looking for gold, silver, gems or valuable ores, mainly on the Silesian side, and most of them spoke German. In the 14th and 15th centuries, a group of foreigners appeared who spoke a different language. The local populace called them Wallen, which was a general term for non-Germanophone foreigners used at the time ; for this reason, their exact ethnicity is unknown, but there remain their notes as to the locations of valuable mining deposits and natural treasures – the search for which brought them here in the first place – and markings which they carved into the rocks to guide them there.

During World War Two, under German occupation of the territory, Karkonosze became the place where German teams trained in preparation for missions to the Arctic, to get used to polar conditions.
So, when people speak of “a landscape of rugged grandeur” and “wild, uncompromising nature”, they may well be talking about the Giant Mountains. It’s no wonder the “Prince Caspian” movie shot some of its scenes here, and it’s no wonder so many people travel here to see them.

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