Exploring the Enchanting Carpathian Mountains: A Hiker's Perspective

My name is Mykhailo (it's my insta), and I come from Transcarpathia. In this case, it's safe to say that the mountains chose me. I was born in a mountainous region where my love for the mountains was instilled in me from a young age. As a child, I used to go into the forest to pick mushrooms and apples, and I would gather blueberries on Borzhava Mountain, which is at an altitude of over 1000 meters above sea level. In the 7th grade, I joined a hiking club where real hiking trips took place. When I first packed my backpack and proudly showed up at the starting point, the more experienced participants said, "Take off your backpack; we'll repack it for you."

In 2014, our team participated in the 'First Hiking Championship of Ukraine' in the Ivano-Frankivsk region. Over two weeks, we covered more than 120 km with backpacks weighing nearly 20 kg, and we also employed hiking techniques in certain places. At that time, it seemed incredibly difficult to me, and at times, I thought it might be my last trip. However, as the championship approached its end, I realized that it was exactly what I loved. It makes me stronger, motivates me, toughens me up, and all of this can be found right here in the Carpathians.

How do you prepare for hikes, and what is essential in your backpack?

Preparation for hikes must be carefully planned: studying and mapping the route, choosing camping locations, researching the availability of drinking water sources along the route, and planning alternative options in case of worsening weather conditions or unforeseen situations.

It is important to maintain physical fitness to ensure readiness for extended stays in the mountains, considering the altitude gain.

The contents of your backpack may vary depending on the season, the duration, and the complexity of the route. In addition to standard items such as a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, I always carry a first aid kit, a raincoat (poncho), trekking poles, a sit pad (to sit anywhere), cooking utensils, hygiene products, a flashlight, a knife, and the flag of Ukraine. Sometimes I may also bring a hammock. It's worth noting that every item for the hike should be of high quality and reliable.

I've seen cases where people used a beach tent bought from a supermarket for overnight stays during rain, resulting in all their belongings getting wet. Or when a tent weighs more than 5 kg, and a sleeping bag weighs more than 3 kg, and that's not even all the gear, it's clear that carrying such a heavy backpack partially ruins the hiking experience. To avoid this, I recommend buying equipment from stores that specialize in this area, where the staff can assist with selecting the items that best suit you.

What are the best routes or places for hiking in the Carpathians that you recommend and why?

As someone who is in love with the world of mountains, I can say, "I haven't found a route that isn't wonderful in its own way." I recommend any route, whether it's a popular one or places that are rarely visited. Everyone can find something they like and suits them. The only exceptions are routes that are prohibited by Ukrainian law. First and foremost, you should derive pleasure from it, not only from the incredible beauty but also from the process, as it's primarily a victory over yourself. When you ascend to a new peak, you conquer your fears, realize that you can do more, and learn self-control and perseverance. It doesn't matter which route you choose; the most important thing is to go and enjoy it, but it should all be done with wisdom and safety for yourself.

How do you help beginners or people with no experience cope with the demands of hiking in the Carpathians?

Helping beginners or people with no experience cope with the demands of hiking in the Carpathians can be done by providing information, practical advice, and preparation. Here are a few ways I use and consider useful:

- Provide information about routes and recommend easier routes for beginners or those without experience. I explain the duration of the hike, the altitude gain, and the difficulty of the trail. I offer recommendations on the best time to start and preparation for the route.

- Share advice on equipment, such as selecting the appropriate footwear, clothing, backpack, and sleeping bag. I explain the importance of a first aid kit, a flashlight, trekking poles, and other essentials. I emphasize the need for food, water, and other necessary items in advance.

- It is important to be truthful about potential dangers that may arise, emphasizing the importance of adhering to safety rules, such as not deviating from the route, avoiding dangerous places, and recognizing one's physical capabilities.

- I always recommend starting with short hikes or training outings to prepare physically and determine one's abilities.

- I share my acquired knowledge that may be useful to beginners.

What challenges or dangers can one encounter during hikes in the Carpathians, and how do you help participants overcome them?

There are various dangers to consider. Perhaps the foremost concern is the weather conditions. The Carpathians have unpredictable weather with sudden temperature fluctuations, rain, fog, or strong winds. This can complicate navigation and make the trail impassable. It's essential to understand when to turn back, when to continue, or when to wait out the bad weather in a safe place. Safety comes first, and you can always return to the Carpathians another time.

Domestic animals (sheep, cows, horses, dogs, etc.) also pose a unique danger. They are very common in the Carpathians, and tourists often want to take photos with them. However, they can also be a threat because no one knows what's on the animals' minds. Forest animals (wild boars, snakes, deer) can pose a similar danger, but if left undisturbed, they are less likely to react to your presence.

Very often, I encounter tourists who don't know where to go next. Many people think that Google Maps is all they need, but that's not the case. For hiking routes, you also need specialized apps that support offline maps. Regardless of your experience, navigation is a crucial component of a hike. I use apps like Osmand, Mapy.cz, and a few others. It's also important to know how to use paper hiking maps and a compass because there have been cases when phone batteries died, and then paper maps became essential. My advice is to combine both options.

During climbs, headaches can be a common issue, but in most cases, taking a short break is enough to alleviate it. These are not all the dangers, but they are the ones that are most frequently encountered.

What advantages do hikes in the Carpathians have compared to other regions?

The Carpathians are known for their breathtaking beauty and diverse natural landscapes. Mountain peaks, deep valleys, rushing streams, pristine lakes, forests, and waterfalls all create an unforgettable atmosphere for hiking. They offer a wide range of hiking routes to suit different preferences and levels of preparation. You can choose an easy route for beginners or challenge yourself with a difficult trek.

Among hiking enthusiasts, the Carpathians are traditionally divided into different mountain ranges. The Chornohora Massif is one of the highest mountain ranges in Ukraine, attracting tourists with its deep gorges, towering cliffs, and snow-capped peaks. Chornohora is home to numerous springs and mountain lakes, making it a popular destination for hiking and mountaineering. The highest mountains in Ukraine are located in this massif.

The Gorgany Mountains are known for their sharp mountain ridges and massive rocky formations that cover the mountain peaks.

The Marmarosy Mountains, located in the Eastern Carpathians, are mostly in Romania and are considered the most picturesque and mysterious part of the Carpathians, often referred to as the Marble Mountains or Hutsul Alps.

Svydovets is a region known for its high-altitude glacial lakes, where it's delightful to set up camp and enjoy the mirror-like surface of the water.

Borzhava is beautiful in every season, with its velvety slopes and beech forests. And these are just a few of the mountain ranges; others include Grynivsky and Chyvchynsky Mountains, the Beskids, Pokutsko-Bukovynian Carpathians, and the Watershed Range.

Each part of the Carpathians has its own unique character, which is why it attracts even the most discerning tourists from around the world.

How do you influence environmental awareness and nature conservation during your hikes?

This is a very important issue, especially in our times, as the number of people eager to visit the Carpathian Mountains grows every year, and the Carpathians themselves suffer from the influx of tourists during the peak season. I'll highlight a few issues and my vision for addressing them:

- The biggest problem is littering. Tourists often litter along the trails, even when there are signs prohibiting it. It should be clear that even a piece of gum belongs in a trash bin, not on the ground. During our hikes, I continuously emphasize this point and we collect some of the litter to help clean up the mountains.

- Bathing and washing dishes in high-altitude lakes are practices that bother me the most. These lakes have developed their ecosystems over centuries and contain microorganisms that should not be disrupted. First and foremost, it's essential to understand that a mountain lake is like a natural pool in the mountains without a filtering system. By swimming in them, people introduce bacteria that upset the delicate ecological balance, which cannot be altered. Nature knows how to maintain the viability of these lakes. I discuss this with my tourists each time, and I don't allow them to dip even a finger in the water. For example, at Nesamove Lake, we installed a sign that reads 'Swimming is prohibited' because it wasn't there before, and the tourist traffic was quite high.

- Cutting down trees for firewood is another issue. Some tourists want to make fires using the wood from the forest, but this is a waste of time because the wood doesn't burn well and generates a lot of smoke, while also causing harm to the environment.

- Off-road driving, particularly with jeeps, is a significant problem. Lazy tourists want to see everything without having to walk and prefer driving. This practice damages roads, pollutes the area, and disrupts the peaceful environment with noise. It's a particularly significant issue on Svydovets, where quad bikes have torn up a significant portion of the terrain. I am strongly against this because mountains are not for driving; they are places for recreation where everyone bears responsibility for their actions.

For example, in Europe, there is a system of fines for violating the rules of mountain visits. Unfortunately, in our country, such fines mostly exist on paper. In my lifetime, I've never seen fines imposed for littering, swimming in lakes, or cutting down trees.

I've mentioned only some of the problems, but they are substantial. Therefore, I urge all citizens to be environmentally conscious, informed about the consequences of their actions, and to delve deeper into this issue.

What makes you confident that hiking in the Carpathian Mountains is not just an adventure but an unforgettable experience worth trying?

I've led numerous hikes, often introducing people to the mountains for the first time. For some, it's like discovering a second wind, with ascents and descents feeling effortless.

At the end, they invariably ask why they hadn't tried it before and where else they can go. It often feels like I'm offering a drink of water to someone who didn't realize they were thirsty. Sometimes, after the hike, they thank me but say they won't go to the mountains again.

The common argument is, "It's not for me." But I say, "Wait a bit!" If everyone has the opportunity, they should give it a try, test themselves and their limits. There's also this moment: after returning home, when you've already bathed and are comfortably lying in bed, looking at photos, you forget the feeling of fatigue, and there's only one thought in your head – how awesome it was!

And after a month, two, sometimes a year – I see those faces again, the ones who claimed that the mountains weren't for them.