It's not that far away from the loud, noisy strongholds of civilization. But there are still around 1,000 brown bears living in the High Tatras mountains of Poland and Slovakia. Wild, untamed animals that are particularly active in spring after their hibernation.
On their hikes, they not only cross forests and high pastures, but they also rummage through garbage cans at night and have recently even ventured into residential areas during the day: the bears are on the loose in Vysoke Tatry, Slovakia, in the south of the High Tatras. Jan Mokosz, a town's mayor here, recently declared a state of emergency to warn residents and tourists.
Dumpsters should be avoided after dusk, as are streets with poor lighting, to avoid a chance and potentially dangerous encounter with a hungry bear. The local police are stepping up bear patrols... So far, with no results.
Wild life in rugged rocks
In the end, the animals prefer to hide between the rugged rocks, in long valleys and by the crystal-clear waters in the national park in northern Slovakia. It is a popular holiday destination, although people have been attacked by wild brown bears on several occasions.
But the probability is low: there are 1.000 bears, many of them over in Poland. The others are spread widely across the country. “We have wolves and bears, but no problems like elsewhere,” says mountain guide Marko Weiss, “because nature is still in balance here.”
The Brown Bear is an immanent monster: The Ursus arctos as an adult bear can grow to a high of 2 or 3 metres and it can reach a weight from 100 to 35O kg. In the wild they live for 25 years. If the animal lost his shyness it has kept his instinct of a large body of strength and therefore its behaviour can be unpredictableg and dangerous.
The forests, the clear mountain lakes, the small villages and the untouched wilderness, they fascinate new every day. The streams glitter in the sun, the forest is healthy and green. When it's hot outside, it immediately becomes ten degrees cooler under the trees.
A 15 kilometres long hike
However, it's the other way around too: If you go into the forest near Jasenie to hike up to the mountaintop, you'll break out in a sweat as soon as you reach the tree line. Jasenie is a municipality in the middle of Slovakia with only 1,175 inhabitants, which belongs to the district of the Banskobystrický kraj and is part of the traditional Horehronie landscape.
On a 15 kilometer long tour, which is classified as “difficult” but is easy for normal hikers, the climb is slowly and leisurely. The path is initially ideal for hiking and running, but later it becomes confusing because demolitions have destroyed signs.
Then new ones come, this time with a bear warning. Anyone who walks this way is in the middle of bear territory. Although the animals are as rare as other adventurers, if they appear anywhere, it is here first, on the outskirts of the municipality on the southern slope of the Low Tatras, in the middle of the Horehronské podolie valley, through which the Jasenský potok stream flows.
The municipal area covers almost 90 square kilometers, extending over the heavily forested valleys of Jasenská dolina and Lomnistá dolina to the main ridge of the Low Tatras. The highest mountains in the municipality are Chabenec (1955 m n.m.), Ďurková (1751 m n.m.), Zámostská hoľa (1645 m n.m.), Latiborská hoľa (1643 m n.m.) and Veľká hoľa (1640 m n.m.) - but they are also attractive the side ridges that reach heights of just under 1,500 meters.
Above the town and country
From the town center to just over 504 meters it is a huge climb, at least until you reach the wide meadows higher up full of fear of wild animals such as the approximately 1,000 brown bears, 200 wolves and numerous lynxes that live in remote valleys such as Dolina Waksmundzka. “But there is no reason for the animals to leave their retreat areas,” says Marko Weiss. “If you are lucky enough to meet them, you simply stay calm, close together in the group, and wait until they disappear on their own .”
People have settled here since Roman times, Jasenie was first mentioned in writing in a document from King Sigismund in 1424 as Jechene. The name is derived from the Slovak word jaseň (German: ash tree).
Jasenie was a mining village that belonged to the domain of the Liptsch Castle. Precious metals were mined here until the 16th century, and the mines were owned by Neusolen entrepreneurs.
There is now nothing left to see of the iron hammer mill and steam sawmill, but instead there is a lot of sky and endless mountain ranges. People here used to work as carters, shepherds and laborers; women crocheted and did handicrafts. Today many are employed in tourism.
Partisans on the hill
Almost only Slovaks remained, although the entire area belonged to the Kingdom of Hungary until 1918 as Sohl County. The residents later took part in the Slovak National Uprising (SNP) against the Nazis and there was active partisan activity in the valley - an almost inconspicuous monument on a mountain reminds us that partisans landed here with parachutes and fought a last desperate stand with the Nazis.
A little further on there is a rustic hut, here called Chata. There is potato soup, beer and bread, and the view from the mountain stretches far over the land of the bears. The sun is shining. And this hiker life is one of the best.
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