Hike Sucha Bella Gorge 

Written by Hank Martin in E. Europe

On those rare winter days in Slovakia when the sun is a bright yellow disc in a cold, clear blue sky you remember that action makes you human. So you move, leaving Spisska Nova Ves to itself and discarding the little downtown park and bars where you can do shots of absinthe and walk to an auditorium now converted in to a night club.

Each step West you take brings a renewed pioneer feeling, as if you are an adventurer heading towards unknown destinations. Eventually trees with huge, nude canopies frozen by winter's cold, and pine cones tossed carelessly to the rock hard terra by evergreens appear.

Snow hides the ground beneath, light and fluffy, and kicked up by the passing hiking boot. The only mark of movement is your footsteps, your weight pressing in to the frozen water, melting underfoot and exposing broken branches, pine needles and dirt.

After walking with tunnel vision for hours, past tree trunks and through patches of sun that pierce the canopy above, you come to a ledge. The veil lifts, the trees part, and the wilderness appears.

Wild stands still, motionless from this distance, but alive. The stillness is more frightening then movement. Here things are waiting to move, waiting to act. For miles there is nothing human made, no mark of man's existence. You are in the thick of it now, the tangle of tree limbs and scurrying animals.DSC03154

Leaving the untamed behind, you descend below the trees and pine cones, winding to the gorge floor. The backs of your hands glide back and forth in time with your steps, moving parallel to the cliff faces. These faces shape the rock, the crevices of their eyes and noses creating runnels in the rock. The noses drip snot, frozen ice that shines translucent in the morning sun.

The gorge is wide enough to drive a semi truck through, but gnarled and rough enough to kill you for trying. In the middle of this gorge a silver snake of gleaming water slithers across the floor, wet and loud in the silence. Now and again colored, shiny pebbles glisten like trout beneath the water's surface. The edges of the river are white and crusty, like fake cake frosting, from the splashing water that throws itself over the bank and freezes.

For miles we walked the gorge, the sun hitting the ice prisms and shooting back crystals. Ladders appeared, cold metal giraffes screwed in to rock, their tops reaching high above us. They stair step up, going to places new and unexplored.

So we go, traveling up rung after rung out of the gorge floor and closer to the miraculous warmth of the sun. Upwards and out, back in to the wild where we retrace our steps and leave.DSC03191

In truth the gorge is just as wild as the forest, although it doesn't seem so. Beneath the glittering crystals and colorful rocks at the bottom of the river lies the threat of death.

Nature gives meaning, and takes it away. It can be conquered and conquer. In our quest for movement, onward and upward to bigger and brighter futures, we forget how powerful and overwhelming nature is. One slip up and we can loss hold, falling off the ladders to the gorge floor, becoming a permanent but not lasting part of its silent beauty.

This tragedy has happened before on these ladders in winter. On sunny days when nature disarms your sense of survival all it takes is a step on a patch of ice clinging to the metal ladder, a quick slip on the soles of those hiking boots and a long fall down, down, down.

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