Three days after returning from Vienna, Budapest, and Bratislava, USAC invited us on an overnight, 35 mile pilgrimage hike to the Holy Mountain about 40 miles outside of Prague. Jan, our program director’s friends organize this hike each year and as USAC students, we were just guests.
We embarked on this after a full day optional field trip to Terezin and Lidice. Terezin was the last stop for Jews before the extermination camps. We saw the barracks, the holding cells, the crematorium, the solitary confinement chambers, the shooting range, and the fortress tunnels. It was entirely chilling. Lidice was a former town completely destroyed during Nazi occupation. They ordered men and women to the gas chambers and extermination camps, children with them unless they were suitable for ‘germanization’. Then they burned, destroyed, and leveled the entire city. All that is left is a museum and a couple cold, sad monuments. The day was so mentally exhausting. It was a tough transition to go from a day of depressing tours to a night of nonstop hiking.
Mackenzie made this video to illustrate the pain and agony that was the hike. Her blog (http://mactracking12.blogspot.cz/2012/10/may-odds-be-ever-in-your-favor.html also has a FANTASTIC description of our journey.
Nathan wrote a post about this on his blog, and since I walked with him for at least 30 of the 35 miles, I will just copy and paste his summary here. You can check out his blog, if you like, too. I cut a little bit and my additions are in blue!
“The hike I completed was a pilgrimage from Prague to Příbram. In Příbram there is a chapel/shrine on the Svata Hora, that is, Holy Mountain. Since the 16th Century, pilgrims from all over Europe have been going to this site. During Communist times, students from Prague wanted to complete the journey. However, the police weren’t so keen on gatherings of students of any kind, so the students hiked it during the night to avoid being caught. Since 1989, many Czechs still complete the journey at night: some for the challenge, others for the pilgrimage, some for old times sake.
It’s 33-35 miles depending on some variations in the path you choose. The estimated times were to start at 7pm and finish between 9 and 10am. Oh my.
The day of the departure was our field trip to Terezin and Lidice, so we already had had a full day before starting the hike. This also caused us to be late for the start…all there was to do was follow the red (later green) markers and hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.
All times are approximate.
7:00pm: Left the apartment wearing 3 pants and socks and about 6 extra layers (I was cold all day!). These extras turned out to be extremely unnecessary and horrible to carry.
7:15pm: Got on taxis to catch up with group at trail head
7:45pm: Started hike
8:45pm: Arrived at a restaurant, the ‘last civilization for the night’ for dinner roughly 3 miles in. Trout, potatoes, beer, espresso. Hiking fuel.
9:30pm: Left restaurant, no more amenities after this point. Nathan, myself, and a USAC aid, Geiger were at a separate table from everyone else in our group. We noticed they had left about 15 minutes before we did. Forever separated now (sad face).
10:30pm: Fell 8 off a rocky hillside cliff and received cuts on hands and arms. Trail was wet with puddles, hilly, and slippery. In the new darkness this was challenging, but fine still, as we were just starting.
11:00pm: First of many calls from lost members who were ahead… or behind by this point
1:00am: Took 10 min break for cold tea and possibility of lost members catching up
1:30am: Arrived at first break point: a chapel roughly one-third of the way. Time for water and an apple.
2:30am: Passed a pub that had only closed half an hour before. What. A. Letdown. By this point the darkness seemed all-consuming and the realm of visibility from our flashlights was very limiting. The conversations slowed down and we began to get a little sick of walking.
3:30am: Falling into micro-sleep while walking on a straight paved road: the technically easiest part. On the plus side, the stars were shimmering in the clear, wild night. We saw a ‘falling’ star, too!
4:30am: Feet hurting fairly bad, legs okay, second major break point at covered picnic table. Sitting down felt so good. Last time eating or drinking anything (hazelnuts) until noon the next day.
5:18am: (exact time) Started listening to Mumford & Sons, morale significantly increased (false). Blisters were dug into my heels in at least 5 different places. My boot laces cut into my calves/ankles, I was not feeling good at. all. Pissed and grumbling.
6:30am: Reached the final major break point at top of mountain, getting light out
7:00am: No longer needed flashlights to see trail. Moral improved here. The light was such a welcome change and the Autumn scenery was in fact gorgeous. I was able to appreciate it for about an hour before the pain and desire to be back home overtook it.
7:30am: Switched to green marker, feet hurt lots, but going downhill is nice. I fell behind Nathan and Geiger, my blisters couldn’t keep up.
8:15am: Trail turned into beautiful path through sunlit trees, I could care less about all the beauty
8:30am: Looked at watch every 5 minutes thinking at LEAST 20 minutes had gone by
9:10am: Miss trail market and end up at small village close to Příbram. So much pain at this point, it was torture having to turn around multiple times to find the right way.
9:15am: Realized I dropped my phone and had to take an extra half and hour to (luckily!) find it. Hell, I tell you!
9:20am: Wimpering and dry-crying, wanting so badly to be done. Cursing Czech lands, vowing never to come back. Dramatic? yes. Also energy levels on E, but didn’t drink/eat for fear of throwing it up because of physicial exertion.
10:00am: Arrive in Příbram after another 20-30 minute (scary) detour towards the wrong town. Totally lost, since I’m by myself at this point, trying to navigate this village via phone with Nathan (which is beeping low battery) but I keep getting turned around, thinking I see the church through the leaves of the trees but I’m just hallucinating it. Finally I find my way and get to walk up the final (super) steep hill, the Svata Hora (Holy Mountain).
10:35am: Arrive at the top of the Svata Hora in Příbram and sit down on the steps in pure relief after 15 hours of straight walking and 26 hours of being awake. This church was beautiful, I’m sure, but I’ve never hated, despised a building SO much.
We rode a bus back to Prague and hobbled/limped through the metro and up the road and six flights of stairs to our apartment. That part definitely hurt the most. Upon returning to my apartment, I met two of the other girls who started the hike, but got lost and had to find their way through the Czech wilderness to a bus stop at 3 am where they got a strong enough wi-fi signal to GPS themselves and call a taxi to take them home. Seriously, horror story material.
This is how far we walked. Incredible, if I do say so myself. In the top two physically hardest things I’ve ever done. Anyways, glad that’s over.