Sněžka Mountain - Špindlerův Mlýn, Czech Republic
I had my last ski trip of the season last week; the days are getting longer and I can finally run in shorts again. As such, I’m looking forward to warmer weather ultrarunning destinations.
This time of year reminds me of a run I did two years ago while I was working in Wroclaw, Poland. Since I hadn’t visited the Czech Republic before I figured it’d make a good destination being close by. I started by looking around Prague but it was too far away by car. I then looked at the mountains closer to the border and found the highest point in the Czech Republic, Sněžka, is located near the town of Špindlerův Mlýn. As I always do, I pulled up the area in Gaia GPS and found many trails in the area, including a 16km trail going to the top of Sněžka from the center of the town. The town also looked like a great base for a trip with many hotels, and being off season I figured it would be quiet too.
Starting in Wroclaw, I got off to a late start on Saturday morning since I slept in so as not to be tired for the drive. I also decided I’d take my time driving through Poland and visit two tourist sites. Because of these decisions I only could run on Sunday morning since I’d be arriving later at night in Špindlerův Mlýn.
I stopped at two locations during the drive. The first was at Project “RIESE”, a large underground complex built during World War II. This is mainly a place of remembrance though as the tour tells the story of how many people lost their lives in the construction. The second stop was close by at The Grodno Castle. The views of the countryside were breathtaking from the top of the castle. The area itself is also perfect for hiking being right next to the Owl Mountains. If I’d planned better, I might have been able to get a short run in this area along the way.
After the stopovers I made the rest of the drive to the hotel. Along the way I traveled what is known in Poland as the “Hundred Curves Road”. This is a picturesque drive that requires a lot of attention to navigate the narrow, curvy route. Good thing I got in a good nights sleep the night before.
I arrived just in time for dinner and used dinner time to plan out the details of my run. Because the weather was so great on the drive in I didn’t put much thought into what the weather would be like in the mountain village. I should have been and had concerns since the ski runs still had snow on them even though there wasn’t any snow on the streets.
I woke up Sunday morning to light flurries. I knew at this point it’d be cold, but still wasn’t taking it seriously since I was early in my self education about runs like this. I put on two long sleeve shirts, my ball cap, wind breaking paints and my light mountain biking gloves. I figured I’d be OK if I kept moving the entire time.
The run started with a light jog across the street then a steep ascent on stairs through the village and into the mountains. So far so good, the snow was light and footing good. As the paved paths turned into the trail, I saw what I was in for the rest of the run, snow covered trails.
The first part of the run up the mountain was nice since there was no wind, some sun, and the track was easy to follow since it looked like it got regular use. As I crested the top of the first major ridge though, the world changed. Until that point I was highly confident I’d get in a 30km run and make it to the high point of the Czech Republic. However, as soon as I crested the ridge, the wind hit me with what must have been 30 mph (50km).
Quickly my hands got cold, but thankfully I had a headband to cover my ears as wind quickly froze them. I pressed on and pushed my pace to keep warm. The views were stunning with the mountains in the background and everything still being 100% covered in snow. I saw on the map that there was a hotel on the track so aimed for it even though I realized the peak might not be in reach that day.
As I approached the hotel, there was a line of about 25 people heading away from it for a hike. There was a significant difference though between the group and me in that everyone in this group had on snow pants, thick parkas and proper hiking boots. At this point I was so cold I was running as fast as I could and bounded down the mountain through the deep snow since the track was only wide enough to accommodate them. At the hotel I burst through the door and found a quiet place to sit to warm up. I had no more clothes to put on, so knew I’d need to get as warm as possible before heading back. There was no chance I could safely continue up to a higher elevation even though it seemed the hiking track was in good shape.
Once I got warm enough, I headed back out. In the short time while I warmed up the wind picked up, and it snowed heavily. It became clear how bad my choice in clothes were this day. At the top of the first rise I took cover behind a stone building because the winds was so brutal. I then made a dash for it running as fast as I could across the snow. The visibility was so low I took the wrong track, but thankfully it ran parallel to the track I took in. The problem was that because my hands were so cold and the snow blowing so hard I had a challenge getting my phone open to check the map. Thankfully, I got it open, took a bearing and could make my way to the track heading back down to the village. I had to get to the ridge to escape the wind. Once I got there, the world changed again as the ridge shielded me completely from the wind for the rest of the run. I warmed up quickly and had a nice descent back to the village.
I highly recommend Špindlerův Mlýn as the base for an ultrarunning destination. Whether in the winter, better dressed though, or in the summer there are extensive tracks all around the village that can create a 50k or longer run. My run was 22k with 3500 feet (1100m) elevation gain along with very tough conditions including deep snow and high winds. If you visit it, I hope you enjoy the area as much as I did, and maybe even make it to the peak of Sněžka!