A sleepless night in the Polish Bieszczady Mountains

Sunrise from Chatka Puchatka Bieszczady

I can’t remember spending a more uncomfortable night. I fidgeted constantly in my rigid lower bunk bed, sleeping in short, unsatisfying 20-minute bursts and, worst of all, running at least once an hour, often more frequently, to the loo. By the end of the night I knew every loose floor board in the building; I knew exactly when the door of the dorm would start its low, mournful groan; and I knew without using my torch exactly where on my way down the steep wooden staircase I had to duck my head.

I was in southern Poland to research this feature for National Geographic Traveller magazine. In search of wilderness I’d come to the Bieszczady Mountains and was spending the night in a remote mountain hut, in sight of both Ukraine and Slovakia. Chatka Puchatka (which means Pooh’s Hut) is part of local folklore and my guide Magda had brought me here on the top of a 1200 metre ridge to show me at first hand why so many people put up with the discomfort of a night in the refuge just to witness sunset and sunrise from this isolated spot.

połonina wetlińska bieszcady

On reflection, having a few beers in the very basic bar was not the wisest move, knowing full well the catalogue of misery that my bladder has inflicted on me over the years. I’d got chatting to the barman Mariusz, a young lad who was standing in for the infamous Lutek, who I’d been hoping to meet. Lutek had lived in the refuge on and off for over 50 years and during my week in Poland I heard from several sources some of the colourful stories about this eccentric man: his drinking exploits, his constant clashes with authority and his undying love for his long-dead horse.

On the other hand it was in drinking those beers and chatting to Mariusz that we had secured a privilege that proved priceless. With no running water or electricity, the toilet block for the 25 guests staying in the refuge is a stinky affair and involves a scramble over a rough ridge; not the most appealing of tasks in the pitch dark, even if you only have to do it once. We had been given a key to the manager’s toilet, meaning that I didn’t have to keep venturing out into the cold wind which had whipped up steadily during the night.

połonina wetlińska bieszcady

But it would be wrong to make this a story of mountain-top toilet troubles. I’d come up to see the view and what a view it was. The refuge dorm had emptied long before the 5.45 sunrise and I joined the two dozen others who sat in silence staring to the east as the sun began to appear over the Ukrainian hills. The chill was forgotten as bands of blue, mauve and pink became steadily brighter. Tripods were carefully and quietly assembled while the advancing daylight revealed the mist-covered contours of the Bieszczady mountains.

I sat in satisfied lethargy, my ability to do nothing but take in nature’s beauty undimmed by the sleepless night. While I’m not one for pampering and luxury, neither do I get excited by the prospect of camping or sleeping in places without basic comforts. There are times though, and this was one such occasion, when a little discomfort is handsomely rewarded.


Chatka Puchatka Bieszczady połonina wetlińska bieszcady połonina wetlińska bieszcady

Many thanks to the Polish National Tourist Office for organising my trip to the Bieszczady Mountains. They paid for pretty much everything, including the beers in the hut if I’m not mistaken. I didn’t think it was my fault.

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Freelance travel writer

3 Responses to “A sleepless night in the Polish Bieszczady Mountains”

  1. Sometimes good tales come from the challenges we face on the road.

    Poland strikes me as being a much under-rated destination for nature and walking holidays among UK residents. I’ve had a couple of trips to the Tatra National Park and would happily consider returning. Good to hear about the Bieszczady Mountains too.

    May 28, 2014 at 11:10 am
  2. Helen G. Dickerson #

    This is such a beautiful place. I know Poland is a mountainous country and that’s what makes me visit the place. Bieszczady Mountains look fantastic.

    June 1, 2014 at 9:03 am
  3. A truly wonderful place. Unforgettable memories. Been there October 2013. Walked the hills solo. My camera played up so I look with relish at your photos.

    June 11, 2014 at 7:07 am