There is an ongoing dispute at my house. It involves credit and counting and has everything to do with the question of what it means to have visited a country. You see, I don’t keep an ongoing count of the countries I’ve been to, but that doesn’t mean my children don’t. Certain of my offspring have inherited a substantial competitive streak from me, I’m afraid. Country counting is fertile ground for that competition (which is part of why I eschew the practice).
It was inevitable, then, that the discussion about Ukraine would begin before we even made it to the trail for this hike. All through the połoniny it was the primary topic of conversation. Would they actually be able to claim that they’ve visited Ukraine? It is a tri-border hike, they argued. Poland. Slovakia (which we’ve already visited). And, Ukraine.
But then came the voice of dissent from the one child who has been to Ukraine—officially, through a port of entry and everything. She was having none of this walking-to-the-border counts business. When it came to relinquishing her claim to a country none of the rest of us shared, she had rigorous standards.
When we turned off the gentle rolling hills of the połoniny and headed toward the borders, the signs began. Periodic obelisks pointed out just how close we were. The whole of Ukraine stretched just beyond those yellow and blue stripes. For an hour we trod this little strip of land, paralleling the Poland/Ukraine border. The cry for Ukraine recognition grew more adamant. Surley, all this time just on the other side of the border must count for something.
The breaking point came at last at the tri-borders area. The borders converge at a point marked by a triangular monument in each country’s language. Walking around the open area on every side of the moment, it certainly was difficult to argue that we weren’t in each of those different countries. Everyone even sat in the Ukrainian area to eat our snacks, arguing that having consumed food inside a country’s borders certainly must count for something.
Strangely, even though I don’t count my countries, I seem to have a lot to say about what counts for other people. I guess I’m always looking for another reason to invent a rule or regulation. But, watching them stretch themselves around the marker to stand in three countries at once, even I was constrained to acknowledge that we’ve been to Ukraine.
This was the most challenging Bieszczdady hike we attempted. First, it was the longest. And, the hiking itself was more difficult. Not technically challenging—it is all simply walking. But, there are a lot of ups and downs on this hike. There is the initial ascent, which was quite steep, as they all are. Then we had a relaxing walk across the połoniny. Once we turned on the path to the triborders area, though, we were back to tackling ups and downs. The route is made of steep hills all the way to the border. So, this means there are uphills to tackle both on the way there and on the way back. It made for some tired legs, especially on our return trip.
Two other things to note. First, all the hikes in the Bieszczady in late July were muddy propositions. But, this hike was by far the muddiest, with swampy areas where we had no choice but to wade through mud to the tops of our boots. The second was that there were substantially more people on this hike. It was by no means crowded. We simply saw other people at regular intervals, which we hadn’t yet.
Despite the challenges of this hike, it ended up as several of my children’s favorite. By pointing these things out I don’t want to dissuade you from considering this hike. I thought it was a beautiful walk and would happily take it again.
We took the green trail starting in Przełęcz Wyżniańska up the mountain. This takes you to Mała Rawka “peak” (one of the high points on the trail). Here we turned left, taking the green trail toward Wielka Rawka. Just after Wielka Rawka, the green trail dead ends into the blue trail. There, we took a right to the tri-borders. This is all well marked with signs on the trail.
This is the most direct route to the tri-borders point. There are a couple of different approaches, but we could see that this was already going to be a long hike and so we chose to go the most direct way this time.
The map lists this as a 4 hours and 25 minute hike: 2 hours and 25 minutes up, and 2 hours down.
On this one I think the map is overly optimistic. Even without some of our slower legs along, there is no way we would have done this hike in that time frame. In reality, we did have our most reluctant hikers along, and we were on day three of hiking. So we were very gentle with ourselves on this hike. We took generous breaks along the trail and an extended lunch at the tri-borders area. All told, we took 7 hours to do this hike. From the parking lot to Mała Rawka was 1 1/2 hours for us. From Mała Rawka to the tri-borders area took us 1 hour and 45 minutes (by comparison, the map suggests this should be 1 hour and 5 minutes). After a half an hour break to wander the border area, returning to Wielka Rawka was a 45 minute hike. Then, we took nearly an hour to get from Wielka Rawka back to Mała Rawka. To be clear, this is a very easy part of the hike (the map lists it as 20 minutes, and that’s probably accurate). But, it is a gorgeous part of the hike so we took it slow and enjoyed the views. Then, from Mała Rawka to the parking lot was another 1 1/2 hours.
You need to pay a nominal hiking fee at a booth in the parking lot. When we were there it cost 6 zł for full price tickets and 3 zł for reduced (youth and seniors). Make sure you bring cash to pay these and the parking fee. It’s always preferably if you have smaller change, as they will have limited supplies of change.
We parked at the parking lot at Przełęcz Wyżniańska. The green trail is easy to find straight out of the parking lot. When we were there the parking fee for a car was 15 zł for the day. Again, this will need to be paid in cash.
There is a free toilet at the parking lot at Przełęcz Wyżniańska. It has running water, including a sink. But, it’s wise to bring your own soap and toilet paper as you probably won’t find any there. The toilets are open only during working hours. I didn’t see the exact hours posted anywhere, but they were generally closed by the time we got down from our hikes in the late afternoon/early evenings.
Also, about 20 minutes into the hike you walk directly past the PTTK shelter, Bacówka Pod Mała Rawka. I believe this has both food for purchase and a toilet, but we didn’t stop in here to see. Most shelters charge a small fee (2-4 zł is typical) to use the toilet, so definitely have some change for that.