Apr 19th, 2017, 06:24 PM

How I Conquered the Highest Mountain in Ukraine

By Anastasiia Yarova
Mountain Hoverla. Image Credit: Anastasiia Yarova
Spoiler alert: it wasn't easy.

At 2,061 meters (6,762 feet) tall, Hoverla is the highest mountain in Ukraine and is located in the Western part of the country. It is the most visited hiking trail in Ukraine and the perfect place for an adventure with family or friends. It's also a chance to cross off another thing from your bucket list. I made it to the top simply because I was dragged there. 

There is no better way to start this story but saying that I have an older brother who has always been crazier and more energetic than me. He is the person in the family full of extraordinary ideas and extreme plans.

It was mid-July of 2015 and as usual, I was sitting on the couch watching some Ukrainian TV show and eating sunflower seeds, when my brother ran into the room yelling, “you, me, and Marina (his wife) are going hiking to the highest mountain of Ukraine this weekend! I don’t accept no as an answer!” So I just nodded as he would ever let me not be the part of his plan.

A week later I packed my backpack with few shirts, sunglasses, bug spray, and the Ukrainian flag. I was full of energy and so excited to conquer mountain Hoverla. In reality, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

Image Credit: Ievgen Yarovyy

We drove to the mountain from Kyiv for more than ten hours and I was the only one who was able to sleep in the back seat. My brother decided to leave our car in the village Vorokhta, which is the closest town to the mountain. And only at the top of Hoverla, I would realize that the trail starting from Vorokhta was the hardest and the longest one out of the four trails, which did not come as a surprise.

Everyone needed some time to rest before starting our adventure. While we were relaxing in a local cafe and eating banosh, the most popular Hutsul (an ethnocultural group of Ukrainians inhabiting Carpathian Mountain) dish in Western Ukraine. The people there were friendly, and told us about the mountain and hiking trail, along with some safety rules.

The mountain is open for tourists only from mid-May till mid-October. The peak of Hoverla is so high above the sea level that during the other months of the year, it’s snow-covered and thus it would be quite dangerous to go hiking there. They also advised us to walk carefully in the forest area and to not step on any stone along the trail as there were many snakes during the summer.

Spoiler: I was walking behind my brother when he stepped on a mid-size stone, from which a snake jumped in our direction and somehow he managed to jump over it. At first, I did not know what was going on but thank God my sister-in-law grabbed my hoodie and pulled me back. Thanks, Marina!

Image Credit: Ievgen Yarovyy

Even hearing about the difficulties of the trail or snakes and insect did not wreck my optimistic attitude. It was my first time hiking and I had never been to the Carpathian Mountains in the summer, so this experience would be one of the greatest in my life no matter how hard it would be. Or so I thought.

My brother was so excited that it made me nervous because it could have meant two things: he would never stop despite my (very probable) tears, or he would rush me to get to the top faster than I physically could. So I changed, filled bottles with the water, and crossed myself just in case.

In less than an hour since we started hiking, I could barely breathe and was whining to stop. The trail was so steep and full of small stones and tree roots that made the way up even more difficult than it already was. Like the donkey from “Shrek”, every 20 minutes I had to ask "are we there yet?” And we were not. It was so hot and I was so tired already that I could not believe that I would ever make it to the top.

Image Credit: Ievgen Yarovyy

In three hours we reached the plain area on the mountain ridge where hikers usually rest and even stay overnight before continuing the next day. This is where we could start to see the top of Hoverla.

I was stunned by the view. I travel quite a lot, but this was just amazing and unlike anything I had ever seen before. At that point, I was really happy; I felt so free and strong. And wild. When I saw the peak the only thing I thought was “I can and I will”.

After two (long) hours of hiking, we finally made it! The top of Hoverla was smaller than I expected and has a high cross in the stone. It is tradition to leave a sign on the top, so people usually tie up small ropes or ribbons.

The peak of Hoverla. Image Credit: Tripadvisor.com

From the top, we could see a 360-degree view of the Carpathian Mountain range and we could even see Romania and Slovakia Tatry in the distance. An old, local man was selling hot tea as the temperature was almost ten degrees lower on the top. Even though it was freezing, it was impossible not to revel in our glory.

It took us four hours to high back down the mountain, which was not much easier than hiking up. After two hours of hiking down Hoverla, I could not feel my legs. Literally, I could not walk. Thank God my sister-in-law is a doctor and had medicine with her. Even with help from medicine, it took until the next morning for me to be able to walk again.

Nonetheless, I did it. If you dare to go hiking up Hoverla or any other high mountain with a long and challenging trail, please do some training before and bring some medicine just in case.