My bum cheeks feel like ice. My three layers of clothing, including lycra pants, thermal long johns and leggings, are insufferably damp from my fall into the soft, white abyss of snow. And now my ass is drenched. The blizzard up in Poland's Tatra mountain range is continuing to berate my bum cheeks with every gust, chiding me for my lack of balance on the ice.
"I can't make it!" I cry at my boyfriend, the wind smacking the words away from my mouth. He gives me a wry look, he heard what I said.
"What kind of travel blogger are you?" he shouts back against the wind. "One that gives up in the face of challenge!?" Now he's berating me too.
"But my bum is so wet," I whine back like a child whose had the jam jar confiscated.
"We are intrepid explorers! We knew Kościelec would be no easy task. We knew there'd be snow, we knew there'd be ice, we knew there'd be hard times ahead. This hike is what sorts the men from the boys."
"But I'm a girl..." I moan pathetically.
Kościelec is a peak in the high Tatras on the border between Poland and Slovakia. Our couchsurfing hosts down in the nearby town of Zakopane told us that if you can make it to the top of Kościelec, then you can stand on the Polish side and throw a snowball into Slovakia.
We'd been hiking for five hours. We'd walked through white forests and across frozen streams, scrambled up steep slopes with only ice-slicked rocks to use as footholds, and staggered through mountain mist. At one point I'd stretched out my arm and could barely see my hand through the heavy fog. I darted a terrified look to my boyfriend, Luke, only to find him already disappearing into the mist like a ghost. Stupefied, I'd hurried after him, unable to contain my horror that a haemophiliac whose shoes had no grip on the ice was kamikazing ahead.
After a challenging climb, we had made it above cloud level. A few mountain peaks jutted out in the distance; kings puncturing the wispy cumulus with their stony crowns. I feverishly sucked air into my lungs and looked around for some sign of a café... or another hiker... or just any kind of civilisation. There was nothing. We were lost in the clouds.
A small yellow painted signpost stuck out from the snow, indicating we should continue along another icy path. I pulled my mock fur hat down over my ears and on we ploughed. Thirty minutes later a few chimneys and little wooden huts came into view. “Pheeew,” I had gasped, relieved that we weren't alone in the wilderness. Behind the huts stood Kościelec.
I looked up and whimpered in the shadow cast over us by the mountain. “We'll never make it,” I whimpered, but Luke was already gone. Like a ballerina on pointe, he was digging his hiking boots into the soft, vertical face of snow. He left a trail of yeti-sized footprints behind him, so I decided to follow in his tracks. But we were sinking. Soon the snow was coming up to our knees each time we pounded a foot down. Then, we stumbled and tumbled down. Our shoes turned into skis, slicing through the snow we shot down the slope. Clusters of snow followed us and soon we fell backward onto our bums. Stuck inside a snowy hole I looked over at Luke who was in his own snowy abyss and giggled, exasperated. My clothes were drenched with water, and my bum cheeks were numb.
The final climb was impossible. “I can't make it!” I cried.
As I began my pathetic moaning response to Luke's motivational intrepid explorers speech, a magical voice called down to us. “Take the chairlift!” We looked up into the white cloud and saw skis dangling from a black line. A chairlift! Soon we were being scooped into a metal seat and whisked up further into the mass of clouds.
On top of Kościelec, we overlooked dozens and dozens of mountains all capped with snow. A pink glow of sun was sinking into the pit between them, scattering a warm light across the rocky bases. We clamped hands, standing with our toes just over the edge of the peak. We had made it. I looked at Luke, planted a kiss on his lips, and said, “My bum is so wet right now.”