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Mykola Ivashchenko is a professional photographer who is as far from a couch potato as one can be. Among the places he went were those of severe and challenging beauty. But he says no matter how attractive they may be, he does not feel like going there again — instead the place he goes to over and over again is the hibernal Carpathian Mountains.
In any society one finds oddballs, lone wolves and freaks who behave and act differently from the rest. Some of them put on heavy backpacks and climb mountains, or walk or ski dozens of miles through wet or snowbound forests, pitch tents in the most uncomfortable places and sleep in damp sleeping bags. Such climbing and walking freaks build campfires at night, sit staring into them, play guitars and sing moody songs. And also they go into raptures about the stunning beauty of nature that surrounds them on their hikes. I happen to be one of such freaks. Most of other human folk can see such gorgeously beautiful nature only in films or in photographs.
How it all began
I took my first trip to the Carpathians in winter when I was a freshman in college — I was a member of a student hiking group. We did not walk there — we skied. Since then I took over twenty skiing hikes across the Carpathians.
For many, this kind of spending holidays seems to be an exercise in masochism — we spend day after day on skies, carrying a heavy backpack over your shoulders. Every fifty minutes or so, we take a fifteen-minute break. Then we plod on. Our meals last no longer than forty minutes — without constant movement you get very cold very soon. Our meals are made up mostly of biscuits and crackers, cheese, sausage, hard pig fat with mustard, halvah (an Eastern confection of crushed nuts or seeds in a binder of honey, or sugar and oil— it provides a lot of energy!) and hot tea. The meal over, we get back on our feet or rather on our skis.
About an hour before dark, we start looking for a place to spend the night at. We trample down the snow at the place we decide will be our sleeping rest, pitch a sturdy plastic tent, usually the one without the floor but with a double roof. It prevents the frost from accumulating in a thick layer on the inner side of the tent during the night — and thus it does not fall on our faces when we start moving to get out in the morning. We take a special care in arranging the entrance — the flap should never have zippers: they can freeze to such a point that it is impossible to unzip them until they thaw out.
The groups I travel with are small enough to huddle into one tent. And we have enough food to last several days if we get caught up in a heavy snowstorm.
When the snow is too deep and we can’t get down to the earth, we make contraptions, using steel nets and metal cords, to suspend our campfire above the ground. Water is never a problem — snow is in unlimited supply to be turned into water. Incidentally, snow is good to scour the plates and pans with.
The main thing under subzero temperatures is to keep moving. It is only in the sleeping bag in the tent that you can spend several stationary hours. Most people would not consider all of this much fun — would you?
What do I do it for?
There are several reasons for doing it, but the central one is — because I just love doing it. Also, it is a great physical exercise. No workouts in the gym can give as much. Your metabolic and hormonal system gets tuned to meet the challenges of physical exertions and the cold, and there is so much energy that your body provides that you get a great healthy shakeup of all of your body systems. Also, on a hike like that, you develop great friendships. Skiing hikes bring people closer than any other collective sporting thing. You should never attempt a skiing hike in the mountains alone — things happen, you can get hurt, you can be caught in a blizzard, and so on, and there should always be someone who will provide or fetch help.
Very soon on a skiing hike, you begin to feel you and the people you are with, are a closely knit group ready to take on any challenge. You stop thinking about mundane things, about money, about your work, politics — you live happy days devoted to great physical exercise and to observing the Beauty of Nature. You are on the same vibe with all the members of your group — and it does feel great. Your values change, you start appreciating things which you’d never even notice otherwise. The hot tea never tastes better, the campfire becomes the center of the universe, the shared friendship feels like the most precious thing in the world.
I find the Carpathian Mountains to be the miraculous world of extraordinary beauty. Clouds, snow, the sun, valleys and summits conspire to create images of divine sublimity. I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere else.
The mysteries of the fogs and hazes, the magic of heavy snowfalls, and the glory of the sunbursts after a blizzard are truly out of this world.
When you stand on a summit and look around, and then a hole suddenly develops in the heavy blanket of the overcast sky, and the sun peeps out, you experience something that literally takes your breath away.
No photos can render it properly — but it does not stop me from snapping.
The Ridge Arshytsya in the Carpathian Mountains after a blizzard which turned the mountains into the realm of the Snow Queen — the scenery of mesmerizing though fleeting beauty.
At this spot the snow was not too deep, and it was possible to clear up room on the ground for a campfire. At Mount Chorna Kleva.
Under the heavy burden of snow the fir trees bend to the ground on the slopes of the Ridge Arshytsya.
To have a quiet meal you have to pitch a tent and build a sort of protective wall against the driving snow. The photo was taken at the Chornohirsky Ridge, the Carpathians.
The last stop before climbing Hoverla, the highest mountain of the Carpathians.