This is far from U.S. NE typically discussed here but some of you may enjoy a bit of a different perspective (including a brief description of a helicopter rescue that we witnessed.) I posted pictures from the hike on Google Photos: https://goo.gl/photos/N77CLBFvqNwJ4fH4A (click on "i" when viewing pictures individually to see their descriptions.)
Rysy ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rysy ) is located in Tatra Mountains ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tatra_Mountains ) and one of its 3 peaks happens to be the highest peak in Poland at 2499 m (8199 ft), so it is a bit higher than the Whites but I think still quite comparable.
We were staying in the town of Zakopane - a large equivalent of North Conway in the Whites or Lake Placid in Adirondacks. The town gets very busy in the summer and I was told that August happens to be the busiest time of the year. We definitely saw the crowds everywhere and especially on most popular trails.
There are two trails to Rysy (albeit with the same trail blazes http://hiking.waymarkedtrails.org/#?...9.1796!20.0873 ) - one on Polish side and one on Slovak side. I have heard that the trail on Slovak side involves longer approach from the trailhead but it is easier in terms of steepness. I have hiked the Polish side twice so far - now and almost exactly 30 years ago.
We got up at 5 a.m. and made it to the trailhead in about an hour. The parking lot was still half empty, however, it fills up really quickly in the summer (road-side parking is available but may involve quite some extra walk depending on the day.) The first section of the trail runs mostly on road to the lake of Morskie Oko that is now closed to motorized traffic albeit open to licensed horse carriages. The distance from the parking lot to Morskie Oko Hut is about 5 miles and we could shorten our hike a bit if we waited for a horse carriage (they were charging something under $15 on the way up and a little less on the way down.) Another option to get going faster is to stay overnight at Morskie Oko Hut. We didn't even attempt to make any reservations at the hut but I'm pretty sure the place was fully booked. There is however a curious rule that applies to mountain huts run by PTTK ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PTTK ) - if a hiker arrives at the time making it unsafe for him/her to reach another hut or train station then the hut is obliged to accommodate him/her for one night stay at a "supplemental accommodation" which typically means sleeping on a hut floor (item 6 in official hut rules at http://www.pttk.pl/pttk/przepisy/ind...?co=schronisko - my apologies, only in Polish.) I think some hikers take advantage of this rule and aim to arrive at the huts at nightfall in order to get a spot without making any reservations
We got to the hut slightly after 8 a.m. and had a nice breakfast there. This was also our last chance to use a bathroom as in about 1 hour we would be above tree line and with very crowded trail there would be no privacy for any physiological break. This actually made me wonder about hiking Half Dome - the situation there must be similar with plenty of hikers, exposed trail and no bathrooms?
The second part of the trail goes around the lake of Morskie Oko and further ascends to the lake of Czarny Staw. Reaching Czarny Staw, you get a trail sign that tells you that you still have 3 1/2 hour hike to the peak of Rysy. Once you go around the lake the trail ascends sharply pretty much all the way to the top. Based on my gps traces I estimate average grade to be about 35% for this final section of the trail. About half way up the trail gets equipped with chains. In most places one can get by as the trail isn't extremely steep but pretty slippery as the granite rock got polished by thousands of boots to the point of becoming really smooth and I'm sure this becomes a real issue during rain. There are, however, a few spots where hiking would be really tricky without the aid of chains. One thing about the chains is that with a lot of people going up and down this part of the trail is like a one-lane bridge where everyone has to stop frequently to allow traffic in opposite direction to ease up.
I got to the top in book time of 3 1/2 hours from Czarny Staw while my sons claimed that they arrived full one hour ahead of me! Well, I guess I have no way of verifying this...
With big crowds doing selfies at the peak we didn't hang out for too long and headed down shortly. As we were descending to Czarny Staw we spotted a rescue helicopter that apparently was called to a hiker that injured his knee. The helicopter hovered over the trail and one rescuer was lowered with some equipment after which the helicopter left for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile the rescuer administered some first aid to the hiker and when the helicopter arrived back placed the hiker and himself in some harness and they were lifted together on board.
Actually, we have heard the same helicopter fly at a distance earlier in the day, so I checked the news upon returning to our quarters only to find out that some hiker fell to his death on Orla Perc trail and apparently his wife who was hiking with him was also lifted off that trail. Just browsing the Web I discovered that it was at least a 3rd fatal accident on Orla Perc this year. Quite frankly, I am wondering why this trail was not placed on the list of 20 most dangerous trails that we discussed some time ago on this forum ( http://www.vftt.org/forums/showthrea...ight=dangerous .) I couldn't find current accident statistics for Orla Perc, but I found some article claiming 86 fatal accidents for the period 1909-2004. A couple of years ago a group of people requested Tatra National Park to install Via Ferrata-style cables on Orla Perc, but from what I understand the park authorities refused instead proposing to close the trail altogether. Finally, no significant physical improvements to the trail were made. One improvement that was made to the trail was introduction of one-way hiking direction in order to reduce additional risk of accidents when hikers were passing each other, although I am not sure if that change was a result of the aforementioned appeal. If you are curious, I suggest that you google for images of Orla Perc trail.
Another interesting piece of news for the same day I found mentioned that some hikers got into a state of panic on a trail near Zawrat Pass and were unable to go forward nor return back. Apperently, they also got lifted by a helicopter. As I understand it, Tatra Volunteer Search and Rescue ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tatrza...owie_Ratunkowe ) does not charge for the cost of rescues, however, I wonder if the hikers involved in this case would still be excused from paying for the cost of this rescue.
Luckily, we did not have any misadventures. We got back to the parking lot after 8 p.m. The total round trip hiking distance was around 17 miles with about 5000 ft of elevation gain. We had great weather with perfect views, but only a few days later there was some snow on the trail, so paying attention to weather forecast is also important in High Tatras.