Giewont is by far the the most distinctive of the Tatra peaks, and it has been revered by the Highlanders since time immemorial. It’s silhouette has long been likened to that of a Sleeping Knight, with his plumed helmet curling away at the westernmost extent.
‘Giewont is the real king of the area,’ wrote Maria Stecszkowska in 1858, ‘ it seems the highest, the best of all the fells… the inhabitants of Zakopane call Giewont their father, and they hold it in a special kind of respect. Its ridge serves them as a sundial; and when the sun rises over it, it is exactly midday.’
On top of the mountain is a famous old cross that was erected by the Highlanders one hundred years ago. Its construction was no mean feat, as this tall monument is built of jointed steel. As any hiker will tell you, the last stretch of the mountain is very hazardous, and today there are special chained paths to help you get to the top. The cross reads ‘To Jesus Christ, from the Highlanders of Zakopane. 1900.’
The mountain has been popular with tourists for decades, and it is especially so in the Spring and Summer months. There are several ways to access it, and you can in fact walk straight there from the town. At the end of Kasprusie street, you can follow the red trail through the Strazyska valley. It is about a three hour hike all in all, culminating in a difficult rocky stretch at the end.
Alternatively you could take the cable-car from Kuznice to Mount Kasprowy Wierch. From there you can follow a red trail over the peaks of Kopa Kondracka all the way to Giewont itself. This is a big hike, involving some ten hours or so.
A final route to the Sleeping Knight takes you through the Malej Waki (the Little Valley), which many find to be the most beautiful of the Tatra valleys.
The legend that the knight will rise from his sleep if the nation is in dire need has been disproved by Poland’s stormy history. However, other local heros, such as Pope John Paul II – who is reputed to have skied every peak in the range – have assumed the mantle of the Christian knight, on a quest to improve the lot of their people.
‘I thank God for the people who took that cross to the peak of the mountain,’ he declared, after a mass at the foot of Giewont in 1997. ‘ That cross looks out on the whole of Poland, from the Tatras to the Baltic coast. That cross speaks to us saying, ‘Lift up your hearts!’ I pray that all of Poland will look toward that cross and hear that invitation. ‘Let us lift up our hearts!’