Slovak porters – The last in Europe | DW Documentary

Slovak porters – The last in Europe | DW Documentary

Slovak porters – The last in Europe | DW Documentary

Delivery service in the world’s smallest high mountain range is still done the traditional way. In the Alps and other European mountains, porters have long been replaced by helicopters and cable cars. But not in the High Tatras of Slovakia.

When loaded, the wooden carrying frames used by the so-called ‘Tatra Sherpas’ weigh up to 100 kilos or more. The porters climb up to 2,000 meters with their loads, supplying essentials to remote mountain huts in the Slovakian national park.

Števo Bačkor is one of around 60 porters in the region today. Two to three times a week, the 47-year-old loads his self-built frame with firewood or food. With the goods stacked on his back, he climbs up the mountains to deliver them, come snow, ice, heat, rain or storm.

The mountain huts of the High Tatras depend on the porters’ deliveries, as there are hardly any roads or cable cars. The high mountain region in the Carpathians is a strictly protected nature reserve and, together with the Polish national park, a UNESCO biosphere reserve.

This film accompanies Števo Bačkor on his dizzying ascents. He falls into a meditative stride to cope with the exertion. Strength and courage are not enough – passion is also a requirement for the tough job. It takes him just under three hours to climb 1,000 meters, ultimately reaching the Zbojnícka hut at an elevation of almost 2,000 meters. ‘Reaching the top is always a special moment. You may be exhausted, but you feel complete.’

Some of the ‘Tatra Sherpas’ have already lost their lives on delivery missions through the high mountains. In memory of colleagues who have died, the ‘Sherpa Rally’ takes place as a memorial run every year.

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Video Transcript

The high tatras of Slovakia the world’s smallest high mountain range Stefan Baka is one of Europe’s Last Mountain Porters delivering supplies to the mountain Huts it’s good for the ego I recommend it to anyone who feels like Superman people should come to the mountains and try it out they’ll soon know how their muscles head and heart are doing the porters who also refer to themselves as tatra sheras carry up to

100 kilos on their backs at Great risk this whole ridge above us broke off the Avalanche plunged all the way into the valley taking URI with it Fresh from the bakery Stefan Baka is carrying a very delicate load today these are legendary homemade a kind of yeast dumpling this is the store room for the Hut of Thieves each Hut has its own storage where the goods are packed we’re taking some vegetables up today some vitamins some

Greens and the sweet dumplings they smell so good okay I put Styrofoam blocks at the bottom to get the right center of gravity you can use anything light but also stable it’s a windy day today so I won’t stack the boxes as high as usual the wind in the mountains is unpredictable

It can be a problem the heaviest weight should be here around head here you can see the position we have to carry it tilted forward a little not too much but also not too upright this position gives you the best control a strong gust of wind could knock Stefan

And his high load off his feet anytime he built his wooden carrying frame himself the construction is very old and traditional he uses old fire brigade hoses as straps okay okay oh good it looks good we’ll have to see what the wind is like your legs will tell you whether

Today will be a good or a difficult walk Stefan has a 4-Hour climb ahead and 1,000 M of height hey this is my normal Pace first of all I check that everything is working as it should should the machine has to warm up slowly it’s nice when you realize it’s

Going well that you’ve loaded upright out here you feel how small you are and what really matters when you come back down you’re a better person it’s all right so far the wind isn’t too bad it’s okay to walk further on there’s a spot where you have to be

Careful we dance With the Wind there if you make the right steps it’s almost like dancing but the heavy wind and the weight of the frame Force Stefon to take frequent breaks how much are you carry not much today I have around 60 kilos

Was it hard it was okay I didn’t want to push it because of the weather I had to struggle with the wind further down is there anything to take down from the Hut yes there are a few things still there okay the last few meters to the Hut of

Thieves Stefan knows every single step it’s windy here but we’ve made it we’re good now the best stop is the one at the hut in 20 years Stefan has carried tons of loads up the mountains come rain or shine okay okay okay okay okay good okay we’re at the hut I’m happy

Okay how was it pretty good I was a bit worried about the wind but it was okay 52 kilos 52 kilos good shall I help you one year per kilo is standard 52 kilos of buhi on the way up and 40 kilos of bedding going down makes it around €90

Pay now I’ve unpacked it all I’m looking forward to a soup and a [Applause] beer Hut keeper Mickey kishka gets Fresh Goods delivered almost every day he has 10 Porters working for him altogether the porters bring up 70% of the goods the helicopter only brings things like beer heating pellets and the

Large gas bottles there’s no permit for a cable car and won’t be in the immediate future it’s a high priority Conservation Area and that’s a good thing the porters bring us everything we need the wind has picked up and is blowing from the back against the high carrying

Frame keeping his balance on the rocky terrain is a challenge okay we couldn’t be in here in this time okay but no no no no no no no from from down okay okay yes not back no no okay okay Falls are not unusual for Stefan luckily this one didn’t end badly but he

Still has most of the journey ahead of him his descent will take 2 hours oh go everything is okay apart from the wind and the fall it shouldn’t have happened with my experience but it happened no problem I’m all right that’s the main thing so that was it let’s get out of here

Fast we’ll get in the car drive down and enjoy a good dinner I’m looking forward to seeing my family my boys and Matina Days off are a rarity for Stefan in the peak season but come November when tourist numbers fall he finally has time for the most important thing in his life today I’m out with my family MAA Mish and Kubo we’re doing a day trip together it’s great to be out in nature together

I’m often Outdoors but of course I want to show the boys the high tatris and the surrounding area we don’t have that many opportunities to spend time together Outdoors look there’s the Hut do you remember the first time we came here I’m looking forward to the soup you can

Drink tea and Daddy can have a beer okay Stefan knows the way to the PNET Hut as a guest not as a porter one of the few roads in the region leads to it so the young manager yanu matava can transport his supplies with an off-road vehicle hi long time no

See not much but I can see you’ve been busy will you be done by winter I didn’t know you were redoing the road we’re doing that for safety reasons the road was collapsing so we’re renewing it the tatra national park has been under strict protection since it was founded in

1949 building a cable car or more roads to deliver Goods is forbidden personally I don’t think it would be right to build roads here I don’t agree with it but this road was already here if a road already exists fine but I don’t want cable cars to be built in the high

Tetris and for now that’s how things will stay the Tantra Porter and their families are upholding their centuries old tradition ition I’m afraid for you especially when it’s cold and you’re working at night I’ve always known that you’re a mountain Porter so it’s normal for me family is important and the older I

Get the more I look forward to coming home to the boys and Martina but with family comes responsibility the time will come when I have to give this up I don’t know when I can’t plan it I don’t know now everything is working fine I’m okay Stefan and Martina met in a

Mountain hut in the National Park 15 years ago she was working in the kitchen he as a porter we’ve been together for many years with time you get used to each other but sometimes it’s not so nice he knows I don’t like it when he’s working

As a porter in Winter the weather is often bad the Rangers are responsible for protecting the national park animals Paul and Stefan were Ranger colleagues for a long time they still work together today counting the goat likee tatra shamwa we do the count once in Spring

And once in Autumn my colleagues have to go all over the National Park to do it everybody puts their data in an app where it’s all collected and evaluated to find the tatra Sham w Stefan and Paul have to climb to the highest parts of the mountain they soon make an interesting

Discovery oh look at this it looks fresh that is Wolf feces maybe one or two days old there are lots of them in the national park there are lynxes and brown bears here too all of the Carpathian Predators live here in the high tatras as well here’s the

Evidence the trails in the National Park are close to tourists from the start of November until mid June which has allowed a particularly diverse range of fauna to develop in the high tatas we’re looking for tatra Sham this is a slope there in the grass where the snow

Was swept away okay okay okay okay just below the sun in the shade there where the patch of snow is yes now it’s looking to the left okay let’s continue the shamwa they are counting are the symbol of the tatra National Park they’re are highly protected species this kind of shamwa doesn’t

Exist anywhere else in the world the population of tatra sha increased gradually from the critical level of 250 to 400 animals in the whole of the hi tatas in the last 10 years the number has risen to over 1,000 this figure is stable today sometimes there are fewer

Sometimes more but 1,000 is a very good figure for the population Stefan has many memories of this area it’s where he started out as a mountain Porter and where he lost a good friend today is a beautiful day and we’re at a sad place for me and my comrades called the rocky

Hang there was an avalanche here in 2000 that killed our good friend and Porter urri petransky a very good man who loved the mountains sudden Avalanches are the greatest danger for the Porters this whole ridge above us broke off the Avalanche plunged all the way into the valley taking URI with it the construction of avalanche Nets is also prohibited in the strictly protected National Park nothing should spoil the pristine nature of this unique area those the protection of the

National park here is very important because the area is small it’s one of the small smallest national parks in the world and that’s why nature conservation should have absolute priority over Mass tourism and any interference with nature over 4 million tourists from all over the world visit the tatra national park every

Year there’s a lot of pressure to change things but all the more reason to set rules about what’s allowed in Winter and what’s allowed in summer there has to be a balance and it’s very fragile I hope it stays this way for a long time that we can still experience many

Beautiful Moments and meet here for whatever reason that it just stays like this so beautiful preparations are underway for the highlight of the year the so-called sh rally almost all the high tatra Porters take part I’m taking part in the 100 kilo Run for the first time and I’ll be carrying

50 kilos in the mixed double my partner will carry the other 50 kilos please come and weigh in if you haven’t done so yet today the porters have to carry 100 kilos for almost 3 km alone or in teams of two a great test of strength we yeah

Some I’m 22 and it’s my first time here this is my first time and I’m carrying 30 kilos why am I doing this because I want to test my limits I want to know if I can do it that’s what it’s about the weather is perfect no it’s terrible that’s our

Character we who love the mountains say only evil is bad not the weather Stefan Baka will of course also be taking part in the sherpa rally but he still has time for a coffee before the start we’re in the Swiss House one of the most beautiful old buildings in the

High tatas it’s the porter Sanctuary a beautiful building with its own soul and energy we built the sherpa Cafe and Sherpa Museum here and his wife Martina have been running the sherpa Cafe and Sherpa museum for 9 years it’s an important additional source of income for the family of four but that’s not

All we said to ourselves we can create something here we have the opportunity to tell people about the history of the high tatas and the mountain Porters and how they’re intertwined the tatra porters frequently capture on video how exhausting and dangerous their work can be we currently have six Huts in

Slovakia that are totally dependent on us Porters that’s me I was about 30 then here I am with a very heavy load here you can see how we do it on skis in winter We Porters are strong men we can carry loads that tourists can’t [Applause] carry we’re out there in any weather what the helicopters can’t do and what the cable cars can’t do the porters can do in almost all conditions technically this is the most demanding section not only on the way to P rusi Hut but in general you have to be 100% sure what

You’re doing here there’s no room for error if you fall here as some colleagues have it can be fatal we have to be careful because of the Avalanches and in summer because of the storms and thunderstorms we have to avoid those dangers we’ve had sad years the Sha

Museum has existed for nine years now during this time we’ve lost five colleagues some died in an avalanche others fell I hope that good years will come and nothing bad will happen because we’re a small community we really feel it when somebody is missing Stefan didn’t only lose a good

Friend in yurri petransky yurai was also one of his most experienced colleagues today is a big day of Celebration it’s the Memorial Run for Yuri petransky in memory of our comrade who died in the Avalanche but also in memory of others who are no longer with

Us it’s like a little Christmas for us it’s not just a race but a meeting of all the porters Martina will support her husband Stefan at the race today I hope it goes well the 100 kilo run is hard and the weather is bad I’m keeping my fingers

Crossed okay I only tried I’m just trying it out to see if the load distribution is good and if everything works just a test he’s fallen before during a 100 kilo run it’s not a pretty s thank God it ended well he picked himself up and carried on running the best thing would

Be for everyone to reach the top safe and sound this is my mom okay Mama sweet boy Okay we remember urri and that he was always Fair we will hold a minute silence at the top also for the others who could no longer be with us be fair on the track let those who are faster pass You Stefan’s also ready to get going he hasn’t carried 100 kilos for a long time now okay okay okay okay he said that always when you have 100 kilg he looks like pinoo okay good luck Stefan I’ll need [Applause] it every step is important your whole

Universe is the 2 meters ahead of you you don’t need to give 100% but 200% it’s hard okay we’re coming to the first shortcut where it gets slippery and there are tree roots [Applause] the worst thing would be a fall there are slippery spots on the

Course I hope it goes well and everyone arrives safely nobody expects a record to be broken today in these conditions back my good Angel my guardian angel It’s a Good Feeling up here with the guys good air good spirit and good your soul is here and the soul of the

Others who are no longer with us we miss the guys but they are with us today we are happy my son is such a wonderful person sometimes it brings tears to my eyes that I have a son like him

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