Goverla (or Hoverla) is the tallest mountain in Ukraine at 6,762 feet. The name is from old Hungarian meaning “Snow Mountain” and for about 6 months out of the year, it lives up to that name. Luckily for us, early October is not part of the snow season. We recently raced in the Lifeventure Goverla Race in the Carpathian Mountains; it is an 8 or 16 Km race to the top of Goverla. Being the adventurous spirits we are who are always looking for fun ways to stay in shape, we said “why not?” If you have read our article “How We Lost 100lbs While Traveling” you know that we love to run. Even though we love to run, our muscles are still crying from this one. Nevertheless, we had such a great time that we could not wait to get home to write this blog post!
First, I want to start by saying you might think that 8Km is not that bad, and you would be right. Until it is straight up a mountain, then it becomes tricky. The path was extremely well marked so there was no fear of getting lost and the views were breathtaking. You would pass through tall forests, open plains, rolling hills, and rocky mountain areas before reaching the summit. Even though (for untrained mountain runners) the run itself was difficult, the beauty of the trail made it easier to keep going. At the finish line, they had hot tea, warm blankets, and words of congratulations waiting for us. This really goes to show that this is more about the camaraderie than making the best time.
Doing intense runs is not strictly an American trait. These Ukrainians were serious about their running. Even though they were well prepared and most of them beat us up the mountain, everyone treated each other like family. We do not speak great Ukrainian but they all rallied around us to make sure we felt like we belonged and tried their best to communicate with us. We met a group of people who spoke no English and yet we laughed and had fun together. At night, people were passing around snacks and tea, someone was playing songs on a guitar, people were singing and everyone was having a great time. It felt like a giant camping trip with a group of friends. The difference is that you just happen to run up a mountain afterwards.
Goverla is nestled in the Carpathian Mountains in the Southwestern part of Ukraine. It is about a two-hour bus ride from Ivano-Frankivsk, which is the closest major city. There are frequent buses to this area so it is very easy to maneuver. The villages around the base of the Goverla look like something out of a fairy tale. There were people riding in horse carriages, cows grazing on rolling hills, and people standing outside talking to their neighbors.
This race started at a small camp next to the mountain trail. The camp was named Kozmeshchyk and was secluded from the world which gave it a rustic feel. I have never before seen as many stars in the sky as I saw that night. It was a beautiful place and a great way to prepare for the beauty we would see on the mountain.
We reached out to the race organizers very early because, well, we really had no idea what we were doing or if English speakers were really “welcome”. Long story short, we were welcome. The organizers emailed back and forth with us, both of us using Google Translate, answering all of our questions and helping us plan how to get there. They even reached out asking if we needed a ride back into town and helped coordinate that for us. After arriving at the camp, the volunteers were extremely friendly and helpful even with our language barrier. No one made us feel bad for our lack of language knowledge, we all just worked together to figure it out and had a great time.
The race was truly a fantastic experience and we were so happy that we got the chance to meet amazing people to share the journey with. If you plan on going to the Carpathians area of Ukraine, I highly recommend hiking the Goverla. You can get a breathtaking AirBnB cabin for less than $50 a night! And if you use this link and code you can get $40 off your first AirBnB too! Make sure to check out this beautiful area of Ukraine as well as this amazing race.