Sebastian Bielak - Podróż po Alasce

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Postglacial Corrie of the Little Cirque Lake, in the background Mount Sniezka (photo by Sebastian R. Bielak)
Postglacial Corrie of the Little Cirque Lake, in the background Mount Sniezka (photo by S. R. Bielak)

The Giant Mountains – the Montane Spirit's domain

The Giant Mountains are located in south-western Poland and as the highest part of the Sudeten Mountains they stretch on the borderland of Poland and the Czech Republic. In terms of natural and cultural values this mountain chain is considered to be one of the most interesting fragments of the Lower Silesia region. The highest summit is Mount Sniezka reaching 5252 feet a.s.l. (1602 m a.s.l.). Here occur two national parks and a dozen of wildlife refuges which protect flora and fauna both on Polish and Czech side of the mountains. Also the Giant Mountains are listed as UNESCO Biosphere Preserve with acreage of almost 150 000 acres (over 600 km2). Here are numerous remnants of the last Ice Age, including three postglacial montane lakes located in the eastern part of the mountains: the Great Cirque Lake, the Little Cirque Lake and Snowy Cirques. These cirques emerged inside the corries of local glaciers thousands of years ago, on account of ice melting caused by the climate change. Glaciers were surrounded by moraines so the entire water produced by melting ice did not flow down along hillsides but some of it stayed on the spot creating awesome lakes. Among all montane lakes of the Giant Mountains the biggest one is the Great Cirque Lake with acreage of 20 acres (8 ha) and maximum depth reaching 80 feet (almost 25 m).

The Sudeten spruce forest is a natural type of coniferous wood occurring in upper parts of the Giant Mountains (photo by Sebastian R. Bielak)
The Sudeten spruce forest is a natural type of coniferous wood occurring in upper parts of the Giant Mountains (photo by Sebastian R. Bielak)

Forests and Arctic tundra in the Giant Mountains

Considerable part of the Giant Mountains is covered by forests which are characterized by several layers of vegetation dependent on the altitude above sea level. At the bottom of mountains there are man-made mixed woods with fragments of natural oak-hornbeam forests and montane alder forests. Little higher occur spruce-fir coniferous forests, instead of natural for this part of the mountains beech forests which have been cut by men during last several centuries. From circa 3300 feet a.s.l. (1000 m a.s.l.) grow spruce forests which are quite natural type of wood consisting mainly of local variety of the Norway spruce with addition of sycamore and rowan. Highest placed part of forests occurring in the Giant Mountains is dense thicket of dwarf mountain pine growing up to 4750 feet a.s.l. (1450 m a.s.l.). Above upper tree line there is only Arctic tundra which can be characterized by rocky relief of land surface, harsh climate and specific vegetation. It is formed mainly by grasses, herbs and small flower plants which adopted to these hard habitat conditions during long lasting process of evolution. Very interesting fragment of the highest parts of the Giant Mountains are peatlands. Local highmoor peatbogs and hillside peatbogs are one of the greatest montane peatlands of Middle Europe. The most extensive peatlands in these mountains occur on the plain located at the bottom of Mount Sniezka with acreage exceeding 200 acres (85 ha).

The Sunflower Rock, like other rocks, is a characteristic component of local landscapes (photo by Sebastian R. Bielak)
Sunflower Rock, like other rocks, is a characteristic component of local landscapes (photo by S. Bielak)

Rocks, boulder fields and mining industry

One of the most characteristic components of local landscapes are rocks and boulder fields which emerged in this land as a result of intensive erosion of granite. Millions of years ago current climate in the Giant Mountains was hot and moist. Water was penetrating rocks and high air temperature accelerated chemical reactions dissolving minerals included in them. At some point, when orogenic motions lifted up this part of the Sudeten Mountains, an external layer of cracked granite fell off the rocks and slipped down along mountain slopes creating vast fields of boulders. Thanks to their complicated geologic structure the Giant Mountains abound with various minerals, precious ores and gemstones. First explorers of this region were the Walloons who searched mountains for gold in the twelfth century. Since that time the Giant Mountains have been revealing their abundance of natural resources: precious and semiprecious stones, the iron ores and quartz used for glass production. Craftsmanship of local ironmasters can be admired even today in places just like the Glasswork "Julia" in Piechowice and the Sylvan Glasswork in Szklarska Poreba. Together with the progress in extraction of natural resources local mining industry has been successively developing. Up to these days there have survived numerous traces and remnants of this industry which are available to the tourists visiting the Giant Mountains. On Polish side of the mountains there are adits of previous pyrite mine in Szklarska Poreba and inactive uranium mine in Kowary Gorne, while on Czech side there is old mine of minerals located in Harrachov.