Thursday, September 24, 2009
Grossglockner and Heiligenblut
We had a slow start, took a leisurely breakfast and left when the sun started to warm up the coolness of the night. The temperatures vary greatly from day to night here and a sweater comes in handy.
We decided to take the Grossglockner Pass (RT107 South from Zell to Heiligenblut). This mountain, the Grossglockner (Big Bell Mountain) is the highest mountain in Austria at 3564 meters and a pass has crossed this mountain for millennia already. The Celts and the Romans marched across this high beast and made a trail for us to follow. You have to pay a Maut (toll) of 18 Euros per bike to be let thru the gate to take this road.
Today’s road peaks at about 2500 meters and is full of curves and switchbacks with large drop offs into the valleys far below. Few or no railings are present; don’t make a mistake, it will be your last if you make it in the wrong spot. This is a mountain pass of 1st and 2nd gear with very few chances to go to 3rd gear and generally a constant 12% grade up or down. There are 40 switchbacks (a turn of at least 180 degrees). you drive in one direction to fully turn around to go the other direction in a very limited amount of space, glued on the side of a mountain with traffic meeting you at any time or at any point. Yes, large buses, too. There is no time to panic, you are committed and you have no choice, you must go on. There is no place to pull over, no place to slow down too much. In the turns you must keep up your momentum to make it around the steeply banked roads. This is not a road for beginners. And if you are afraid of heights you might feel very anxious and your pulse rate will increase for sure. There is not much time to gaze about you and you cannot admire the wild landscape, your focus is on the road, on the next turn on the way to approach the oncoming traffic. There are some pull offs and we took a few to take some pictures
we gave ourselves a bigger break at the top. A large enough area gives you a reprieve. I believe you can have a coffee, too or something to eat but I cannot recall, really.
I saw a sign at this parking lot that said for bikers only and a narrow, paved with cobblestones, road twisting even further up the mountain. Naturally I took it but Carol had enough after 2 steep turns and waited for me to come down again. There was nothing on top, just the feeling, ok, I made this little bit, too.
We looked at a map posted on the side of the road and saw that a small detour further down the mountain leads us to a glacier. glacier is named after the last Austrian Emperor Franz-Joseph and it is said that he hiked to this spot once. If he did, it was an accomplishment, because this mountain is steep. The way down is not much easier than the way up. I let the motor brake my momentum; 2nd gear worked fine, without using the breaks too much. We made it safely to Heilingenblut (Holy Blood) at the other side of the Grossglockner.
Finding a hotel was easy but Internet connections are hard to come by. Dinner was in a rustic wooden house but it took a hike up the mountain to get to it. We deserved the beer that night.