Thursday, July 19, 2012

Over the Grossglockner Pass

What we didn't see because of being in low cloud
There are only 3 ways you can leave Bavaria and go south to reach the Dolomites in that part of Austria. Two of them involve tunnels, and not any old poxy tunnel of a couple of hundred metres, no, we're talking 8km's worth of underground carbon monoxide pit. That is bad news on a bike.

The third option is to go over the Alps which means taking the Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse (great link by the way). We were looking forward to this. The views are supposed to be stunning and the road is a fantastic challenge for bikers. Unfortunately, being a mountainous region it's also subjected to the vagaries of the weather, and when we arrived at the bottom all we could see when we looked up was low cloud cover. Great. Added to that the price of €22 for the privilege of seeing nothing except dense water vapour and perhaps the odd Alpine monster lunging out of the fog, we hesitated over lunch before finally deciding we had no choice really.

Poky hotel had not been able to furnish us with sarnies discreetly and I'm not brazen enough to make them in full view, so we stopped at a tourist trap restaurant (bikers welcome) for a quick meal. The consolation for parting with €22 was that we got a nice sticker to go on the bike.

The history of the road is fascinating. It was built in 1935 at phenomenal cost:
The Grossglockner High Alpine Road was officially opened on 3 August 1935. 870,000 cubic metres of earth and rock were moved in the 26 months of building, 15,750 cubic metres of walling was created, 67 bridges built and a road telephone with 24 facilities was installed. 3,200 workers undertook 1.8 million work shifts.

The total building costs, according to the final calculations from 16 April 1936, amounted to the 53.5 million euro at the currency of today for the road building, 3.3 million euro for improvement of the approach roads, the telephone facilities and various details.
Previous to the road:
Trails over the Hochtor: the Celts-, Romans and Pack-animal Routes
The road over the Hochtor follows ancient trails. People crossed the Hochtor almost two-thousand years before Christ.

Such finds as pre-Celtic bronze knives, Celtic gold jewellery, a Roman Hercules statue, medieval pack-animal bridles and the chains of galley slaves from the 17th century are proof.

Until the highpoint of trade in the 17th century, after the Brenner and the Radstadt Tauern, the Hochtor was the third most important trade route carrying almost ten per cent of the trade goods over the eastern Alps. 
"It might be a lovely day at the top" I suggested, ever the little optimist. It wasn't. It looked like this at the top:

It wasn't all bad though. Before we got into the clouds we enjoyed scenery like this:
Note low clouds hiding views of peaks
On the other side of the col you can turn off to visit the Pasterze Glacier at Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe.
Glacier pool

Dirty looking glacier. You can walk the steps down for a better look.

There is a visitors' centre here.
The Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe is named after the visit Kaiser Franz-Josef made here in 1856. Upon arrival you stand directly before Austria´s highest mountain, the Grossglockner (3,798m), with a view of the longest glacier in the eastern Alps, the Pasterze.
A few of the bikes at the visitors' centre
The storm caught us up - it's raining on the right
We got wet several times that day. It started raining as we came off the pass at which point we decided to give up and look for a nice hotel. We found one thanks to the Tourist Information Office - the Schlank Schlemmer Kürschner Hotel in Kötschach-Mauthen at the bottom of the pass. They had an indoor/outdoor pool which we relaxed in, followed by a good, copious dinner accompanied by this delicious wine (love the name too).

To be continued.