21 May – Grossglockner crossing

21 May – Grossglockner crossing

Today we crossed the Alps at the Grossglockner high alpine road – the highest paved alpine pass in Austria at 2,504m (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grossglockner_High_Alpine_Road). We left just after 11am and arrived at our accommodation in Fusch at 4pm – having only traveled 37.7km. We pushed the bikes up a lot of the way.

We had planned to leave early, around 8.30am, however we were told that the road was not open to bicycles at this time, as it was still too cold and icy at the top. We decided to wait for it to warm up before setting off. This was frustrating as we had eaten a good breakfast and were all packed up. We sat in our room until about ten when we came down again only to be told to wait until 11am. We vacated the room and sat downstairs in the gasthaus working on our computers.

The proprietor made a number suggestions about taking a bus or train out and at one stage showed Jenny a video-cam of the conditions at the top.
But we were determined and these suggestions fell on deaf ears. At around 11am, and having been down a few times to talk with the toll-gate people, the official said we could enter the pass under on our own risk.

We were off like a shot as Kris was in a real hurry to make up for lost time – we now had a more limited window of warm midday hours. It was quite warm at this stage and we just set off with one extra layer (polypropylene vests and pants), which was quite enough. We also wore our high-viz vests as advised on the advice for cyclists at the toll gate.

We pedaled up in our lowest gears and soon came to the circle that split the route to the glacier from the pass over the mountain.
The Heilegenblut town with its church spire changed from a doll house village to a village viewed from an airplane.

We enjoyed stunning views as we traveled up the switchbacks. Each switchback has a sign with it’s number and height, so you can track your progress. The wind was sometimes helpful pushing pushing us up the hill when it was behind us on some switchbacks and sometimes opposed us.

The landscape around us changed as well. We started with the native pine trees – these pines lose their needles in winter because it becomes too cold – they are different from our pines with soft needles.
Then we were surrounded by green alpine grass. This gave way to brown grass that had heaps of snow scattered all round.
This was a wilderness we were not accustomed to. – stark white and dark contrasts in the landscape.
We decided that Kris would take the photos as it was we wanted to avoid stops and Kris was moving faster.
As we approached 2000m altitude through switchbacks and continual changes in road direction the wind started hitting us hard from all directions.

The landscape changed to snow with a dark road and streaks of rock peaking out in places.
We paused to put on another layer of clothing. Jenny had a couple of blocks of chocolate and some sweets along the way to keep her energy levels up.

The wind speeds were increasing, it was freezing, and we had to brace against it.

Then we were in the clouds and we could only see a bit of the road ahead. We could not distinguish mountain from sky.

Our hands were getting numb – we just had our long fingered cycling gloves on. Kris lost feeling in his small fingers but Jenny was losing feeling in all her fingers. So Kris stopped, angled his bicycle to lean against him. Jenny stopped next to him and placed her hands under his clothes on his warm stomach. Kris then put his hands over to keep the wind out. We leaned together for a while as life returned painfully to our fingers. We repeated this procedure another two times on the way up.

The height of the snow on either side of the road increased from around 2m to around 4m in places. Once we were surrounded by snow like this, the wind actually eased a bit as we were sheltered by the snow.

Despite everything the road surface seemed fine, not too icy and we didn’t feel in immediate danger of slipping. Motorcyclists had passed us, so we knew that the road was now open to bicycle and motorbikes.

At last we reached the top – a tunnel with a display advising the temperature was 0.1 degrees. Some motorcyclists had stopped to take photos and one agreed to snap this photo of the two of us.

We had been a little apprehensive about the tunnels at the top, but they were not that bad. There was no traffic coming through when we were in the tunnel and it was not too long or dark.

After the tunnel we had a bit of a downhill run – pleasant with no wind – we took it nice and slow and careful. Then another little uphill – a slog at this stage. Then a second tunnel.

Before the final uphill we spied a tourist exhibition place and stopped to put on another layer of clothes. To our delight, there was a cafe that sold warm food. Jenny just about inhaled a hot chocolate and apfelstrudel, followed by coffee. Kris had soup, followed by more soup. In these situations Jenny always craves sweet stuff, while Kris craves salty.

Outside cafe

Jenny put on yet another layer for the final downhill run, as you wind chill when you are not exercising.
Soon after this cafe, we descended out of the clouds and the stunning mountains re-appeared on either side.

We didn’t have to pedal at all for about the last 20km as we descended back into a green, living world. Fusch is at 817m – so the descent is more than 1,500m. We literally rolled up to our accommodation where people were sitting outside eating and drinking in the sun.

The water bottles we had opened to drink from on the mountain were indented due to the air pressure difference, and everything that I took out of the pannier was still icy cold to the touch.

The Decathlon Hoprider 300 bicycles came through.

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