Grosseglockner Climax of Alpine Tour

Austria's Grosseglocknerhochalpenstrasse is a cycling highway worthy of its name

The several times I have toured the Alps i have spent at least 1 month, and many times an entire summer, in the region, always starting from the French side and working my way, in a criss cross fashion, north to Switzerland and then turning east, weaving north and south over the peaks until I come, at last, to the Austrian alps which I savor the most. I have been over the vast majority of alpine passes at least one, and many twice or more, in both directions, in all kinds of weather. Many cyclists, learning this, ask the natural question which is my favorite. My answer, without any qualification or hesitation whasoever, is that high road which winds south from Bruck in Austria, over a spectacular, steep, and scenic route, to ..... . The main climb and descent actually begin at Fusch on the north to Heiligenblut on the south. It is a toll road, an unusual feature for Europe, but well worth its fee. (I don't know what the fee is; we cyclists get on for nothing, via a small sidewalk around the toll booths.] I distinctly recall the climb from the northern entrance being marked as 12% grade for 12 kilometers. The ascent, frightful when first seen as you enter the toll road, actually is quite manageable and is helped immensely not only by the scenery, but by numerous lookouts and turnoffs where icy cold mountain spring water flows into hollowed out wooden logs.

Do not make the mistake, as i did the first time, of thinking that the Hochtor is the highest point and your descent awaits you. For there is a descent, after you round an odd loop; and you may be tempted, as i was, to stop at the restaurant and savour your climb, which took me two hours, if I recall. But after a short descent you must reascend, in a very annoying but fitful climb, to a short tunnel; the true summit is reached but far fewer facilities are available. Now your rapid descent begins in earnest.

But the Grosseglockner has not finished. To reach the point of this photograph you must take the side road, of 8 kilometers in length, and climb a third time, reaching the Franz Josef Hohe over which the Glockner towers and in which its massive glacier lies. Here, in the coffee shop, you can shake your head at the thought of three climbs in one day, watch people take the tram onto the ice far below, and perhaps meet a few climbers off to scale the Glockner itself.

From here you return to the main road and descend rapidly to Heiligenblut, which is rivalled only by Halstatt for its picturesque location in the valley. For me--I am a relentless rider, but not an especially strong one-- the climb from Fusch, the Hoctor, pass, and reascent to the Franz Josef Hohe, and final descent to Heiligenblut-- takes one entire day, from about 8 AM to 4 or 5 PM. There is a campsite below Heiligenblut, and I always have a victory dinner at its restaurant, for by this time it is usually early August, and I know another Alpine tour is nearing a end.

One year I arrived at Fusch late in the afternoon but early enough to think I might make a good start on the road before night fell. But the sky looked ominous, and fortunately I turned back. No sooner had I pitched my tent at Fusch than a heck of a thunderstorm broke out, with hail stones that cut my knuckles even as I lay on my back in my tent, hands and knees outstretched to brace the poles against the fierce gusts. Rain was so heavy the road was washed out in some portions; and the campsite itself, near a small stream swollen by the torrential downpour, was 5 minutes from being evacuated. That evening a finer rain fell, and I feared I would climb and descend in fog and mist. But the next day dawned bright and clear, if also with a stiff breeze. So I think the Glockner and I have a solemn oath not to hassle one another too much. I do not look forward to that day when I scale these central Austrian heights in foul weather! 1