(written by Dave)
We glocked the Grossglockner! Hard, hard climb but we did it.
And it “only” took us 4 hours to reach the final summit.
Back to the beginning, we were up at 5AM. There were a few mumbled suggestions for a rest day from the senior editor but nothing was stopping us today. We started early as afternoon showers were predicted and neither of wanted to be on the top of the pass in rain or snow, like the fellow we met yesterday talked about. When we got up there were no clouds. By the time we started riding light clouds were already building – not a good sign for those who know how mountain storms build. We had a world record start for us as we rolled out of the hotel at 6:40.
The climbing started immediately with 20 meters to gain just to get back to the road from the hostel (as if we needed extra climbing today!). For those who looked at the official climb profile, we started the climb at the first yellow section, “only” 9.7% average. Both of us were straining and quietly wondering how we were ever going to make the 11.8% k’s further up the pass.
There was almost no traffic at that hour which made it possible to do a mini switchback every now and then to create a small “trick your mind” flat spots. But other than that, it was pretty much a grind for the first 6k and 600 meters. We stopped for a break at an information bay at that point and took in the views. Grossglockner was still visible but more clouds were building. At this point we had a short 60 meter descent – both of questioning why we would want to give back 60 meters but no members of the road design team were about to whom we could register a formal complaint.
At the turn off to the Franz Josef Hohe glacier (which comes off of Grossglockner peak), our descent ended, we made a sharp right turn and the climbing fun continued. And no, we didn’t do the out and back ride to the glacier, despite how scenic it might have been. Both of us were trying to remember where the really steep bits were. We couldn’t remember. It didn’t really matter as the next 6.5 k’s never really dropped below 10% on my computer. At least there were some switchbacks at this point but it still hurt. We had to stop a couple times in the last 3k as now the air was getting pretty thin for us flatlanders, both of us having trouble getting our breath at some point. The last k was particularly difficult.
We finally made it to Hochtor and a summit sign. There is a tunnel, a small shop, toilets and few more information boards. We knew that there was a second summit but we were not sure how high it was. At this point we were just happy to be there. We had a PB&J sandwich and tried to stay out of the wind. Many of the peaks around us were covered in clouds but it didn’t yet feel like rain. It was sure cold standing around in our sweat-soaked clothes.
After the Hochtor tunnel we had great views off the back side of the Alps and a 4k descent. We enjoyed the downhill and views but we could also see the final climb looming ahead (we are well above tree line at this point). It wasn’t long before we passed a small lake and started to climb again. If we’d remembered the profile, we would have known that it was not quite as steep here but the cool descent had turned our legs into blocks of wood and even a few percentages would have hurt. The last 3k were again only 9% but they really stung. Our legs were pretty cooked and we were struggling here mentally. We could see a road snaking up a very steep pitch ahead, well above where we thought the top was. But we saw lots of cars and motorbikes heading up there so we figured that it was the final summit. We stopped a few times on this pitch, including a stop about 20 meters before the summit.
We reached the summit where you can still see road snaking up further. There was a little saddle around the corner but we figured that it was just dip before the final climb. We thought we had more climbing to go and were both knackered.
Words cannot describe how excited we were when we remounted, rounded the corner, descended a little and saw that there was a junction in the saddle. The road we had seen heading up further was just a dead-end view point. It made sense that we saw all of the internal combustion folks heading up there. With about two nano-seconds of discussion, we agreed that we were not going to ride up there (the views were just fine from where we were) and it dawned on us that we had finished. Lots of woops, hugs and high-fives followed. As we didn’t see a summit sign back at the top (but for the record, Hochtor topped out at 2504m) we settled for a sign of the parking lot, complete with elevation. Fantastic – we had successfully tackled Glossglockner!
Now all we had to do was get down safely. Both of us rugged up for the descent. Almost all the peaks now were shrouded in clouds and just as we zipped our coats it started to sprinkle. We passed on a coffee at the summit restaurant, getting lower was all we were thinking about. Traffic picked up markedly on this side of the pass. Many motorbikes, some driving way too fast, lots of bicycles heading up, going very slow and a few cars. We were both pleased that we had started early and had gone the direction that we did.
We stopped 3 or 4 times on the descent to let the rims cool down. The temperature test at every stop validated our cautious approach. The sprinkles that started on top continued on and off as we went down. They were never enough to make the road wet but we were glad that it was not an hour later. We made quick work of the 35k down the valley. Other than the break stops, we were going over 40k per hour the whole time.
We reached Bruck about 12:15 and went straight to the information centre. The door was open even though the sign said that they closed at 12:00. As we entered, a woman wearing a traditional dress came to the door. Nancy asked if they were open to which she curtly replied “No”. She then turned and went back inside, shutting and locking the door behind her literally right in our faces. We were a bit taken back that someone working in a tourist information centre, wearing traditional garb, could be so unhelpful. Whatever the reason, I think the worker lady needs to find a new job.
There was an outside kiosk that provided lots of information on accommodation options (it would have taken friendly worker lady 20 seconds to politely tell us this). It was raining now and we didn’t know where to go, so we pulled the usual, “duck in a café” trick. After sandwiches and coffee, I went out and walked around looking for a place to stay. I didn’t have great luck so we agreed to ride back to the hostel on the edge of town. The hostel turned out to be a hole in the ground, the camp ground was too wet and the two or three zimmer (room) signs proved fruitless so we wound our way back to the one place that I had found. All of this room searching was more than either of us needed having just ridden over Glossglockner but it worked out and we are now settled into a nice traditional chalet and thinking about a traditional schnitzel dinner in celebration of the big day.
For the record, we climbed more per K today than any day so far, including the day last week when we cross the pass in Slovenia. We have now ridden over the highest passes in both Austria and Slovenia and are looking forward to some nice flat bike path river riding for a few days.
We are heading tomorrow of Salzburg. Nancy is busy looking for places to stay but it is proving an expensive to be in the city. We’ll make a call later. We now need to take a breath from worrying about tomorrow, have a nice meal and congratulate ourselves on the big day we just had. Extra photos today… The Alps are beautiful and we highly recommend a visit. And just for the record, we didn’t see any other loaded touring bikes (55kg each!) today on the mountain – just lots of lightweight racing bikes. Despite all our sales pitches no one took us up on our offer to switch bikes for the day.