June 23: Grossglockner to Salzburg
Another cloudless day dawned and we set out about 7:30 AM. A German family from Hanover came in and was pitching camp while we were breaking camp. They had come via Badgastein and had put their car on the train through the tunnel - it took 15 minutes. They had driven since 2 AM and had not had breakfast. Brenda had found all this out by charades and had already fixed them a cup of coffee each when I came back from shaving. She does as well by charades - or better - than I do with my limited spoken German. It was rather interesting to try to talk to the man however - he was very patient and very friendly.
We drove down the rather fantastic mountain road to Greifenburg, in 2nd gear over the 2.6 km stretch of switchbacks. We then drove toward Lienz until we intersected the mountain road to the Grossglockner. The valley was very lovely in the clear, bright sunlight. From the windings up the mountain we got excellent views of Lienz and the valley in which it lies.
After the short mountain road to Winklern we went up a nice river valley to Heiligenblut where we got our first view of the Grossglockner, at 3798 m (12,460 ft) the highest mountain in Austria. The top was covered with deep snow and it stood glistening in the sunlight against a clear blue sky. It was vaguely reminiscent of the Jungfrau. Although the Grossglockner is really impressive, I'd have to place Jungfrau above it in grandeur.
Just above Heiligenblut we hit the toll station and paid the outrageous toll of AS 130 ($5.20) for the 40 km stretch of raod from Heiligenblut to Fusch. We climbed the steep windings, stopping the car three times to cool. Besides the sun, the altitude and the steepness of the road, the overheating problem was compounded by the fact that we spent most of our time in long queues behind the tour buses - traveling 10-15 mph.
We made it up the first steep climb and turned off the main road to go to the Franz-Josefs-Hohe (2451m, 8040 ft). We were soon waved off the road into a huge parking lot. It had ten lanes of cars - we estimated 15-20 per lane by the time we moved out. Thus there were over 150 vehicles, including about ten 40-passenger tour busses waiting to go up - perhaps 700 people. With limited parking space at the top they have to run an overflow lot to prevent a hopeless traffic jam at the top. After about a 20 minute wait the officials decided it was clear enough at the top and they let the whole bunch of us go at one time. We were behind about 6 of the busses so we crawled at about 10 mph up the steep road to the Franz-Josephs-Hohe. There we were directed into a modern looking parking garage, climbed a spiral ramp to a parking space on the 3rd floor. Besides the parking lot there are two restaurants and a big tourist-trap shop.
The parking lot and area at Franz-Josefs-Hohe stand just opposite the Grossglockner - an excellent viewpoint. You stand looking straight across at the Grossglockner. Far below you the valley floor is covered by a glacier - there are patches of snow and areas where the old, scarred ice is bare. You can take a funicular down to the glacier. It is so far below the viewing area that the people walking on the glacier look like ants crawling on the surface. The Grossglockner and the nearby mountains were brilliant with their snow cover. The view down the valley away from these mountains actually was more beautiful to me - small puffy clouds had appeared over the distant alps and you could see the green valley below them.
Returning to the main road we continued the steep climb to Hochtor and the first tunnel. We soon rached the snow line and then traveled up switchbacks through corridors of snow 10-15 feet deep. When we reached the first tunnel there was a fantastic view of snow-covered alps. From both sides of the tunnel, the whole horizon was made up of snowcapped mountains.
After passing through the second tunnel we took the side road off to the top of the Edelweissspitz (2577m, 8450 ft). Teh view was similar to that from Hoctor - 360¡ of mountains and snow. You could see as far north as the Ziller See.
We descended 14 windings (out of the total of about 28 on the main road) plus the six on the Edelweissspitze road to descend from 2577m (8450 ft) to less than a 1000 m (3280 ft) in a very short distance. We then proceeded down the lovely wooded valley to Bruck.
Despite the high price and rather hectic driving conditions, it was certainly a memorable experience. It was a new high for the number of snowcapped mountains seen in one day and for the distance traveled through snow cover.
From Bruck we traveled steadily through Zell-am-See, Lofer, Bad Reichenhall, to Salzburg. The drive up through Lofer was very nice - there were some beautiful mountains with timbered flanks and snow patches - a sight that still impresses us after we have become rather blase' about the regions of total snow. The jaunt through the corner of Germany was very pleasant but we were in such heavy traffic that we hardly got to look at it.
We made it through Salzburg without a hitch and drove on through St. Gilgen on the Wolfgangsee to camp at the "Lindenstrand" camping place. It is right on the lake shore with a very nice view of the lake and surrounding wooded mountains.
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