Grossglockner is our destination today. The highest mountain in the Austrian Alps. With its peak at 3.798 metres, it is second only to the Mont Blanc in the whole of the Alps. Of the seven national parks in Austria, the Hohe Tauern National Park is the largest and this is where the mountain is situated. National parks cover almost 3% of the Austrian landscape and these are protected areas where laws can be enforced to protect and conserve the environment including the wild life and prevent species from becoming extinct.
We go to the correct pickup point this time and get the coach. Our guide does his introductions and then talks about our trip for today both in English and then in German. He has lots to say, but the droning tone and the picturesque scenery is enough to send me off to sleep. I try hard to stay awake but keep drifting in and out of consciousness. I couldn’t sleep well last night and it is taking it’s toll. In between I take in a bit of the vital information he provides.
As we start our ascend to the top of the mountains, the landscape slowly changes. The flat grounds with the mountains in the background now become closer and the deep valleys come into view. The mountains are covered in conifer trees, spruce, larch and pine trees which give it a distinct look with cleared areas in between. The Grossglockner High Alpine Road is the road we take as we make our ascend to the top. As we go up, the glaciers come into view. In parts the trees block our view, but as we climb up and go around some hairpin bends the trees slowly disappear as the level gets higher than the height of the trees. At this point the alpine meadow also can be seen at its full glory. The meadows have been here since the ice age. Wild flowers cover the area giving it a carpeted look with white, yellow and purple flowers peaking through the grass blades. For six months of the year the roads are covered in snow and not passable. Twenty meters of snow covers the ground, the guide tells us. Even in the summer the roads are closed at nights as it is not safe to drive. As soon as the snow clears some of the flowers start blooming and the timings vary so that flowers can be seen throughout the warm seasons.
Our first comfort stop is at Lake Fuscher. A local man brings his tame marmot for us to see and take photos. Belonging to the rodent family these are large squirrels seen in mountainous areas and they hibernate during the autumn and winter months. The other animals that we can see if we are lucky are the ibex and chamois. Cattle, goats and sheep are left to graze in the meadows for four months in the year. The younger calves stay at lower levels, while the goats and sheep nearer the top.
The coach takes us to the drop off car park point. Large vehicles are not allowed up the road from here and there is a shuttle bus which can take us to the next level. I walk up the stairs, over 120 in total. This is just the beginning of the climb or walk (there are two options) to the Kaiser Franz Josefs Hohe viewing point at 2369m from where you can get a direct view of the Grossglockner and also the Pasterze glacier, the longest single glazier in the eastern alps . The information centre provides information about the glacier and what global warming is doing to it.
It is fascinating to read about the history of a glacier and the sandersee that forms when the sand and debri gets washed from it as the snow melts and how this force of nature can polish the surfaces of rough stones. The history of the Alps in itself is also fascinating. It used to be a farming land till the 16-17th century when the weather deteriorated and the glaciers invaded the farming lands forcing the farmers to abandon the area. It was only later that the advantages of glaciers came into prominence. Ötzi the Tyrolean iceman, was also discovered in these Alps. We have two hours to explore the area and have lunch.
On our way back we have a short stop at Zell am See, another popular lakeside resort. The dark clouds were gathering by this point and it starts raining as soon as we reach the lake. The lake seems angry and in a rage and the whole area looks dark and gloomy. We find a cafe to shelter from the rain till it clears and return to the coach to make our way back to the hotel.