the eternal snow
Words: Miriam Terruzzi and Patrizia Falchero
Images: Kathrin Schafbauer
The Grossglockner is the highest peak in Austria, a road of forty-eight hairpin bends that takes people back to their ancestral connection with wild nature.
he eagles cut through the cold air with their high-pitched cries, gliding
over the silence of the majestic snow capped chain.
The altitude squeezes the lungs like in a vice. it is a sweet agony all the climbers feel, bend after bend, while climbing like ibexes in the dazzling alpine scenery.
The Grossglockner marks the border between Tyrol and Carinthia and is the highest peak in Austria - 3,798 metres above sea level.
Climbing is for the experienced mountaineers, but it can be admired very closely along a switchback that crosses the heart of the Hohe Tauern National Park and is considered one of the most scenic in Europe.
On a bicycle, the feeling you experience is like being swallowed by the immensity of the peaks, surrounded by scree, with the icy breath of perennial snow descending at times from the sharp white tips peeping out of the clouds.
A tunnel of lights and shadows reconnects the human beings to their primordial roots, to the instinct to venture into pristine nature and reconnect the body with the soul.
The Great Bell-ringer
This peak was named after its imposing shape reminding of a "large bell”,
and the mysticism of its 3,798 metres has fascinated mountaineers for
centuries, especially in the era of pioneering fever.
The historic conquest of Mont Blanc, in 1789, inspired adventurers in search of glory and, ten years later, the first ascent of Grossglockner was attempted.
It was a failure: the guided expedition ended on the Kleinglockner - the smaller "bell", just below.
The valley dwellers used to call it "the Black Mountain", and the grannies told the children it was haunted with demons.
Who, better than a man of faith, could have dominated its summit?
It was the parish priest of one of those villages who set foot on the summit of the Austrian colossus first. He did it in the summer of 1800, together with the Klotzes brothers and two scientists, who organized the rudimentary climb.
In September 1856, the Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife Elizabeth escaped the
oppressive captivity of the Hofburg Palace in Vienna to spend a belated
honeymoon in the area that united them in their shared passion: the mountain
and its explorations.
As enthusiastic hikers, they immersed themselves in the peace of the huts and meadows dotted with edelweisses, sharing simple country customs and outdoor breakfasts.
The emperors’ stay in such a remote and wild place impressed the locals so much that, even today, traces of their romantic getaway can be found in the names and the plaques along the road leading to the terrace at over 2,000mt.
In cycling, beauty and brutality often blend.
In its history, the Grossglockner has also been the Cima Coppi of the Giro d’Italia, the highest peak of the entire stage race.
It’s been the symbol of grueling and glorious solo actions or great duels en danseuse. That day a Colombian and a Spaniard fought for ten kilometres, between the white snow walls lining the route in May and the low clouds enveloping the peaks.
In such a silence it is easier to hear your chaser, and no one better than the mountain can suggest you the right bend where to attack.