21 September, 2016

High

About time to get through another set of summer-holiday shots. 
Considering the luck I had with agency travel recently, I thought I'd take out mom for a trip to the heart of the Austrian Alps. As she was not in travel mood in the end, my little sister had to step in again and - off we go!
After a rather familiar ride to Spittal an der Drau and a quick walk through the city, a whole new world began to unfold to me. The valley began to rise and soon, first mountains came into sight.
Past the impressive Jungfernsprung, our first major stop would be the picturesque village Heiligenblut. On the way, Großglockner decided to say Hi in front of clear blue skies - turns out the weatherman was wrong in a very lovely way.
After a little bit of stretching the legs on the big parking lot, it was time to explore the most famous sights - above all, the richly decorated little Gothic pilgrimage church.
In the backyard however, lies a lovely little cementery with beautiful crosses made of wrought iron, as well as a thoughtful monument to victims of mountain accidents. 
After a little rest (and lots of avoiding the usual tourist junk) it was time to hit the road again. To be precise, probably one of the most wonderful Alpine roads, the Großglockner Hochalpenstraße

It's hard to imagine how they built the road almost a hundred years ago, and a shame it took me so long to visit it. With only one ticket, the 48 kilometers mountain pass in the middle of the Hohe Tauern National Park offers stunning views, a connection between Carinthia and Salzburg, countless of hiking possibilities from Alpine pastures to glaciers, museums, numerous restaurants and above all, lots of wildlife (and I'm not meaning hordes of tourists ;)). 
Even though one would expect high Alpine terrain to offer nothing but rock and a little grass, water is pouring everywhere. From creeks and waterfalls to catch basins for electricity production.
I must admit I was overwhelmed by the traffic, but thanks to a sophisticated traffic regime and loads of parking space there is never too much waiting time on the way to the Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe. 
Avalanche protection everywhere, as well as mountains in full bloom...
Hi there! Due to treats they receive from tourists, marmots are not in the least shy. On the contrary - they prefer to  hang around underneath the road, posing for pictures and enjoying the sunshine.
And with a little luck, even an ibex might come to sight.
View towards the Großglockner (3798 m) and the Pasterze Glacier which is the biggest glacier of Austria and the eastern Alps. Its ice can be reached via a funicular railway that leads from the viewing platform into the valley.
And only by looking very closely, one may compare the mass of ice with random hikers and realize how huge those slices actually are. 
Turns out the Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe features a huge car park, restaurants, a big museum and crowds of tourists everywhere. I would never expect such masses, and the road itself turned out to be very busy, too, but then again, one must remember this is a major tourist attraction.
Fantastic view towards the peak of Austria. Looking closely, it seems to be quite busy there, too.
After some time for discoveries, it was time to explore some more of the stunning road. We'd head towards its major pass Hochtor (2504 m), that represents the border between Carinthia and Salzburg. The connection between North and South was used in the Roman times already, and it's fascinating to know remains of a Roman-Celtic sanctuary were found at this place, making it Europe's highest shrine.
The tunnel that leads through solid rock is closed with huge wooden doors during winter to prevent snow from entering and blocking it completely.

After passing Mittertörl (2373 m), lake Fuscher Lacke and Fuscher Törl, it was time for another stop. While most of the 70+ travelers decided to enjoy the views on the parking lot, I thought I might as well do some exercise. After an optimistic start that soon resulted in gasping and short breathers every now and then (was it the altitude or just my non-existant fitness?), I managed to climb the Edelweisspitze (2572). Given it was the highest point of the day, one can only imagine fantastic views in every direction - above all, one can identify 37 peaks that exceed 3000 m above sea level, as well as 19 glaciers. 
Fuscher Lacke, Ankogel (3252 m) in the background (?)
Brennkogel (3018 m)
Fuscher Törl. Due to the amazing views, they decided to build the road around the peak rather than building another tunnel. Wise decision.
Some more glaciers and mountains
Großglockner's peak in the background, far left
Unlike busses, cars are allowed to drive up to the very peak of the Großglockner Hochalpenstraße, which offers a huge parking lot, a viewing platform and everything a tourist might wish for. Did I mention the views?
View towards the lower parking lot and Fuscher Törl. 
Looking closer, water seems to run down from literally everywhere, resulting in countless Alpine creeks, waterfalls and lakes.
Zell am See with Steinernes Meer in the background
Must be what they call a view to die for
Mittertörl in the lower part of the picture, Hochtor slightly under the mountain ridge. The tunnels seem to spit out one car after another.
Edelweisspitze with its distinguished platform-like peak as we headed towards Hochtor again.
Moonscape. With scenery well above the treeline, one might feel like wandering on some other planet. Even though I live surrounded by mountains, this turned out to be a whole new experience to me. Lots of rock and little green is something you really need to get used to. 
An early wake-up and long journey meant I'd sleep for a big part of the way home, with occasional wake-ups to see the Italian Dolomites. With the impression of mountain terrains I've just seen, they seem to be out of place somehow. On the other hand, they are pretty close to what I used to call "mounains" before I got to know the "real ones".
Needless to say, the elevations that created a wonderful sunset are almost flatland.
I will want to come back to this gem again, a little less tourist-ish, hiking off the beaten path. Just this wonderful green around me, and the endless blue above...

A little contribution to the gallery of sky-images at Raumfee.