A common feature of my experiences in both the Peak district and the Lake district, or anywhere I go that features a hilly environment, is that I have the urge to climb up the hills/fells. I even make sure that I exercise during the year in a way that ensures that my thigh muscles don’t limit me in my desire to do that. On our holiday in Austria, we saw many ‘hills’. A sense in me told me that they were unobtainable, so I was a lot happier to just look at them. However, the urge to be there with them remained.
We were on a family summer holiday to Austria staying in the hills above Bischofshofen and from our holiday home we were treated to the sort of view in the picture in the top image above. Led by my urge to engage with the ‘hills’ as much as possible, we discovered that you could drive up and into the mountains by taking the High Alpine Road – perfect!
We drove in the direction of Zell am See and soon found the toll entrance to the desired road. The High Alpine Road leads 48km into the Hohe Tauern National Park and every metre of the way is incredibly scenic.
Regularly there were signs letting you know how high you were above sea level and there were many parking places for you to stop and take photos and just gaze at the views – again, perfect! At just under 2000m above sea level I started feeling surprised at the amount and type of wildflowers we were seeing when we stopped at these places.
I started making a list of the wildflowers that we saw: forget-me-not, daisies, buttercups, birdsfoot trefoil, cow parsley, clover and hoary plantain (pictured below). The air was slightly chilly at that altitude maybe creating spring like conditions for these wildflowers to flourish? It was lovely to see all my old favourites from England.
The surroundings started to get less green as we drove higher into the mountains and we started to see the odd patch of snow on the ground. Obviously that needed further exploration which took the form of a snowball fight!
It’s easy to spend the whole time looking into the distance in a place like this and the wildflowers and snow counteracted that urge, so luckily I noticed the rocks. Some rocks there glittered. When you held them, your hands turned sparkly! Lucky rock maybe? I can imagine that it would help if you needed a boost, to hold the rock for while and perform your difficult task with sparkly hands! Maybe that’s just me?!
As well as parking places there were restaurants along the road to stop at to buy refreshments or to go to the toilet, ultimately though the road lead to a point 2369m above sea level from which you had a brilliant view of Grossglockner: the highest mountain in Austria. When you arrived at this point you were greeted with many flags – a welcome to all.
At the end of the road, you could park and enjoy the views. One of the two main focal points was the view to Grossglockner. We looked at the M shaped summit through binoculars and could see people climbing right to the summit which is 3798m above sea level. A proud moment for them no doubt and it made me wonder what their journey up there involved and what would be involved to get back down again. Maybe one day that would be me?
The other point of note was the glacier that could be seen from the end point of the road. We did start to walk to it but quickly realised that it looked deceptively close! It was both sad and interesting to see a poster there about the glacier which showed how it is melting over time. In 1852 the glacier filled up the dip that it currently resides in. Slowly it melts away as times get warmer.
There were still plenty of wildflowers about at the ultimate point of the road and the information posters were interesting and helpful especially in naming the mountains that you were looking at. One other thing that I loved to see was the many little stone piles in strategic places to mark the path, in this case to the glacier. I like that they show a joining of people caring for those who follow in their footsteps; I added the top stone to the pile below and in my mind I joined the others who had come before me. We all no doubt will nurse our memories of this beautiful place forever as we returned to our corners of the earth via the same road that we drove up.