Trip report Motorcycle ride Grossglockner and Kaernten (Nockalm and Maltatal)
Date: Aug 1st, 2010
One of the finest things you can do in the Austrian Alps on a sunny summer day is to ride a motorcycle over some of the pass roads. I had done this a couple of times in previous years and it was always a highlight of the respective vacation. (See trip reports July 2006 and July 2007.) So I was hoping to rent a motorbike again this year if the weather would cooperate at the right time. So when the weather report predicted a hot sunny day I made reservations for Sunday at the BMW Kaufmann shop in Kaprun again like in the years past.
This time I rent a BMW F800GS; it's a bit smaller and weighs 30kg less than the BMW R1200GS. Its engine is a bit smaller and slightly less powerful, but it still has plenty of power (85 horsepower, 5750 NM torque) so that with less weight it's about the same in terms of acceleration and top speed. I pick up the bike the evening before and take it for a quick ride up a small side road behind my Aunt’s home in Stuhlfelden – both the weather and the bike look very promising for tomorrow.
I decide to begin with the Grossglockner pass road – which has been opened some 75 years ago – and then do a loop East through Kearnten, including the Nockalm-Strasse and the Malta valley. This time I carry the SPOT satellite tracker, just like during my Panamerican Peaks project – interesting to note that this GPS consumer device technology didn’t exist when I last did a similar tour in 2007! Here is a view of the track points during the day: Grossglockner top left (46-41 and 11-9), Nockalm road on the right (34-31) and Malta valley in the center (27-19).
Sunday, August 1st, 2010
I start very early at 6:30am. There is fog in the valley and the temperature is only around 8C (45F). The rising sun is blinding in the fog and my breath leads to my helmet visor fogging up – quite uncomfortable to start in the cold. However, such brisk morning air is usually a good weather sign (high pressure, sunny and stable).
The road up to the Grossglockner is always a highlight, both in terms of the magnificent scenery as well as the quality of the road for riding a motorcycle. On this first long ascent of nearly 2000m vertical I get acquainted with the handling of the F800GS bike, very nice! I pass several dozen bicycles on the way up (cycling up here is a very popular sport). At 7:20am I top out at the Edelweissspitze at 2575m.
The fog in the valley nearly 2000m below is about to burn off; now the visibility is very good and many more km of some very fine roads are ahead. Next stop is the Franz-Josef-Hoehe with a view to the Pasterze glacier and the majestic Grossglockner summit behind:
I don’t stay here for long; prior to the sun climbing over the ridge it is actually a bit cool to sit here. So I continue to the restaurant Kasereck, which I remember from the trip 3 years ago with my wife Jill. There I enjoy a second breakfast with great views to the Grossglockner and the valley of Heiligenblut below.
From here I continue without my sweater under the jacket as it is getting warmer now in the sun. The next section down the Moell valley and past the Millstaetter lake are a bit less scenic, but the powerful engine makes for a quick ride along the generally good road. Along the lake the air smells like summer, with hay and the fresh water along the lake inviting lots of people out for a lazy day of sunbathing and swimming in the lake. Here traffic is heavy and the going is slow in this section. It gets better past the little town of Bad Kleinkirchheim, when I ride North-East up to the Nockalm pass road. This is a fairly unique set of round mountain tops in the middle of the National Park ‘Nockberge’.
It’s a very nice road for motorcyclists with lots of turns and not a lot of traffic. I’d never been here before and quite enjoy this scenery. On the way down it is getting really hot again now, with temperatures climbing above 30C (near 90F). I figure I need a lunch break and stop in Gmuend to eat in a restaurant in a local Castle.
Next I continue into the Malta valley; this is a long valley with a big dam and lake at the end, the so-called ‘Koelnbrein-Talsperre’. It is a very scenic drive with initially good road past Kaernten’s tallest waterfall, then fairly small and finally one-lane sections with one-way traffic controlled by traffic lights. To my surprise there are lots of cars back here, with hundreds of tourists visiting the dam and going for walks or hikes in this remote scenery.
A special attraction is the so-called SkyWalk – a steel and glass platform protruding from the top of the dam – at 200m the highest dam in Austria. From here you can see straight down – they even offer Bungy jumping from this spot, certainly not for the faint of heart!
I park the bike and leave my helmet and motorcycle clothing at a local hut. Then I go on a hike up to a local saddle (some 350m above the lake) for some physical exercise and also a great view of the valley. The scenery up here is even better than down in the valley and marks another highlight on this great summer day.
I would love to sit here for a bit longer, but I have a long way to go and it is already past 4pm – time for me to move on. I descend quickly and have a bite to eat at the restaurant below, an original Austrian sweet dish, the Kaiserschmarrn! I am reminded of a day in Guatemala while climbing Tajumulco, where I was having a craving for this kind of food. It is all so lovely here in the Austrian Alps on a day like this! You can stop at so many restaurants for some delicious food, there are good roads and hiking paths everywhere, it is just great. After this refreshing break I take one more photo of the motorcycle, just like out of a catalogue:
Exiting the Malta valley I ride back up the Moell valley to reach the town of Winklern. On this stretch it is very hot again and tempting to let the wind at speeds up to 160km/h (100mph) cool you down. Quite amazing the kind of distances you can cover on a day like this. In the end I will have done a bit more than 500km (310mi) of fabulous mountain scenery, plus a nice 2hr hike. Heading North towards the Grossglockner again I stop in Moertschach for a drink, finally in the shade and starting to cool down a bit. The view South to the Lienzer Dolomiten is another welcome sight.
After this last refreshment I practically fly up the pass road for a final crossing. No more traffic on the road, cooler air and super-smooth surface on the road make for absolute motorcycle heaven. Going uphill one can ride really fast, as you have superb brake power going uphill approaching one of the many dozen hairpin turns. What a blast! At the ‘Fuscher Toerl’ at 2400m altitude I have the last sunshine of the day. I stop for a few minutes to soak up the views and reflect back to the many experiences of this beautiful day.
At 8:30pm I reach the base of the mountain in the village of Bruck. I see an open gas station and refuel the bike one more time. (Its range is only about 220km or so due to the small 10l tank under the seat, not a problem for me today, but very short for touring!) I return the bike in Kaprun just before 9pm, then have dinner at the restaurant next door and take a taxi to the train station in Zell am See. Here I have another ˝ hour for a leisure walk along the lake shores, listening in to an open-air theater performance. I relax with music from my iPod during the 1.5hr train ride back to Salzburg with the fresh and cool mountain air blowing in through the open window. A final refreshing walk from the train station back home to my parents’ home in Salzburg around midnight caps this long and eventful day in the Alps. A day like this is not cheap, but in my opinion it is well worth every Euro. I can hardly imagine a more fulfilling summer day experience in the Alps.