bikes european bike epic general trip reports

Into the Alps: The Großglockner (26 – 27 Sept 2009)

“From 768m to 2504m and back down again. Sometimes all you can do is slip into your lowest granny gear, set some Queen playing on your iPod, and grind your way to the top.”


Setting off we plan to get as close as we can to the start of the Großglockner Pass road. However we get distracted after finding a market, and then an enormous bike store, and then in Bad Reichenhall there are cakes, and internet. By the time we’re finished in Bad Reichenhall it’s after midday and the clouds have finally lifted, revealing the mountains surrounding us. Mountains! Rocky limestone alpine peaks, it feels just like home (well Canadian home). The rivers are aqua with glacier-chalk as well.


Afternoon views outside of Bad Reichenhall, all of a sudden we’re in the mountains


We’re a bit worried on reaching the end of Saalach-Stausee. The main road on to Unken and Lofer looks very bike unfriendly, but thankfully there’s a bike path to follow – we’re following Jakobsweg, and the Mozart Radweg, and a bunch of other signposted trails. After a steep gravelly start the path turns out ok, and happily keeps us away from the traffic. The day has turned out clear and sunny, and we’re cycling past rocky mountains, cliffs and rivers. We watch rock climbers and kayakers and yearn to be doing things besides cycling – but at least we get to be here cycling, rather than being stuck at work dreaming of being outside. Lofer is nice, and has a man playing a piano accordion outside a pub. It seems the quintessential Austrian Alps town.


Alex as we head into the Alps (note the beard getting alarmingly large)


As we get to Saalfelden, alpenglow is highlighting the mountains around us, and we arrive to set up camp in Maishofen a few minutes after sunset. Fall asleep to cow bells again.


Misty morning on the Zeller See, Austria



Riding through the foggy morning


After leaving Maishofen at 7.30am we rode into the fog south of Zeller See and saw a fogbow (like a rainbow, but with fog), and then heard a choir of children (who sounded disconcertingly like angels) singing in the church at Bruck. There wasn’t much climbing until we fit Fusch, and it was when we hit the tollgates that the ascent began in earnest (and we were quite grateful that we didn’t have to pay the outrageous amounts that cars or motorbikes were tolled).


The Großglockner High Road – 33km of road where anything could happen and probably will


Gradually more and more bikes appeared on the road. We didn’t overtake many, but on the plus side, not many were going much faster than us; although if we could have done, we would have happily changed down to a lower gear at some points.


Gaining altitude



Alpine views


Each switchback gained around 30 metres of altitude, so we were gaining height quickly. And each corner was sign-posted with name and altitude, which made measuring progress gratifyingly easy. There were also plenty of picnic benches and roadside stops, and different views to admire, so it was a very gradual progress uphill.


Achtung! Marmots!



Up and up



Hairpins bring us higher and higher


We tossed up cycling to the Edelweiß-spitze, but for another 200 metres of altitude over 2km, we decided to save our legs for the next few days – it wasn’t like this was the only pass we’d be cycling over. So instead we just cycled the main road along, descending, heading up through the tunnels, and reaching the high point of the main road of 2504 metres.


Alex on the final leg to the high point, cruising along at 2400m



The Surly LHT photo: 2504m above sea level



Alps through the looking glass


For the descent I decided to invest in some glacier goggles. You never know when they might come in handy. Then we kitted up in our warm clothes and began the descent… until we hit a roundabout and were flabbergasted by the fact we’d have to cycle uphill again! Oh well, that out of the way, we continued the descent to Heiligenblut, then a further 10km or so to a nice little campground with a chatty old Austrian man to talk to.


Glacier goggles



Down again into the Heiligenblut valley


Distance cycled: 172km
Sleeping arrangements: Campgrounds
Days of rain: 0/2 (wooo! the sunny spell continues)
Public toilets: Available
Bike friendliness: Good, lots of signed bike trails, or roads that are fine to cycle on
Free wifi availability: There was some in Bad Reichenhall

canada climbing general snow trip reports

the bugaboos

The Bugaboos – a group of inspiring granite towers clustered in the Purcell Range of British Columbia, and the site of my first proper mountaineering/alpine rock experience. Also the place where I learned that anti-balling plates on crampons are a really good idea.



Arriving in the carpark, the first step after getting gear ready was to critter-proof the Jeep. Apparently porcupines and other wee beasties like to nibble on rubber and brake linings and other car parts, so all of the vehicles in the parking lot were encircled by chicken wire, held at the top by the logs, and at the base by rocks.


The Jeep, all critter-proofed

The trek up the hill isn’t far – it’s only about 4.5km to the hut, with an elevation gain of 720 metres. So up the glacial valley we hiked, looking ahead to get our first glimpses of the spires of the Bugaboos, and of the Bugaboo Glacier. A few ladders, chains, steep steps and stream crossings later, we were dropping our gear in the Conrad Kain Hut. There were ropes and crampons and gaiters and ice axes and boots everywhere. Climbers and hikers were draped across bunks and chairs, or were creating steaming pots in the kitchen, or poring over the guidebook. That’s right, it had been raining today.


Looking up at Hound’s Tooth and Bugaboo Glacier as we start our trek up the hill

James and I set off around 6am the next morning, with the light of the sunrise glowing off the surrounding peaks. The weather wasn’t looking promising, but we were heading up to do the Kain Route (5.6 III) which had an elevation gain of 1000 metres above the hut, but wouldn’t be too hard to bail off if necessary.


Looking back down at the hut in the morning light

So we set off across the snow, putting crampons on, and then roping up as we got towards the snowy col, then stepping up and up and up in the early morning light. At the saddle between Snowpatch and Bugaboo Spires we stowed crampons and ice tools, and started scrambling. The Kain Route basically climbs the south ridge skyline of Bugaboo Spire, so even on the easy scrambling there were sections with large cliffy dropoffs on either side. As we moved higher on the spire, we moved into the lurking cloud. It would occasionally swirl aside and provide us with views of the surrounding spires and glaciers, and the route ahead, but then close back in again, leaving us in our world of whiteness.

Eventually we reached the technical climbing pitches – and as we prepared to start climbing, the weather prepared to start snowing on us. “It’ll be fine,” we said, “it won’t snow on us,” and both carefully covered our boots with our gaiters, so no snow or rain could get them.

We swung leads towards the summit. I managed to incorporate a section of shuffling along the ridgeline with my right leg hanging down towards the hut-side cliff, and my left leg hanging down towards the other-side cliff. After passing the committing slabby move round the Gendarme, we just had the final pitch to the summit. As I started up the pitch, it started snowing on me.


Beautiful view from the summit of Bugaboo Spire, at 3204m (10,512ft). Note snow visible against slings. (Technically the actual summit is about eight metres away, but you get the idea…)

The snow was melting on the rock, making the lichen slippery, and generally making life a bit cold and unpleasant. And the thick cloud at that point had the added side-effect that I couldn’t actually see the summit. I assumed it was up somewhere, and decided to keep going up until I couldn’t. This plan paid off and I reached the summit to be greeted with beautiful views of white. I belayed James to the top, we posed for a summit photo against the gorgeous backdrop, then started rappelling down.


Rapelling back down again, the top of the Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col visible in the background

As we rapped down, I was disappointed to note that the clouds were clearing, and I was actually able to see out to the surrounding landscape. Lakes, spires, glaciers, distant snow-capped mountains.


And for just a moment, the clouds seemed to disappear entirely, and it was sunny and lovely and warm.

After a few rappels we were back to traversing back over ground we’d already covered, then another couple of rappels, and then we were at our mountaineering boots, nice and snug and dry in their gaiter nests. We switched back over and then started the scramble back down. And down and down. It was a fun scramble on the way up, but on the way down it seemed to last forever. My sugary food was all gone, and my water had run out too. I contemplated eating James, then decided a better plan would be to steal his food. Luckily he offered me an ‘Oh Henry!’ bar and a sip from his Camelbak and catastrophe was averted.

As we reached the saddle again, the wind picked up and it started raining on us. We attempted to shelter under a large boulder for a rest and food break before starting the final descent. The wind blew the rain onto us, so we decided to sit there and sulk until it stopped raining five minutes later.

We weren’t decided on which way to go down the col would be best, so we initially tried just walking down. But my crampons had no anti-balling plates, and were picking up the warm afternoon snow like that’s what their purpose in life was. I went for a small slide, then a slightly longer slide where I had the self arrest with my axe, and then we were conveniently next to a rap station, and decided that was probably the best way to get down.


James rapelling down the Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col.

After rapping as far as we could there was still a bit of steeper snow to walk down before we got to the easy wander downhill. I tried to keep wearing my crampons, but was having to tap them with my axe every step to prevent them from balling up so much they would do nothing but slide. In the end I got sufficiently fed up with them, took them off, and could suddenly move ten times as fast – and ran down the hill to James who had been impatiently waiting at the bottom of the hill thinking about dinner. By the time we reached the hut we’d been out for about 12 hours, and were starving and exhausted – luckily Alex was on chef duties, and made us food while we collapsed into tired heaps.


The hiking trail out, and down into the valley.

There’d been talk of doing another climb the next morning, but the long day on Saturday combined with the lack of sleep meant that all we really wanted to do was lie down. Unfortunately we still had to walk 4.5km downhill with all our climbing gear though – which we finally managed to do, after lazing around all morning. This time it didn’t rain on us, and was instead ferociously sunny, with chipmunks and squirrels cavorting around the path as we hiked down.

general trip reports

how not to epic – part one

Last weekend was Van‘s first adventure. We drove out to Alpine country, to the Mt Howitt carpark. There were lots of nice hilly twisty dusty rocky roads for me to relearn my manual driving skills on – that’s right, Van is not an automatic.

Van enjoys the alpine climate

After arriving Thursday evening, we hiked out to MacAlister Springs on Friday morning. There we set up camp, and visited the Loo with a View, before packing for a day ‘walk’.

Loo with a View

Our plan was to descend down into Terrible Hollow, via Devil’s Staircase, then head up one of the spurs onto Crosscut Saw, and back to camp again. Anyone who’s read John Marsden’s Tomorrow when the war began books will recognise those as Hell, Satan’s Steps, and Tailor’s Stitch respectively. Anyway, we found it was a lot easier to get down into Terrible Hollow than they made out in the Tomorrow books – although we only went down near the Devil’s Staircase, not on them (a route I like to refer to as the piker’s variant).

Heading across the steep alpine meadow up to reach the Devil’s Staircase

As we reached the depths of Hell, it had been raining on us on and off, after rumbling thunder most of the morning. It was fairly foggy, and we fought our way through evil spiky ferns and stinging nettles, until finally the terrain cleared up as we got partway up the spur onto Crosscut Saw.

Eucalyptus in the depths of Hell


One kilometre of slogging up a steep spur later, we were on top of Crosscut Saw. Joy. Back to camp for dinner, we’d only covered 12km that day, but needed a good nights sleep before the epic the next day.