26 June 2011

Rainy season in the Austrian Alps

The Japanese rainy season, especially towards the end of June when it is not only wet but gets also unpleasantly hot, is the perfect excuse for escaping to the more moderate climates of the European Alps. Or so David thought when he signed up for the TransAlp. So far the weather seems to be holding up in Sonthofen - sunny start this morning as the last minute photo proves, and a forecasts which suggests improving weather from today. So far so good.

My own escape was somewhat less lucky. I arrived in Munich on Thursday evening, to make it through pouring rain to Kitzbuehel, in the Tyrolian Alps. Rain throughout the night and into the morning. Perfect excuse to get a couple of phone conferences done, and a lot more e-mail. But wait - was this what I had come for to Kitzbuehel, a couple of days early before starting to teach a training programme from Sunday?

It finally stopped raining in the late morning and I was immediately on my bike for a short ride under still threatening skies. I managed to stay dry and returned for lunch.

In the afternoon another try. The sun was even lurking through the clouds occasionally. I went for the most famous hill climb course in Austria, the Kitzbueheler Horn. The start is just 10 minutes from my hotel. Over 7km it is a relentless climb at usually 12 percent, sometimes more, from 700m altitude to 1,670m.

Many famous riders have put up best times here, e.g. Cadell Evans (not yet on his Canyon). All nicely documented on a "Wall of Fame".

From the Alpenhaus it is possible to climb another 300m at similar gradient to the very top of the Kitzbueheler Horn. I did this twice last September and the 360 degree view from the peak is simply astounding, in particular in good weather.

But today the weather was not good, and in fact no sooner had I reached the Alpenhaus did some very cold clouds come blowing down from the peak. I plunged down the road in a desperate attempt to escape, but one kilometre down the rain caught up with me. From there it was a miserable descent: 900m down in 8 degree cold rain, wearing summer clothes (but even something warmer would not really have made much of a difference), desperately grapping the breaks to maintain a safe speed yet make it through this hell as fast as possible. I was dreaming of a hot bath back in the hotel...

This was not the greatest start to my stay in Kitzbuehel. As we say in German, "vom Regen in die Traufe", quite literally!

Again rain through the rest of the day and throughout most of the night. The next morning looked a little more promising, but still with threatening skies and a supposed 35% chance of rain. Good enough to give it another try, again without venturing too far before the afternoon, when rain was forecasted once more.

I chose a loop around the mountain range towards the northwest of Kitzbuehel, facing the famous "Wilder Kaiser". Google maps suggested it was possible to avoid the main roads for most of the loop, following side roads. Indeed, this was possible, but as always in Austria, many of those side roads turned out to be unpaved.

In fact, at some point the cycling path became a hiking path! Impossible to tell from google maps, making this section appear like a nicely paved back road...

I ended up doing a fair amount of riding on unpaved paths and even hikling, just as last year. Unlike Japan, most of the unpaved paths are easily passable by road bike. They tend to be so well maintained that it is possible to even climb up many unpaved mountain roads. But of course they add to the wear and tear of the bike, especially the tyres. My first back tyre on this bike lasted for only 2,000km before the top of the tyre came off in places. In Japan, I always end up wrecking my tyres through side cuts from sharp stones on rindos. Not so here.

There aren't actually so many paved roads here. Basically just one trunk road per valley. There are very few actual passes and almost no tunnels (and tunnels are always closed to bicycles). Unlike Japan, no attempt is made to connect roads over hills or mountains, just for the sake of connecting them. It is possible to ride to the top of many mountains, but with the exception of the Kitzbueheler Horn, the roads are always unpaved. A paradise for mountain bikers, but not really for road bikers.

Nonetheless, the scenery is a nice change from Japan, even in this bad weather.

As I will be teaching my younger colleagues throughout the week, I will be following with envy the progress the PE teams are making through the Austrian and Italian Alps, on what seems to be more interesting paved roads and passes which can be found in my immediate vicinity. With a bit of luck, next Saturday may offer the opportunity to repeat another attack of the Grossglockner Hochtor, the highest Austrian pass at 2,500m, 100km to the south-east of Kitzbuehel.

1 comment:

TOM said...

Thanks for posting Ludwig. Beautiful scenery indeed. So different from the densely wooded rindos. Hope you didn't catch a cold on that descent. I will be traveling to Belgium later this week to time trial with my brother on Saturday. Will you still be in Germany?