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Alpine winter tour
Alpine winter tour
Winter for cold showers
When the sun licks the ice off the streets for a short time, the adventurous can come up with the idea of a winter tour. Josef Seitz tried it out in the Alps.
The Honda does not want to wake up from hibernation at all, grudgingly nags around on a cylinder.
Glaring light shimmers over the snow-covered landscape, and the deeper the streets penetrate into the Allgau, the higher the snow piles on the roadside. The first mountain peaks tower up on the horizon, then the alpine chain pushes theatrically over the last hilltops of the foothills of the Alps. Winter sparkles from its most beautiful side and the thermal jacket still provides cozy warmth. In an arc it goes on dry small streets around the old Roman town of Kempten, Martinszell, Oberdorf. Finally the Niedersonthofener See appears and I follow the sign to the Alpenblick inn. It lives up to its name and offers a unique view of the jagged peaks of the Oberstdorf mountains. Carefully I let the Honda roll back down into the valley over partly icy roads and try to get beyond the congested B 19 towards Oberstdorf. What doesn’t always work out à la carte. The small path from Diepolz down to the Alpsee was converted for winter sports and a cross-country ski trail was quickly groomed on the blanket of snow. However, the forced detour opens up magical winter landscapes. At times, meter-high walls of snow make you feel like you’re on a bobsled run. In Obermaiselstein I follow the signs to Breitachklamm. For the Honda it will soon be tight there, the vehicle becomes a footpath, and along the Breitach, just above the river bed, presses itself closer and closer to the rock face. A fairytale scenery, mighty ice sheets cover the gorge, meter-thick icicles and frozen waterfalls form bizarre works of art made of rock, snow and ice.
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Winter for cold showers
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Then it goes into the Oberstdorf mountain basin, through Germany’s most famous village and on the east side of the valley to Hindelang. Directly behind it, the Oberjochpass starts the ascent to the Tannheimer Tal. I enjoy it with caution. The tar cover is free of snow, but meltwater has washed fine dust onto the road. Nevertheless, the fun on the bends is invigorating and triggers summery feelings. Oberjoch is a ski area, and over coffee at the valley station, surprised looks rest on me and the twin. Isn’t it too cold to ride a motorcycle? Of course it’s too cold. But also brilliant. After warming up, I wrap myself up to the tip of my nose again and switch back to the edge of the mountain range through a narrow valley between Gran and Pfronten.
A stroke of luck in January: a dry road near the Langental storage facility.
Behind the frozen Weissensee I reach the favorite region of the Kini in Fussen, from 1864 to 1886 King Ludwig II of Bavaria. His castles Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein shine in new splendor after a thorough renovation. A steep footpath leads to Neuschwanstein through the forest, which mercilessly reveals my lack of fitness. In deep snow I slide back half a step with every step forward. But, to paraphrase Former Chancellor Schroder, I want to go up there. Out of breath, I reach the tarred road on which a team of Japanese horses is swinging up to the castle. Slight astonishment in the carriage when I appear at the roadside with a red head and gasping for breath. But I want to go further, up to the 90 meter high Marienbrucke, which is adventurously stretched over the Pollat Gorge. With a view of Ludwig’s favorite castle. Kini and the extravaganza.
Well warmed up, I stroll back to Fussen, where I turn onto the old border road to Austria. The green Lech accompanies me for a short while, but already in Reutte my route to the Plansee deviates. The route was closed until yesterday due to the risk of avalanches, now the warning sign is crossed by a red bar. Rough snow piles up on the frozen Plansee, and gravel is centimeter-thick on the embankment. For environmental reasons, many roads in Austria are not salted, but simply cleared and gritted. On the Ammer Sattel, whole ice sheets take up the road and take a lot of nerves on the descent. The east side of the pass is hidden in the mountain shadow, which promptly drops the temperature by several degrees. Biting, the cold immediately spreads to the hands and under the jacket.
Linderhof Palace appears. Yes, yes, the Kini built locks like other people built dog houses. However, I am now definitely too cold for royal walls. I find friendly accommodation in an old farmhouse and soon sit with my grandmother by the roaring tiled stove. She tells stories from the past, when the farm was sold and how they later bought it back from royal property. Describes the times without a snow plow, when the entire property had to be shoveled free. Soon I will know half the family history, find out about the busy life on the farm, in the past without tractors, today with – and with new worries. My ideas about the good old days are crumbling a bit, the idyll of the old wooden house is getting a scratch. Nevertheless, the life of the three generations here under one roof still seems to have hand and foot.
Alpine winter tour (2)
View from the Marienbrucke to Neuschwanstein Castle.
The weather changes at night. And the dreamy blow-dry days change into damp gray. After all, the temperature rises above zero. The mighty dome of the Ettal monastery appears shadowy over a bank of fog, and the gradual onset of rain makes the Garmisch Luftlmalerei shimmer like watercolors through the wet visor. The fog is getting thicker, the mountains have long since disappeared, and I’m desperately looking for the turnoff to Leutasch. The route should be temporarily closed due to the risk of avalanches, but I still want to try. I’m lucky, the avalanche barrier is open and rock-hard, hedge-high walls of snow guide me up.
The mountains are slowly peeling themselves out of the fog, and when I switch off the engine for a short time, it’s as quiet as a mouse. Suddenly, thunder roars through the valley, as if an explosive device has been detonated. At least that’s my first thought. Only the thunder doesn’t seem to want to end. Only now do I see how huge masses of snow crash down directly in front of the opposite mountain face. A snow avalanche shoots over the edge of the rock, falling in free fall almost to the foot of the mountain. From a distance it looks like a waterfall rushing down into the valley. I will hear this crash several times today, because the rain made the snow heavy. In a restaurant in Leutasch I hear that the avalanche warning level four has been issued. There are five in total. And the next morning I’ll find out that a hunter from Mieming lost his life in the avalanches up here in the mountains on this road.
To be honest, avalanches are less of a concern for me than icy roads. What if it gets really cold tonight? Regardless of where I go from Leutasch, it’s always hard going down the mountain. At home I had a thin chain ready so that I could wrap it around the tires in an emergency. To forget! Well, I’ll stay anyway, I like little Leutasch. There is a free choice of rooms. My fear that the skiers could prove everything is in no way confirmed. On the contrary, the landlady says that those days are long gone. She asks me to definitely mention Leutasch in my travelogue. Since it was incorporated into Seefeld, her village only appears under “also ran”.
In principle, this applies to the entire route presented.
The next morning the fog soup is so thick that there is not even a hint of mountains. But the road is free of ice. I sneak blindly down to Telfs, cross the Inn and choose a short stretch of the Otztal to the Kuhtai junction. According to the motto “hope dies last”. This time she doesn’t die. At about 1,500 meters above sea level, the fog thins out suddenly and the sun hits a snowy mountain panorama, which God must have tried particularly hard to create. Crystal clear air and dry roads – winter presents its most beautiful side, while I enjoy curve after curve up to 2017 meters. Where I meet at least a thousand skiers on the Kuhtaier saddle. The fog is waiting on the east side, the village of Sellrain, stuck halfway between the steep valley flanks, is already in it.
Innsbruck is quickly crossed, on the southern slope of the Inntal I roll east into the Zillertal. Framed by mighty two-and-a-half-thousand-meter peaks, it has a valley floor that is several kilometers wide and almost completely flat, which only gradually rises. And more reminiscent of the alluvial land of a mighty river estuary than an alpine valley. Only from Mayerhofen does it get narrower and more hilly. The path to the Schlegeis reservoir climbs hard on the rock face a few meters above the Ziller to the south, and then crosses the river on a stone arched bridge to Ginzling. A few kilometers later, another avalanche warning sign prevents you from continuing your journey. I cross the Ziller again, trying to get ahead on the west side of the valley. For free. The path ends a little further up at an old farmhouse. I turn cautiously and can only with difficulty keep the load on the track with slipping boots on the ice sheet.
In Zell I ask in the small cheese dairy behind Hainzenberg whether the route to the Gerlos Pass is free. Yes, the pass is practically always open. As soon as a few centimeters of snow fall, the clearing and gritting vehicles move out. The ski regions cannot afford failures. In order not to scare off winter sports enthusiasts, I learn that even Gerlos-Strasse is toll-free in winter. So so. Very surprising when you consider where cashes are made in summer. Anyway, now I benefit from it and roll on the winding descent from Gerlos into the Hohe Tauern National Park, which offers one of its most spectacular natural spectacles, the Krimml Waterfalls. Consisting of several waterfalls one on top of the other, they form the fifth highest waterfall on earth if you add up the individual height levels. Although this calculated size cannot be seen directly, the deafening roar of the lowest and largest case impresses up to 400,000 visitors annually. A visit in winter has its advantages. While the tourists step on each other’s feet here in summer, the water curtain belongs to me today all alone.
Alpine winter tour (information)
A rare sight: winter skiers on the Austrian ski slope.
An alpine tour in winter? By motorcycle? Crazy? Yes, somewhere, but also a special kind of experience. The cold season can hardly be experienced more intensely.
A pleasant theme in the wintry Alps, because there are warm accommodations on practically every street corner. Depending on your taste and budget, you can choose between private rooms, guest houses, inns or hotels. The prices for private nights including breakfast start at 20 euros per person, inns and hotels charge from 27 euros. Only during the holiday season can the number of beds in particular ski areas become scarce.
The route leads over some pass sections that may be temporarily closed due to the risk of avalanches. This includes the road along the Plansee and the driveway from Mittenwald to Leutasch. With the appropriate snow conditions, such closures may come into effect for a very short period of time.
Time required: two days; Route length: 650 kilometers.
What may be perceived as boring in summer can be extremely attractive in winter. For example the Breitachklamm near Oberstdorf and the Partnachklamm near Garmisch-Partenkirchen. However, when the mighty ice sheets threaten to break off towards the end of winter, the gorges are closed. The Klammwart knows whether the Partnach Gorge is accessible by calling 08821/3167. Information about the Breitachklamm is available on the Internet at www.breitachklamm.com. There are three castles by King Ludwig, Neuschwanstein, Hohenschwangau and Linderhof along the route. Information at www.schloesser.bayern.de. The Krimml Waterfalls at the east end of the Gerlos Pass in the Hohe Tauern National Park also exude their own winter charm. The Zillertal Adventure Dairy in 6290 Mayerhofen / Hollenzen, phone 0043 / (0) 5285/62713, offers everything about cheese. Art and mysticism come together in the Swarovski Crystal Worlds in 6112 Wattens, Kristallweltenstrabe 1, Telephone 0043 / (0) 5224/51080, which Andre Heller helped to create.
Motorcycling in winter
Man: Modern materials help very well in the fight against the cold. Nevertheless, it should be ensured that the clothing seals especially around the neck and wrists, because the greatest loss of heat usually takes place there. Velcro fasteners are adjustable and cover the chest and neck area for optimum protection. If the gloves are too tight on the fingers, the blood flow is inhibited and the cold has quick access. It is better to create a small air cushion around the fingers. In addition, the gloves must be windproof and the cuffs must be easy to close. In the case of leather models, it is essential to grease the seams, especially on the fingertips, abundantly. Anyone who also installs a heated grip is well equipped.
After the journey, remove the aggressive road salt as soon as possible and clean it thoroughly. When desalinating with a high-pressure cleaner, it is imperative that you keep a safe distance from the bearings on the steering head, wheels and swing arm. While water penetrating in summer usually evaporates again soon, in winter it sticks to the bearings and accelerates wear and tear enormously. Touch up any paint damage before driving and grease the chain thickly so that salt water cannot attack in the first place. In order to be ready to go on the next beautiful winter morning, check the battery in good time: if it already showed weaknesses in summer, it will definitely give up in the cold. Be careful when it comes to tire grip: Due to the low temperatures, rubber and asphalt do not interlock as they are used to, even on dry roads, and the grip can break unexpectedly.
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