Mount Großglockner and Großglockner High Alpine Road
Dr. Birgit Stegbauer
Mount Großglockner is something like the mountain of the mountains and ranks second among Austria's most popular tourist destinations with an estimated 900,000 visitors per year, topped only by Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna. Mountaineers account for only a small percentage of this number - only about 5,000 climbers conquer the 3,798 m high rocky pyramid each year. Most visitors drive up the Großglockner High Alpine Road to Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe (2,369 m), from where there is a unique view over the Pasterze glacier to Großglockner's peak, with marmot sightings guaranteed!
The fascination of Mount Großglockner has remained unbroken ever since it was first ascended in 1800, which is astonishing, considering that for a long time it wasn't even Austria's highest elevation, which, until 1919, was Mount Ortler (3,905 m). Or considering that it wasn't the first high alpine mountain ever to be climbed in Europe, that honor falls to the Mont Blanc (4,810 m) in 1786. However, the publication of the expeditions to the Großglockner in 1799 and 1800 and the lordly members of the expeditions - among them the Prince-Bishop Franz Xaver Salm-Reifferscheid - were the best adverts: from that time on mountaineers and scientists have assaulted the summit.
To begin with, only the mountaineering village of Heiligenblut on the Carinthian part of the Großglockner profited from the booming alpine tourism. Then, in the middle of the 19th century, additional ascent routes were found, starting from Kals in the Tyrol. With the Großglockner High Alpine Road being constructed between 1930 and 1935, the province of Salzburg, too, gained tourist access to the region of the Großglockner.
Approximately 50 million people have driven the road since its opening. The 48 km long scenic toll road, with its smooth design and 36 hairpin bends, is also known as a testing ground for car manufacturers and as a venue for car and (motor) cycle races. Therefore, it may not come as a surprise to you that one of the exhibitions at the visitor center of the Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe is dedicated to the history of the automobile.
But sadly, this is also the place where one can study the negative effects of global warming, clearly spelled out for even the (car-driving) amateur: The Pasterze, the 8.4 km long glacier at the foot of Mount Großglockner, is losing mass, the tongue of the glacier retreats an average of 10 meters per year. You may not believe it, but when the Glacier Railway was built in 1963, its bottom station was situated next to the end of the glacier's tongue. As a matter of fact, since measurements started in 1856, the Pasterze's volume has diminished almost by half!
That the Großglockner's and the Pasterze's unique landscapes are in need of special protection, was apparent from early on. In 1918 first areas on the Carinthian side of the Großglockner were acquired and handed to the care of the Alpine Club. Further areas on the Tyrolean side followed in 1938. The Carinthian part of the Großglockner and the Pasterze form the heart of the High Tauern National Park, which was established in 1981. The Park now covers an area of 1,836 km2 on Carinthian, Tyrolean and Salzburg territory and is the largest nature reserve in the Alps.
It's good to know:
About Großglockner High Alpine Road:
⁃ Access via Heiligenblut/Carinthia or Bruck/Salzburg
⁃ Depending on the weather open from the beginning of May until the beginning of November
⁃ Information on current road conditions: +43 (0)6546 650
⁃ Daily rate for a car: 35.50 EUR
About the High Tauern National Park: