Words and images by Anna Truntschnig & Robert Grasegger
Good for the knees and good for the environment!
Early after Anna's knee surgery at the beginning of April, I told her that road cycling was great. At first sceptical, she was hooked after her very first road bike tour on Monte Baldo: "Like ski touring in summer!"
Inspired by the style of ski crossings in winter, we decided that our first vacation would be a traverse of the Southern Alps by road bike. Initially we thought this would just remain a pipe dream, but after having a closer look at the map we realized that within 1-2 days riding you can reach several 5-star climbing spots. Whether travelling by bike or car, the annoying part of packing before a trip remains the same. Though this time we had to think even more carefully about what to take with us, having to carry everything in our little bags attached to our road bikes.
During this trip, we wanted to explore the regional beauties and local resources. Our motto: Think global, act local!
Step 1: Innsbruck – Tre Cime di Lavaredo: Ciao Dolomit!
Staring the journey from Innsbruck
As we both wanted to make the most of the time we had for our trip, we left almost straight from work on our bikes. I came home late after a night shift and Anna was still working to finish off some projects. As a result, we started our trip a little stressed, but it turned out that road biking was an excellent choice to recharge our batteries again immediately. After a few metres on our bikes, we started to notice: focusing on nature, pedalling and the way ahead – that’s all it takes for a feeling of freedom.
What really grabbed us about our bike2climb idea, was to start directly from our doorstep. We traversed Brenner directly and biked over to Italy, where we aimed for our first climbing spot; the Tre Cime di Lavaredo.
After 170 kilometres and 4000 vertical meters we arrived at the parking lot of the Auronzo hut.
The next morning we started our first little "north face adventure ". Since it was early in the morning and a lot colder than expected, we opted for the Spigolo Scoiattoli on Cima Ovest di Lavaredo. As we were little later than the rest of the climbers, we had to queue up as the fourth team. Therefore, spontaneously, we decided to join the Cassin Route after the first few pitches, which looked promising as there were no climbers on the route.
On the Crux pitch of the Cassin Route, Cima Ovest di Lavaredo.
Anna had just recently started getting back on the rock after knee surgery. Traverses were still painful, especially when she had to lead with her left leg, which was still a little unstable after the operation. It turned out that the Cassin route with its famous two-pitch traverse was rather unfortunately chosen. After the two key pitches and a rather unfavourable twist of Anna’s left leg, we decided to skip the last remaining pitches of 5th grade and opted for an abseil descent. Those who know the Cima Ovest di Lavaredo, with its breath taking big roofs and famous routes like the Bellavista, would agree that this was not the easiest descent to choose. Still, it was definitely the most “knee-friendly-descent” and the right option to take with regard to our days and plans ahead. Pretty exposed and impressed by the routes next to us, it turned out to be a lot of fun rappelling down this part of the wall. These are the routes most ambitious and aspiring climbers have on their wish list and our spontaneous descent gave us the opportunity to have a closer look at them.
Descending from Cima Ovest di Lavaredo
Step 2: Tre Cime di Lavaredo – Grübelwand: Griaß di, Granit!
The following day the weather in Italy was not in our favour and, unfortunately, no other route in the Dolomites was possible. Therefore: Ciao Italia, Griaß eich in Austria!
Leaving the Auronzo hut
What Anna described as a rest day turned out to be another 140 km and 2000 vertical metres of road biking. After all that showering was not necessary, as we were accompanied by heavy rain showers and thunderstorms. We passed East Tyrol and arrived at our destination Carinthia with its Ankogel Group.
Wet, but in a good mood, we stopped at Bed and Breakfast Platzer, the last accommodation in Hattelberg, which was still reachable by road bike. The family-owned Bed and Breakfast with an extremely beautiful view fit perfectly into our concept of exploring regional treasures. Everything at dinner and breakfast was homemade - "Except for the pickles!" as the owner Ingrid assured us. The following day, strengthened by a Carinthian “Brettljause” (snack with bread and cheese), we started towards Grübelwand; the granite wall we wanted to climb.
A wet start to the Austrian leg of the tour.
Grübelwand turned out to resemble the “Grand Capucin” of the Mont Blanc region, and immediately caught our eye. The closer we got, the faster our climbing hearts started beating. Granite par excellence found in the south of Austria – we expected a nice wall, but what we saw very much exceeded our expectations. The 3.5 hour approach from our accommodation to the wall did not feel long at all, as we were so busy admiring the stunning surroundings. What an incredibly beautiful valley!
On the approach to Grübelwand
The first couple of pitches of Zirbe Direkt was a very rewarding climb. Hard, but fair, with compact granite at its best! The last pitches turned out to be very wet due to the previous day’s storm and hindered us from finishing the route. Anyway, we'll be back! We were glad to have discovered this “Grand Capucin” (which is also called Grübelwand) with its excellent granite and super fun pitches!
Enjoying the granite climbing on Grübelwand
Sitting in front of the Zandlacher Hütte with Kaiserschmarrn (a pancake-like typical Austrian dish) we realized; day 4, two different types of rock (granite and dolomite), incredibly beautiful areas, wild nature and still not a single metre travelled by car. That’s how we like it! Let’s keep these vibes up!
Back at our B&B, we decided to cycle a few kilometres the very same day. After over 1500 vertical metres of approach and some climbing metres we were sure our legs would be happy about a relaxing, muscle-loosening cycling session.
We expected a newly paved cycle path leading us along the river Drau, which turned out to be more of a gravel trail, which our road bikes were not so happy about. Luckily, we arrived safely at Anna’s parent’s place around midnight. After a quick look at the weather forecast, one thing was clear; tomorrow is rest day.
The few hours of rain-free weather we had, we spent at the Faaker lake close to Villach.
Etappe 3: Grübelwand – Triglav: Zdravo limestone!
Refreshed and motivated, we mounted our bikes the next day for the last time during this holiday. It was time to conquer the steep Wurzenpass leading us from Austria to Slovenia: Z dravo!
Arriving in Slovenia
As we came into the valley at the base of Triglav, we were happy and overwhelmed to finally have arrived at the beautiful Triglav National Park. "Triglav – the unknown diamond of the alps!” was the description in our climbing guide and we couldn’t have put it better than that. Fascinated by the huge playground for climbers (rock all over!), we headed to our final destination the next day; The north face of Triglav.
At the base of the wall we were still not sure which route to climb. The weather forecast was looked okay, but the clouds told a different story. Anyway, it was the very last day we had before a bad weather front was forecast to hit the Alps. Hence, it was our last chance to climb Triglav during our holiday.
The approach to Triglav
Last minute we decided to opt for the classic route: 1000 vertical metres of Slovenian limestone.
The first 500 metres we moved fast and smoothly up the wall. Arriving at Gornejska Tower, we signed the little book on top and moved on. From that point onwards it seemed that the weather gods were not really on our side; clouds were surrounding us more and more and a couple of minutes later it started to rain.
It seemed that all ingredients needed for a little north face adventure were finally put together: 500 vertical metres of classical climbing ahead, a wet wall, climbing at the upper 5th grade UIAA-, cold temperatures, and fragile rock.
Arriving at the exit of our route, we only saw dense fog and snow. Nevertheless we decided to move on to the top of Triglav. Our decision was rewarded with a little weather window and sun, which hit the area exactly in the moment we arrived at the highest point. The view was really beautiful and we were happy to stand on top of Triglav together, having travelled every metre to arrive here with our legs instead of vehicles.
Our day was not over yet! A four to five hour descent of 2000 vertical metres was still ahead of us and meant a little challenge for Anna's knee. It felt like an endless return to the valley via the Pragerweg. Over brittle rocks, down climbing small chimneys and overcoming snowy channels the descent was a challenge for a knee in rehab mode, but after some hours we arrived safely in the valley!
Down in the valley and back in the rain, we decided to get on our bikes and to look for a hotel with a pool. We’re still on holiday, aren’t we? So after 7 days of bike2climb, we decided that we deserved a little treat! We invested the money we saved on petrol in Slovenian tourism! The benefits of biking instead of driving seem manifold; benefiting nature, local tourism and our bodies.
The bottom line of our bike2climb adventure:
In order to find excellent rock climbing, don’t waste time in your car, but rather hike, bike and walk!