Our next morning in Heiligenblut started out with sunshine instead of rain, so we decided it was finally time to finally drive up the High Alpine Road, to see what there was to see. Since the first time I’d heard about this place, I was eager to check it out — 30 miles through the high Alps, with information stops, playground, restaurants, overlooks, and even a glacier! We truly didn’t know how it was going to go, though — how many spots along the road would we want to stop at, how long would we visit the various sites, how much would we really enjoy it, would there be fun stuff for the kids?
We headed out to find out. The High Alpine Road is only open for a few months every year, because keeping it free of snow would be an impossible task, though some parts are accessible to skiers through the winter. In the summer, you pay a fee to drive along the road, unless you have a Kärtnen card (which we did, thanks to our hotel) which makes entrance to the road, the cable cars, and lots of other things completely free.
Right away, we knew we were not going to be disappointed. The views along the road were beautiful. We passed through mountain meadows and along steep cliff faces. We passed under the cable car we’d ridden in the day before and saw several gorgeous waterfalls. It was spectacular.
Our first actual stop was at the Pasterze glacier. We had heard, from our hosts at the hotel, that the glacier had really melted a lot in recent years. They weren’t kidding. Although the view of the top of the Großglockner was truly impressive (as were the tracks we could see in the snow from the brave people who had climbed to the summit recently), seeing the size of the glacier, and beginning to understand the volume of ice that has been lost, was shocking and very sad. Back in the 1960s, a funicular was constructed to allow tourists easy access to the actual glacier — you could take the funicular down from the parking lot area off of the High Alpine Road and actually walk right up to the glacier. We only hiked down a little way, but a lot has changed in the last 50+ years. Now, it takes a couple of hours of hiking from the end of the funicular in order to reach the actual glacier. This little bit of ice, off in the distance, reached to where I was standing to take this picture only 44 years ago. It used to fill up the entire valley, and now it has retreated to just one end. The loss of ice and water in this one spot is absolutely stunning. (And the pictures don’t even really convey the scope of the situation. This valley is HUGE. The little “puddle” down in the bottom is a massive lake. I invite anyone who disbelieves human-cased climate change to visit a place like this, see the extent of ice loss, and see if it doesn’t change your mind.)
It was beyond our energy and ability to hike down to the glacier with the kids (actually, I think we could have hiked DOWN just fine, but getting back might have been a challenge, because I think we would have had to carry them most of the way back up), so we satisfied ourselves with a quick walk down to get a good view of the glacier, and then we moved on along down the road.
Our next stop for the day was at a great Alpine playground (which was co-located with a lovely restaurant, where we had lunch). It was everything I love about Austrian playgrounds — lots of physical challenges for the boys, like zip lines, rope bridges and slides — but with an amazing view (we seem to find a lot of playgrounds with great views in our travels)!
After wearing ourselves out for a few hours at the beautiful playground, we made a stop by our favorite snow spot (the same one from the day before, but this time we reached it by car) for another snowball fight.
We drove on a bit further (as far as the kids’ patience allowed — it had already been a long day) and got the chance to stop at some overlooks and scenic viewpoints with absolutely unbelievable vistas. It was an amazing place. Everywhere we looked, there was another beautiful view that didn’t quite seem real.
After a bit, we headed back to Heiligenblut, and then back out, far up the side of the valley, for a wonderful dinner (the best meal we had on our whole trip) with an amazing view of the town and the mountains. After our first day on the High Alpine Road, I was thrilled with what we’d seen . . . and we’d only seen about 12 miles of the road so far!