The Napoleon and Grossglockner Pass

The Napoleon and Grossglockner Pass

A couple of years ago I fulfilled one of my own personal dreams as I asked my Dad if he wanted to go on a tour of Europe on the bikes to celebrate his 60th birthday.  Just me and my dad ‘Bob’, it was me leading him as we toured through many of the mountainous places that I had worked at – having traveled abroad for 6/7 years in the travel industry.

The journey started from Brighton for me and Matlock in the Peak District for my dad. I had a French flat mate at the time and we agreed on the idea of us dropping her off in Grenoble (on the way) so she would give us a nights accommodation on the first night of the trip. It was a smooth Newhaven to Dieppe crossing and then we began to eat the miles (as my dad liked to call it) as we managed to arrive in a moody and rainy Grenoble on the first night having done well over 500 miles in our first day.

The sights and adventures that we experienced during this trip were awesome and are extensive and would take me pages and pages to summarise; I have therefore decided to talk about the highlights which are the Napolean’s Pass and the Gross Glockner Pass:

The Napoleons Pass, French Alps

This we stumbled upon by accident really. We were going to head pass all the ski resorts I knew in the Southern French Alps Alpe D’Huez, Serre Chevalier, Montgenevre but a local biker told us that we should try the Napoleons pass.

So we did and it was amazing!

The current Route Napoléon, first opened in 1932, follows the route taken by Napoléon I (Napoléon Bonaparte) in 1815 on his march from Elba to Grenoble. In March of 1815, he began his journey with the intention to overthrow Louis the 18th. The historical aspect makes this road even better, Napoleon traced the route through the Alps leading to fabulous scenery and views.

It was a long valley that took us a couple of days to pass through and it consisted of the most perfect winding roads, breathtaking  scenery and charming little places along the way for scenic breaks and typically french cuisine. Every part of it was an absolute pleasure as I set the tone with my GS 1150 Adventure and my dad was on his hard tail Harley Davidson. One of the highlights on this particular section was when we set off one morning very early and we decided to skip breakfast because we thought we would find somewhere to eat on route. After about twenty minutes we found just the place we were looking for. It was a misty morning with the views drifting in and out of the valley and we saw a french fella sat outside his cafe bar having his morning ‘smoke’ and we decided this would be the place. No one else was at the stop as it was probably around 8 am and the guy said that he wasn’t ready to serve us any food yet because the bread delivery hadn’t arrived.

Therefore we sat and had a coffee, then a second, I had a cigar or two and my dad had his pipe – then eventually the freshly baked bread arrived and it was time for bread and jam, mountain scenery, valley mist and we were in our element. If ever you are traveling to the south of France, this has to be in your itinerary if you haven’t done it already.

The GrossGlockner Pass, Austria’s highest pass

This was one of those passes where we were wondering shall we shan’t we? It was May, there was precipitation on the valley floor and we wanted to make sure that we didn’t hit any snow at the higher parts of the mountain as it was 48km long and had 36 mountain bends. Alternatively it was a long trip around from this valley to the next valley to reach our intended destination if we didn’t use the pass. We made the decision to use this pass, it was something we really wanted to do and it was ideally situated so we could head towards Kitzbuhel in the Austrian Tyrol. It was misty at the entrance to the mountain and we tentatively checked with the gate to make sure that there was no snow on the road and that it was safe for motorcyclists to pass through. Though we were both apprehensive, the path was confirmed as being clear and so we set off to have a look at this great pass and moved onwards with our journey.

At 3,798m the Grossglockner is not only the highest mountain in Austria, it also counts among the highest peaks in the Alps. After about twenty minutes we stopped over looking a great view and we noticed another bike on the same journey with a British plate so we had ten minutes chatting with a biker called Susan from Scotland. Soon we were back in the swing of things again and then the weather began to move in.

It became quite windy and then all of a sudden the rain started once again.

Therefore we adjusted our riding accordingly and the climb just continued and continued and continued.. I was starting to feel a little bit nervous as I was leading up the hill, the rain was turning to sleet and our visors were soon getting blurry as the sleet was actually sticking to them. It was a matter of wiping off the thick film of sleet while keeping an eye on the road, while at the same time thinking whether the conditions were going to be ok?

In short, things didn’t improve at all. We continued climbing and I knew the summit was approaching however we still had a couple of hundred metres to climb. It was now snowing on the road however it wasn’t settling, the snow flakes were actually piercing my eyes like pins as we had to ride with our visors ajar as there was no way we could see through the film of snow which was bombarding us. I felt truly awful, thinking about Dad behind and also about the descent down the other side of the hill!!!

We eventually arrived at the summit, the snow was coming down consistently by now however there were no signs of it settling. There was a souvenir/ coffee shop open at the summit, we quickly dived in there for shelter and parked the bikes at the side of the road next to the snowy walls which lined the peaks. In the coffee shop while enjoying a hot drink, I got the look from Dad as to say ‘what are you doing bringing me here?’ Then the owner of the shop came over and told us that it was safer that we stayed in the shop until further notice. The Gross Glockner mountain safety team needed to assess the safety of the roads on the descending side for us; as there had been lots of precipitation it was considered dangerous as the rain, sleet and slow had made any snow heavier therefore there was a chance of avalanches!

After about 45 minutes of waiting we heard a faint explosion outside; it was the mountain team actually ‘blowing’ a few potential insecure pieces of snow to see if there was any potential for any slipping or avalanches. We were in very safe hands!

Another 20 minutes passed. A member of the Austrian mountain team came to have a chat with us and said it was safe for us to depart, he told us to take it easy on the way down and that they were going to sweep down the roads after us in case we were needed. What an adventure this was turning out to be.

Feeling watered, warm and having had a quick bite to eat both dad and I headed back to our bikes apprehensively once again as were we prepared ourselves for what lies ahead. The snow had now stopped so it was just a matter of looking out for any settled snow and being aware of the road conditions.

The descent was fine.

45 minutes later we exited the gross Glockner park and we headed for the nearest shelter so we could have a breather. For the first time in my life I shared a pipe with my dad as I had ran out of Cafe Cremes.  This was a great moment to reflect on the little adventure we had just shared together. Lots of ‘what ifs’ and a few edgy scenarios, but all in all two happy bikers, father and son – two people ready to head to Kitxbuhel so I could meet with one of my friends and look forward to seeing Man U vs Chelsea in the Champions League Final.

This tour of the Alps proved to be a very memorable trip and one of my best bike trips, it is easy to see why.