All about the Salzach - The Hills are Alive (with the sound of wheezing) - CycleBlaze

September 1, 2020

All about the Salzach

Kaprun — Werfen

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[warning - contains scenes of graphic calving and gnome nudity]

I slept remarkable well on the benches of the ski room, wedged behind a large table.  So much so that even though I could hear the rain lashing down outside, I was only awoken by the alarm I'd set for 9am in order to at least slightly being rudely awaken by another camper investigating the dry room.

Actually the site was so quiet in the morning I was left completely undisturbed, and made a slow start in getting dressed and gathering up my things. By 10 the rain had died to a drizzle, and I figured it was a good time to complete the chore of taking down the tent. I was a bit concerned with the slight, if annoying (dripping on my head) water ingress the last night, but going out to rescue it in the morning I saw that it had actually done well under the circumstances - the "circumstances" specifically been me putting it up half-cut and in the dark, meaning it wasn't exactly properly pegged down, and indeed quite a lot of water was pooling underneath. It was very wet of course and had to go into the pannier without drying - I rearranged my kit to make one "wet" and one "dry" pannier, and moved by sleeping bag and matt into the dry one - the food could afford to get a bit damp.

While the drizzle slowly diminished, I ate a simple breakfast of spare roll and coffee under the eaves of the sanitary block which had been my welcome shelter for the night. Got a few curious and/or sympathetic looks, as I'm sure I looked a bit bedraggled. I was pretty tired out of being soaked now, so pledged to spend the next night in a youth hostel. Apparently, there used to be one in the impressive castle above Werfen in the Salzach valley, but it had been closed for some years. I did find a modern equivalent nearby which took online bookings, so I fired off an enquiry.

A remarkably nice place to sit and make coffee, and it was dry
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I saw a few of these ent-carvings in several of the Austrian sites
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After popping back to the hotel to hand over the tag (the lady on the desk wasn't sure where to hang this on a tent - "just ... anywhere, it's ok" was her recommendation), I head back into Kaprun. It was past 11, but this time my delaying tactics had paid off and the rain had stopped, making the town much more attractive.

This was fine as, in the one-day-on/one-day-off pattern, my route today would be fairly straightforward and not too long. I could just keep following the Salzach valley and the Tauern Radweg east and then north, heading towards Salzburg. My ultimate plan was to bypass Salzburg and climb over a minor private road to the vicinity of Bad Ischl - but that would certainly wait for the next day (which was also forecast sunny). Instead, if I got as far as Werfen in the Salzach valley I would be a good position for that climb on Wednesday.

A plus side to this is I didn't need to head back to the north to the busy road in the vicinity of Zell, but could pick up the cycleway pretty easily by cutting through farm lanes outside of town. As always in this area, there didn't seem any problem taking the bike down any tracks that weren't explicitly marked as prohibited - and most weren't. As I passed a field I was distracted by some light mooing, and was amazed to see a cow nosing an obviously newly-born calf. The calf actually looked pretty good and was moving around - but obviously the cow had just got on with it in the absence of the farmer.

Fountain and the centre of Kaprun
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Kaprun is something of a ski centre in the winter, and the town is built over a number of rather striking rocky outcrops, with ski-lifts in heading to the mountains behind
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Taking little farm tracks out of town. This wasn't the official route, but nobody batted an eyelid when I headed down them.
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A seemingly newborn calf - it was moving about and seemed pretty healthy
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Soon I picked up the cycleway and headed towards Bruck. The Salzach was broad and heavily straightened here, and was very full following the rain of the last few days - in at least one place it had risen to cover the cycleway, necessitating short diversions on the minor road alongside. Apart from this the going was easy - the valley was almost dead flat, even though we were still at quite a high elevation of 800m - and the visibility cleared, giving me some nice views over the valley sides that began to press in again as I approached Taxenbach.

In places the Salzach had overspilled, flooding the cycleway. Fortunately there were easy ways to get around.
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The Salzach here is heavily straightened and tamed with weirs and hydroelectric installations
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We're back to following an intercity rail line now, after the little narrow-gauge tracks up the Ziller and Pinzgau valleys
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As the day cleared up and the valley closed back in, the landscape revealed increasingly attractive verdant hills
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As well as leaving Tirol, I was also changing over to my next map
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The narrowing valley meant road, river and railway were soon crammed in close proximity again. Sadly this sometimes meant the cycleway had to run alongside the road - but I was still well clear of the traffic
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I was short of supplies again, so when I spotted a bakery coming into Taxenbach I took the opportunity to stop and fill up on more bread and cakes. Taxenback was a kind of low-key place - but after passing through, the valley became really dramatic, with the main road replaced by an ambitious motorway that crossed the distance with tunnels and bridges while the valley became increasingly narrow and steep-sided, and the railway cleaved tightly to the river's edge.

Sometimes this meant the cycleway could avoid the main road entirely, or could contour around the outside of a slope when it dived into a tunnel - but in one unfortunate part, the cycleway signs pointed me directly onto the fast carriageway. Eyeballing the map and GPS, I figured it couldn't be more than a kilometre, but the traffic was multiple lanes and fast moving. Fortunately there were decent gaps between flurries of trucks, and it being downhill I cleared the stretch quickly. It became clear that the cycleway was being rebuilt - I hopped onto the semi-built surface to avoid the road, and thankfully left the traffic behind.

I really wouldn't trust that thing with an axe
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Taxenbach was low-key, but pleasant enough
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Rising high above the river after Taxenbach
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The trains have to follow the course of the river with every twist and turn. I wondered how often the track gets flooded.
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The now fast road started cutting through the hills rather than going around them. The cycleway mercifully avoids the tunnel - we take the route around...
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...which is evidently the course of the old road. I don't want to imagine what it was like when big trucks had to share this road in both directions.
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The new course of the under-construction cycleway. I suspect it technically wasn't open yet, but I was not keen on keeping on the road as an alternative
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Fortunately after this stretch the Tauern radweg left the road behind and dived back down to the level of the valley. After quite some descending I rolled into the sleepy village of Lend, which seems to be home to an impressive aluminium works in an incongruously pretty setting. Climbing the steep hill towards the church where I hoped to find a bench and good spot for lunch, I came across something even better - a covered shelter with a table outside a large municipal building, which it took me some time to figure out was an old people's home.

Descending back towards the river
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Impressive and confusing spans of bridges and tunnels convey the highway, now high above me. I lost track of whether it would appear on my left or right-hand side.
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Lunch spot, in a covered shelter by what transpired to be an old folk's home. That's really quite an eclectic mural on the front.
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Powerful waterfall and a majestic span of the highway above
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More incongruous heavy industry - this all seems to be an aluminium works
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I left quiet Lend behind and pressed on. Now I got some more climbing, not just up the side of the valley but up and down several times, sometimes quite steep. Not much compared to the passes of the days before, but a good workout.

Unfortunately - guess what? The weather came back in again, and I found myself being lightly rained upon. It was pretty tolerable, though, and I continued on with just my rain jacket. As I came over a hill, I was surprised to see some dim figures in a barn were - some other cycle tourists. I didn't really stop in time but waved hello - it looks like they were going the other way, and I was reminded that I was now on the Alps-Adriatic (EV7) route, and might have more company for this stretch.

There are a lot (a *lot*) of gnomes in Austria. I didn't see any others quite like this, though.
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The mists, and light rain, came down - but I was pretty happy bumbling along at low speed and could still enjoy the view
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I quite suddenly came across this strange - plasticated hole in the landscape. I assume it's going to be a reservoir or similar when it gets filled up
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Through the verdant valley
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Blue sky emerging again over Schwarzach
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Soon the wet roads were gleaming in the sunlight, coming into Schwarzach
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In Schwarzach I regained the river and the valley broadened out again. The next few kilometres to St Johann were quick and easy, closely following the river and road and being generally downhill.

In the outskirts of St Johann I passed some more cycle tourists who had spread themselves out under a bridge - evidently more tackling the Alpe-Adria, and evidently also drying off from the recent rain. They too were heading south, and looked a bit surprised to see me heading the other way as I waved in greeting. 

At this point I thought I'd stop myself to eat some chocolate and consider the situation. It was still pretty early in the afternoon, and the youth hostel was nearby, but I was very happy to stop to early somewhere I could dry my stuff out and have a leisurely afternoon. I checked my emails and had gratifyingly got a reply for my enquiry ... unfortunately, as I laboriously translated it, it became clear that they weren't taking bookings. In fact, with some automatic translation tools, I resolved that it specifically said that they never took bookings outside the school holidays, and during Salzburg term-time the hostel doubled as a school dormitory. 

This was a bit mystifying to me. Why have an automated form accepting bookings if they're only open for a very restricted time of the year? And do they really individually reply to every misplaced enquiry?  Surely a big sign on the website saying geschlossen would make more sense. This isn't the first time I've had to deal with wacky opening policies in youth hostels - and I mean I appreciate they got back to me so quickly - but since this one was linked to from the official hostelling international site I expected it to be a bit more accessible.

Oh well - plan B was to keep heading up the valley, where I'd checked out that there was a well established campsite near Werfen. I'd be there in less than an hour, it would get me closer to Golling where I planned to leave the Salzach valley tomorrow, and now the sun was out I could probably dry my tent before trying to sleep in it.

On the outskirts of St. Johann I passed right by the youth hostel in question, which was indeed thoroughly closed up.
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In the distance to the north, the big mountains of the Tennengebirge started to loom - the tops of which were still dusted with snow
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I hence didn't have much chance to check out St. Johann, but it looks like a really pretty little town in the shadow of the Tennengebirge
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Not sure this is particularly gothic...
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Sunshine, and a rather tempting wild camping spot by the river
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Soon I neared the spot the map and GPS promised the campsite. I was pleased to see a sign on the cycleway (always nice to see physical evidence they exist on the ground, especially after my phantom-hostel experience), but slightly disconcerted to see it lead over a weir and behind a water treatment works. After climbing a steep hill it made sense though - we were climbing up to the minor road where the entrance to the site was. Below this, and spread out beside the river, was a really quite extensive, mostly empty, but clearly still operating site.

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Crossing the weir over the Salzach after leaving the cycleway. Can it really be this way?
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There it is! Perfect - flat, away from the road, not too busy but clearly open
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I wheeled over to reception, to be greeted by what I was coming to expect - a very friendly lady receptionist who commiserated over the weather and extremely efficiently got me set up with bread from the bakery in the morning, shower tokens, and a pitch - the latter which was only €10.50. It's not that I mind paying more, but I was starting to find a correlation between how cheap a campsite was and how much I enjoy them - the cheaper ones are of course more basic, but that's actually closer to the camping I enjoy. So a win-win, really.

I got the tent out nice and quickly and was gratified to see it fairly steaming in the late afternoon sunshine. By the time I got it up it was completely dry - an unexpected benefit of the "ultralight" material is it really doesn't hold water at all. My sleeping gear had of course been kept away from the water, and was fine.

After having a shower I decided to investigate the promise on a sign outside the reception, which was beer for sale for €1.50. As I waited for the lady to return, a couple of other slightly worried looking bike tourists pulled up. I reassured them the proprietor would soon be back - after she got them checked in, she happily sold me a couple of beers and told me they'd been having trouble with the weather too.

The drying tent set up by the river, with whisps of cloud coming down over the pointy high mountains behind
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Snow on the high peaks above the campsite
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It was a really nice location
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The lady who checked me in kindly pointed me towards the bench, which I would have all to myself. It makes a bit difference having somewhere to site and cook.
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As I was cooking, the guy who'd arrived on the loaded bike came over and introduced himself. He was Chris from Stuttgart, who was riding with his girlfriend down the Alp-Adria route. Amazingly, this was his first day of extended touring - he'd quit his job, and was enthusiastic about pursuing the bike touring lifestyle. Today he'd come from Salzburg, a pretty decent distance (and over the Lueg pass) - so I'd say that was pretty good progress. He was very kind in praising the Shift - he said it was a "proper round-the-world bike" - and I reassured him the going was good in Austria, especially with the better weather that was forecast. He mentioned that a lot of people on the EV7 were very schedule driven, but he was planning as he went along - intended to make it to the coast, and then see where to head from there. Sounded like a great idea to me - a very nice guy and I wish him well.

Not a bad meal at all!
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It got dark fast (and even spotted with rain a little) after I finished eating, and I was fairly knocked out, so I retired pretty quickly after that. My intention had been for the sound of the river to lull me to sleep, but I actually passed out almost immediately - I almost wished for a little sleeplessness so I could have listened to it some more.

Today's ride: 59 km (37 miles)
Total: 341 km (212 miles)

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steve bartleyI rode this section in 1973. No cycle paths then, just the main road. Your Kaprun campground is probably where I bought i lagre, heavy loaf of bread. It was the only store open on Sunday morning. I stayed at the youth hostel there. In Werfen In stayed in a little inn.
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2 weeks ago
Jon AylingTo steve bartleyThanks Steve - it's great hearing about others that have done a similar route, amazing what's still operating. I have to say I was very thankful for all the cycle paths - though the drivers were courteous to a fault, in the valleys it does seem like all the traffic gets funnelled onto a few roads. Probably a bit quieter on the roads in 1973 though!
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2 weeks ago