As I tried to catch my breath, I felt inside me that deep and warm wave of thrill and internal energy, as it was almost dawn and I was standing in a frozen snow field, in a high passage and my gaze was lost looking around at the enormous mountain ranges, the crystal water running from waterfalls, the valley below me, the path full of my co-runners' flashlights who were heading uphill and that amazing moon which was sparkling a bizarre light with the stars shining that gave you the feeling that you could almost touch them. At that moment I wondered if the myth of the "black mountain" is actually true; if there is indeed a crystal hidden inside the mountain that gathers energy, lures and inspires awe, as an old local belief claims about the Glockner!
I had already realized that the Grossglockner Ultra Trail is designed to provide you with unforgettable and intense memories, not only because of the incredible beauty of the route, but also due to the difficulty to "conquer" every inch of it. Something that is completely different from what I have done so far, regarding both the diversity of nature and trails that I would crossed and also the great difficulty in a very large part of the route.
I wonder how someone can try to efficiently convey something so hard, distinctive and beautiful in an article. Only as if there are slides from a view-master stereoscope alternating one after the other retracting images and feelings...
Water, water everywhere! Plenty of alpine lakes, rivers and waterfalls in almost the entire length of the route above 1.500 meters altitude. The green internal mountain rock formations are often overlapped by black slate and this creates incredible colorations in combination with the flow of water in certain places. Leaving Kals, the central station of the race at the 60th kilometer of the route, the spectacle of the river on the left for 2-3 km along the route and the "black" mountain range on the right - which was interrupted by tunnels - dug in the rock as if "it was shedding tears" from everywhere was impressive!
The alpine lakes - whether you were crossing around them, or gazing at them down the small plateaus and valleys while descending from the high passes, were a great spectacle. The passages from many - more or less - rushing rivers above small footbridges of excellent construction were impressive as well.
Mirage! After Kals and the impressive full of water route - in the first kilometers of the Glockner Trail 50K and about the 65th kilometer of the ultra-trail race - one of the finest parts of the race was unfolded: The crossing of the Hohe Tauern National Park and the passage around the well-known Dorfer See lake. The path twists through big rock formations, while your eyes are “lost” around flowers that color the scenery and trees that intrigue your curiosity of how they actually grew over there. The "sound" of silence cannot be broken, except from a few groups of hikers that cross our path and cheer us. After a short time the vegetation thins. I have reached the lake and ran around it for some time, stepping on rocks or passing by them again. The water looked like glass, reflecting the opposite steep mountain slopes with waterfalls that supply the lake. Because of the distance, their power is not enough to riffle the water next to the path I am crossing. Everything becomes “one” and it feels as if I can touch the mountain peaks by tapping the crystal water. The reflection is impressive. The point is unique. Not so far away there are snowy mountain slopes and another tough ascent waits for me.
Snow! In many parts of the race the view of glaciers was impressive. Equally impressive but also extremely difficult was the crossing of several snow fields that spread across the route. The effort to balance my body and move on without another fall (yes, I fell at least a dozen times!) in the descent of 1.5 Km length of snow immediately after the passage of the Kapruner Torl - after about 90 Km in the race - will be unforgettable. What impressed me though was the technique of some northern athletes, experienced in such fields, such as the Ukrainian fellow with whom at that point I was running together and who, using his poles, slipped away like the wind heading downwards, literally skiing with just his shoes .. he disappeared like a dot on the horizon while I was bumping like a baby taking its first steps! And although it took me a long time and waste of racing time to pass this big snow field, I truly enjoyed it! There were 2-3 points apart from the ones I mentioned, such as a sideway crossing of frozen snow before the Berghotel RudolfShutte at the 78th Kilometer of the race and the last hundred meters to the first big ascent for the Untere Pfandlscharte, where we literally dug footholds on the slope on the icy snow and a lot of attention was required because a fall would have major consequences!
The last peak! In every altitude profile of an ultra-trail race you always find this last peak... the last climb before the - usually downhill - last kilometers towards the finish line. In most cases you don’t pay attention to this last peak, so it always brings you to despair! I vividly remember this exact situation from The North Face® Lavaredo Ultra-Trail, but here it was really something else! After the very technical descent from the central supply station in the beautiful Berghotel RudolfShutte, and a few kilometers in flat trails, a climb has begun in a rocky path with bushes left and right touching smoothly our feet ...The Ukrainian co-runner - who I was currently going along with - and myself are constantly looking up and what we realized was that this strange path - a combination of stone and many low bushes – was leading us to a plateau. Could this be the end of this torture? It seemed unlikely since my Suunto Vertical watch indicated that there is still a quite big ascent to reach the passage.
Gradually we arrived at the plateau. It was full of stones of all sizes, a course off-trail which we could only distinguish by the flags of the race. Big mountain slopes all around and on our right the Rifflkess glacier. I wondered where the exit from the plateau actually was. The scenery around us is incredible, but our mind desperately tries to simplify things and we wish the exit not to be at a point we see on the right between the enormous peaks, much higher than the point we were at the moment.
We run through towering rocks and suddenly something like a path appears on the left, leading to a lower point, which pleases my co-runner. And then I see him ... on the right, far away and above us. A distant red dot with trekking poles is close to the passage we hoped not to be the exit! I tell it to my co-runner and we focus our vision towards this point and - unfortunately - we now see more dots (runners) ... despair! Golgotha! This was perhaps the hardest ascent I've ever done, taking into account the difficulty of the route until then. But we climbed it. This last peak of every altitude profile always comes out. The Kaprunen Torl at 2.639 meters altitude is at our feet. But it also troubled us in the descent where we crossed along 1.5 Km of snow field, as I described before. The plateau was magical, amazing. It was added to the race this year and it will definitely stay in the race since it is one of the most beautiful but also difficult points of both the 110 and the 50 km routes!
Weather Tricks! Every day the weather was following the exact same pattern of being warm with clear skies, except from half an hour storm almost every afternoon! The intensity of each storm was posing questions to us from the first day at Kaprun. I was sure I would come across it in the race, and I did, in the difficult ascent for the Kalser Tauern passage at 2.518 meters. This ascent was after the passage from the incredible serenity of Lake Dorfer See and the storm broke out suddenly. It did not last for long, but it had intensity and made us - the athletes who were around there during that time – to use almost all of the mandatory equipment! At night (the race started at 24:00 on Friday night) the clear sky was a unique spectacle, in the middle of the race the weather was quite hot for the region (cause of these sudden storms) with the sun burning, after the storm it was pretty cloudy and, to add a cherry to the cake, there was dense fog above the lake Mooserboden dam that made it difficult to move for some time in the night and made the landscape quite bizarre!
ITRA Mountain Level 9! The Grossglockner Ultra-Trail confirmed in a very emphatic way the mountain level grade that ITRA gave to it. Very long ascents on difficult trails with very steep slopes (e.g. the incredibly beautiful Wiener Höhenweg trail with the view down to the lake / pond and on the right to the glacier), the wild Pfortscharte at 2.838 meters, the imposing Kapruner Torl with the glacier at 2.639 meters, challenging descents on passages with long and steep screes (Pfortscharte), boulders (Kapruner Torl) and extensive snow fields (Kalser Tauern at 2.518 meters and Kapruner Torl), several kilometers above 2.000 meters, five difficult high passages, and also dozens of kilometers on a highly technical alpine terrain.
However, there were extensive parts of the route that were easier to run, like a big part of the first 25 km in beautiful forests and valleys, combined with runnable paths and dirt roads, the whole flat trail between the 90th and 95th km leading to the Mooserboden dam / lake with the many river crossings caused by waterfalls from mountains above, trails on plateaus and valleys between the high passages and of course the last kilometers as I was heading down from the Stüdlhütte station at 2.801 meters to the central station in Kals, where there was an alternation of easy paths, dirt roads and asphalt in the last 2-3 kilometers. Incredibly surreal was the running through two long tunnels towards the end of the race, where the darkness and the sound of water drops dripping around me made me wondering whether I was indeed on the right route or not!
Enthusiasm! Although this race is not an event as huge and crowded as the UTMB® or The North Face® Lavaredo Ultra-Trail, the enthusiasm during the start of the race was amazing. There was impatience in the atmosphere which, combined with the certainly right - regarding the right rhythm - commentary of the man behind the microphone and the very loud and great rock music, created an uplifting vibe for the athletes and the spectators. Something that also impressed me was the physical fitness of all the athletes who had been set up at the starting line and were ready to "stream into the darkness" and into an adventure that would last for many hours!
Everything passes through the stomach! This is how a Greek saying goes, and especially for ultra-trail races proper food and hydration are of great importance. The aid stations were six all along the 110 kilometers (semi-autonomy race) and they had a variety of food and liquids, especially the two central stations that also offered hot soup and pasta meal with two different sauces. All stations had watermelons, various snacks, cakes, small sandwiches with cheese and salami, energy bars and gels, mini tomatoes, tea, plenty of Coke and even ... Red Bull ! The central station in Kals (60th Km) was located in a large interior space with benches and a very good organization. They brought my drop-bag, my food,filled my water flasks and everything! The second central station was also developed in an internal hotel space and was very functional as well. Exceptional volunteers were in every part and task along the race! I even asked for a coffee in Kals and an incredibly polite, fast and efficient lady prepared one for me until I changed my clothes and shoes, giving me the time to "travel" with something beautiful that I read on a piece of paper and moved me internally! As for the water, there was plenty of it throughout the whole race.
Someone to guard us! The athletes security in the race was of great quality, with organized groups located in all of the critical passages and parts. The athletes carrying the Tractalis locator chip, which had an emergency button on it, could feel even safer. The mandatory equipment (which was used during the storm as I described earlier) was checked during both the registration process and while entering the central station in Kals at the 60th kilometer of the race. Despite all that, the race rules were clearly asking for athletes to have experience moving in difficult alpine environments and that was indeed a necessity. Besides, neither are we children, nor is the ultra-trail a popular mass sport and we know that mountain running and any outdoor activity can never be completely safe!
Moving on some parts such as extended snow fields, descents to screes, spots exposed to rock falls (I experienced something like that just before I reached the top of the first big uphill, when I had to fall aside in order to avoid a rock that was detached from the athlete above me), a storm and crossings over wooden footbridges in rivers with the riverwater covering our shoes because the storm swelled the rivers for a short time, certainly required knowledge on how to avoid danger. The organizers had an alternative plan in case of severe weather conditions - after all we are talking about the Alps and very high altitudes - but fortunately it was not needed.
Warmth! You will not find in this race the atmosphere of overcrowded ultra-trail races with thousands of athletes. You will find a different, warm and cozy atmosphere. From the very beautiful small expo and the registration process with people smiling, to the brilliant press conference held in a form of discussion between us, as we were enjoying our coffee in the beautiful lobby of a doll-like hotel in Kaprun, everything was radiating a family atmosphere that made you feel friendly and intimate with the organizing team and volunteers. What particularly impressed me by listening to the speeches of the head tourism authorities, from which the race passed, was how much they want to use the race as part of the sports tourism of the region, adding with their own initiative, other smaller races and trail races during the summer.
The same holds with local hotels, and especially the amazing Berghotel RudolfShutte, which organized and held one of the two central stations of the race. This is something that we should embrace in Greece too, even in a private sector level, since the Government is far from supporting such actions! The web-site and the multi-page brochure of the race were very functional, informative and also precise. Finally, we were very pleased and felt great with the way both the organizers and the people of Dynafit treated us as Advendure and media sponsors of the race and in all parallel activities.
Dynafit! They embraced the race, which fits exactly at the philosophy of the company, in terms of outdoor activities and especially mountain and skyrunning. During the press conference, they handed out a beautiful gift in a very stylish package with various goodies to all of the participants. The presentation of the elite athletes was excellent and there were also very good prices and a great variety in the company's booth at the expo! The finisher T-shirt which we got right after finishing was very beautiful as well!
The Grossglockner Ultra-Trail is an event that travels the athletes on the highest mountain of Austria, while crossing the Alps twice and viewing beautiful and unique landscapes, especially for athletes from our country and generally from southern Europe. Nevertheless, it does not let you view all these images and experience all those feelings easily. It will challenge you very much, it will cause you “pain” and it will push you to exceed yourself in order to taste them . After all, this is how the images and experiences are engraved deep inside our soul. Especially the 100 Km race targets to mountain running athletes experienced in racing on Alpine environments, strong and determined to experience something very special. They will be rewarded with not only the beauty of the route, but also with the warmth of the people of the organization that is generously offered.
The results of this year's event can be seen here.
The Grossglockner Ultra-Trail 2017 will be held on the weekend of 21-23rd of July 2017 and the registration and all other information, is easily accessible at the race web-site.
Advendure was one of the media sponsors of this year's race and was hosted generously and with very much kindness in Kaprun for our participation in the event. We would like to thank Mr. George Klaoudatos and Dynafit Greece, Dynafit and of course Mr. Hubert Resch, head of the Grossglockner Ultra-Trail, and the race organizers for the opportunity they gave us to live this beautiful experience!
English Version: Fani Troupi
Photo ©: Grossglockner Ultra Trail, Dimitris Troupis, Mattias Kodhym, Dynafit