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To Zillertal or not to Zillertal

14 September 2016

by Dave Mitchell

She peddled along a line of brown and white horn be-speckled cows, royalty inspecting the guard. They bowed respectfully in a wave of melancholy bell ringing, admiring the simplicity and beauty of mans greatest invention. Moo-moo. An extract from the ancient tome “Zen and the Art of the Bicycle”

Zillertal is famous for its beer and its Radler. For over 500 years the Zillertal Brewery has been supplying the strongest beer festival in all of Austria and its Gauder Bock has reached cult status among the many local and overseas fans that visit the Gauder Fest. They even have a patron saint of brewing, Gambrinus, who arrives sitting on a massive horse drawn keg of Zillertal beer. We also bought some delicious hard cheeses from farms up in the mountains and the best blueberry cake ever made, utilizing the wild blueberries that would have feed many a hungry bear when they roamed freely across Europe and yes the Romans loved them too.

Zillertal lays claim to 1200 kilometers of carefully crafted trail. Maybe something was lost in translation as Ditte and I only managed to find and ride 12 kilometers of handcrafted singletrack. Another 30 kilometers or so of existing mountain pass and lakeside trail would indubitably fall into the ST column in the MTB accounts ledger. Beyond that hundreds of kilometers of gravelled mountain and forestry road prevail, with a few interesting 4WD and dozer tracks filling in the gaps. Don't get me wrong, the riding was still quite good, the scenery outstanding and we had nice accommodation and food, but our expectations were somewhat dented with pre-arrival pictures of endless single trail bobbing around in our dreams.

Adventure Rides

The two highlights of our stay in Zillertal both ended in Italy. Not because we found the god of pizza or pasta. In fact the border came and went unannounced, a wiggly pink line on a map with no contours. No these were both great adventure rides. The first paved not with gold, but massive flat rocks. The sort the Romans would have used to span rivers and small gorges. There were steps, but many could be ridden up, and all on the way back down. The scenery was magic, the day was warm and the sky was blue. We lunched in Italy by an old WW 1 fort, protecting the pink border at Pfitscher Joch. Its white porcelain urinal shining like the day it was installed in 1909, but around it the plastered walls were flaking as its tarred and feathered flat roof did what flat roofs all around the world do, leak or are about to.

The second ride headed up a remote high country farming valley under the same friendly weather pattern. The 4WD track ended at a very rocky ride, push and carry section, that ensued to the very top of the Hundskehljoch (dogs throat pass) at 2557 meters. Again we crossed the invisible pink line its colour coincidentally matching the Giro's GC leaders jersey. We lunched with the locals and marveled at the single track fanning out like spokes into Italy. Alas our destiny lay behind us, back down, on more a trials course than an enduro trail. It was fun, challenging and felt sketchy in places. Mountain tarns and energetic streams mingled amongst the rock falls. We met friendly cows as the trail turns back into pasture and the 4WD track appeared as if by magic.

Single Trails

These 'carefully crafted trails'  can be accessed by cable car from Zell am Ziller and Gerlos respectively, if you are so inclined. We did a loop up to the tops before dropping down to the cable car mid station and the start of the excellent enduro style Wiesenalm Track. We did the same from Gerlos heading onto the tops and found an attached 4WD track. This led us between some remote farm buildings where a group of goats hung out in the shade, played king of the castle and generally tinkled with their thimble sized bells. The ride headed steeply up to a large alpine lake of Langensee at Wilde Krimml and it proved a nice spot for lunch. We closed the loop back to the start of the ISS flow trail. This one was pretty short but had some nice switch backs and a few interesting hand crafted structures.

Bike & Hike

Another magic trip from Gerlos starts out on singletrack and reaches the dam complex at Speicher Durlassboden. We headed around the south side of this man made lake on the shared single-trail, then rode up the Wildgerlostal (valley) on a 4WD track and finally gravel. The climb beyond the natural lake at Finkau took us to the start of a very popular and famous walk up to Zittauer Hutte. The hut overlooks a most beautiful alpine lake and the Wildgerloskees Glacier below a mountain range of massive 3200 meter peaks. It's a steep and rocky climb up with innumerable steps allowing our Vibram soled MTB shoes to show their worth. We lunched by the lake and enjoyed a long fast descent after getting back on the bikes (left locked up and resting by the goods lift). This time we rode the shared single-trail on the northern side of the lake and bombed the connecting trail back to Gerlos. Gravity has a way of making you feel so insignificant on the long steep climbs but then provides so much joy on the downhills, but how does it know.

We had thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Zillertal, in an excellent and well equipped apartment high above Zell am Ziller. The cows, goats and people were friendly, the Zillertal Radler was best of its breed and tomorrow we would be off to Solden to hopefully discover more carefully crafted trail. No magic card exists for Zillertal as in Ischgl, but the buses are free and a lift discount applies when using local accommodation. Hannibal would have enjoyed Zillertal, especially the beer and his 218BC crossing of the Alps into Italy would have been much easier with great food and accommodation along the way. Even the 36 elephants would have enjoyed some good grazing, and we found a fitting monument to them, residing on a mountainside above Gerlos. Solden here we come.