It was by now from 2019 that me and my son had done another road trip. Urgently time for a new one, then!
European Mountain Summit
The choice had fallen on the European Mountain Summit, a short challenging road trip through the Alps. They themselves call it the ‘steepest rally in Europe’. First see and then believe.
Perhaps something about the vehicles first. The rule is that the car (or model) must be at least 20 years old. With Big George, we just met that. Big George is our Range Rover.
The car had more than 342,000 km on the odometer when we started, so we replaced a lot of things on a preventive basis. Because if there’s one thing you don’t want, it’s breaking down during your trip.
If you want to know more about the car and what we replaced, check out Team Big George’s website.
The trip to Salzburg went smoothly and Big George arrived with less than 10l / 100km so that was a bonus as I was expecting more.
The first meeting of the teams was on Thursday evening, 1 September. At that time you could already check in and receive the wristband. Some prizes were drawn that evening and you could meet the other teams.
The start on 2 September took place on the beautiful grounds of the Salzburg casino. Moreover, the sun was working overtime which made the whole thing look almost fairy-like. Ok, I exaggerate because petrol or diesel smells can hardly be called fairy-like already. Nevertheless, it was a wonderful place to start our trip.
After a short briefing by ‘The Machine’ where the rules were explained, the 200 teams could leave. We rode the European Mountain Summit but at the same time the European 5000 also started. A road trip that followed the same route as us for the first five days. ‘The Machine’ emphasised the fact that it is a road trip where nothing has to be done and everything is possible. Knowing your own limits and having respect for surroundings, nature and locals was repeated several times. As was the point that everyone is supposed to help each other in case of problems.
The rally actually has important rules, the organisation calls it the ‘Codex of honour’ and this includes not using GPS and no motorway. For this, you get more adventure in its place! I can already tell you that we managed to stick to at least one section.
From Salzburg it was off to Grobglockner, it would be the first mountain pass. Many more would follow over the next few days. To mention every detail of the ride would lead us too far so I cite a few points we passed each time. So we drove past Zell am See before tackling the Grobglocknerstrabe. This was the only paying mountain pass. We did get a 48km road in its place for our €36.50. With 36 hairpin bends, gradients of up to 12% and a summit somewhere halfway up at 2504m, we felt we had got value for our money.
This first mountain pass had easily digested by Big George. We quickly learnt how to change gears smoothly manually with the automatic gearbox as it really proved necessary. Uphill to keep the car between 2 & 3000 rpm all the time and downhill to engine brake.
The Plöckenpass was the next mountain pass to conquer. The summit which is at 1357 metres is also the border between Austria and Italy. It is a narrower road than on the Grobglockner and it runs through some rocks which makes it extra beautiful. A gradient of up to 13% is also quite sturdy. On the Italian side, this pass is called Monte Croce Carnico which suddenly sounds warmer than the Austrian name.
The second road mission had only just been completed after which we headed towards Braies and had the stretch between Sutrio and Ovaro to contend with. The 32 hairpin bends may not bear the name of any pass, but challenging they were! Perhaps one of the reasons why the Giro d’Italia sometimes passes here.
You are in Italy and it is already after eight in the evening, then hunger sometimes strikes. So we stopped in luck at ‘Bar Gelateria Dolomiti La Pizza’ in Dosoledo. One of the finest pizzas ever eaten and we spent barely 28 euros for both of us drinks included.
On the way, I had booked a small hotel in the ‘Drei Zinnen’ nature park. Finding a place to sleep, by the way, is one of the many daily challenges. You are completely free in this, by the way. For instance, some participants pitch their tents somewhere while others have adapted their car to spend the night in it on a daily basis. We ourselves also made sure we could spend the night in Big George if necessary. And even though we had the tent and sleeping bags with us, a hot shower and a real bed seemed the better choice for us. We spent the night at the Tuscherhof hotel where fortunately we were still kindly received at half past 10 in the evening.
After a refreshing night’s sleep and a delicious breakfast, we were able to get back on the road. We were in the 11,000-hectare Drei Zinnen nature park in the Dolomites.
Wiper arm broken
As we started Big George in the early morning and turned on the wiper to clear the dampened window, an alarming creak sounded. The right wiper arm had broken. Fortunately, it was the right side so it did not bother the driver.
Passo di Giau
We are still in the Dolomites and the first pass of the day was the Passo di Giau. With 2236 metres of altitude and a gradient of up to 14%, it was still work for Big George. However, the road was nice and wide everywhere and oncoming traffic posed no problem. The views from the summit are breathtaking and very wide. For instance, you can see the Italian Alps on both sides here.
A quick stop to take some photos and a necessary pee and then ‘en route’ again. Because that’s what it is, you spend quite a few hours in the car carrying out the day’s assignments. Although knowing that nothing has to be done, we are secretly a bit competitive.
A little further on we came to Passo Fedaia, we also passed the Fedaia reservoir which is just above 2000 metres. And at this lake I do want to stop for a moment. I have been travelling all my life and never before have I seen such low water levels. Nor have I ever seen so many empty or very low rivers. Not that I am a doomsayer, far from it, but there is no doubt that it has been a dry summer.
Further west, the Gavia Pass is the next challenge. Situated in the Stelvio National Park, this mountain pass forms the link between Bormio in the north and Ponte di Legno in the south. The pass is 43 km long in total and has 15 hairpin bends on its southern flank. The pass has become most famous thanks to the Giro d’ Italia. Unlike the nearby Stelvio Pass, the Gavia Pass is much narrower and contains some stretches of road more reminiscent of a mountain bike trail than public roads.
Through the clouds
The summit is at 2621 metres and we reached it with our heads literally in the clouds. As a result, a chunk of the climb happened in dense fog. When you then know that the road is only 1.9 metres wide in some places and you also get oncoming traffic you are glad it was a quiet day on the road.
The altitude to overcome in both directions is around 1400 altimeters. That combined with very narrow roads and steep gradients results in pure fun along the way.
Apart from the daily mountain passes, the SAC organisation also provides a daily task. For day two, this was e.g. looking for either 3 Mini Coopers, 2 Jaguar E-Type’s or one Lamborghini Miura P400. You then had to take a picture of your own car next to one of the above. We passed up the day’s tasks but had no less fun!
Along the way, we also tried to provide some moving images with the GoPro’s and the drone. Below you can find a short compilation of the first two days.
More info about het organisation
The rally was put together by SAC or in full Superlative Adventure Club. They provide you with a road book where you will find enough clues to make it an adventurous trip. There were two WhatsApp groups, one for smalltalk and one for the technical side. In that second group, you notice that in case of problems, everything is really done to get you back on the road. So in that respect, a huge compliment that this is provided. For more information, you can always visit SAC’s website.