Now that the fourth edition of Among the Giants is in the books, we are somewhat recovered from all these days in the Ötztal Valley, and we have selected and edited the photos and videos from the trip, we are looking forward to showing you our recap of the experience.
Day 1 | Welcome
For a lot of us, it was the first time in many months traveling abroad. The enthusiasm was mixed with the stress of traveling on a weekend in which most people usually start their holidays.
We took advantage of the waiting time to get to introduce ourselves to the participants that we had just met, and we could sense the desire to arrive in Austria to start the adventure that we had been waiting for so long.
Whether by plane or car, most of the participants were already in Längenfeld by the time we decided to have dinner, not before getting our bikes ready and settling in our respective rooms, waiting for the first formal meeting. We had already chatted throughout the day, but once dinner was finished we started with the official briefing of the event, introducing what we would encounter in the following days and presenting ourselves to the rest of the people gathered in the dining room.
One could already feel the excitement in everyone’s eyes. Finally, we could see all the participants sitting around the table, with very different and interesting profiles represented and a big presence of women. That meant that we had made it, that the toughest part of the organization of the event was already behind us, and we were really proud of it.
Day 2 | Ötztal Glacier (check route details)
We scheduled breakfast at 7:30, and we discussed the weather forecast while loading up for the day ahead. The conditions promised to be challenging, as a rainstorm was crossing Europe and there was no way to avoid it.
We all stuffed our pockets, put on all the clothes we could, including rainy gear and shoe covers, and went climbing the highest road in the Alps, the Ötztal Glacier Road. The only thing we knew in advance was that we would not only have to fight against the altitude, but the steepness of the climb too.
When we left the house the rain was already intense, and we headed south taking the main road that crosses the valley and leads to Italy. After around 20 km with gentle slopes, we got to Sölden, which marked the start of the highlight of the day: around 10 km with an average gradient of 11%.
The rain didn’t stop during all the climb, and despite the fact that we could not see the landscape because of the fog, we got a glimpse of the first “giants” in between the haze. At the start, the gradient was around 13%, and only two short false flats in the entire climb allowed us to take some rest. We quickly realized which of the participants was at a similar level to us, and the pack split into smaller groups.
Despite the cold, the effort to continue moving forward allowed us to stay warm, and after more than one hour of climbing, we reached the top. We could not enjoy the views as much as we wanted, but we got a quick view of the Glacier, its icy slopes, and the ski lifts of the ski station. The rain was thinner, but at 2.898 m of elevation, the temperatures were much colder, 4ºC at the top.
The first ones to arrive took refuge at the bar of the ski station while waiting for the others, and some hot coffee, pretzels, and fries were our food to warm up. Once we regrouped, some of us decided to go through a tunnel that connects the Rettenbach Glacier to the Tiefenbach Glacier, and the rest opted for waiting for them and recover from the cold. Then, we all descended back to the start of the climb, trying to guide ourselves with the GPS track rather than looking ahead, as the fog did not allow us to see more than a few meters in front of us.
Once down, the rain had stopped but the clouds still covered the sky, threatening us as we continued heading south. We went through some villages and tunnels that gave us the sensation of shelter. The Venter Acher river was flowing next to us for the following kilometers, and led us the way to our turning point, an interesting suspension bridge a few kilometers beyond the picturesque village of Vent.
We stopped to regroup, and as we did that some drops started to fall. Luckily for us, there was only a long descent left. As we got to the town, we felt pretty exhausted and even though the planned route was a bit longer, extending the route to some neighboring villages, we decided to get some food in the local supermarket and head home. The rainy and cold day left us exhausted, and all we wanted was a warm shower. After that, all were laughs and smiles, talking about what we had experienced. We needed to discuss and share how we felt, as it was a tough but rewarding day.
However, the day was not over yet as, after some homemade beers brought from Stuttgart courtesy of Focus, we headed to the restaurant of the well-known Hotel Stern to taste the local cuisine. Visit Austria had supported us in organizing this trip, and that night they hosted a culinary experience that delighted us.
Day 3 | Kühtai and Hahntennjoch (check route details)
After the epic ride of our first full day in Austria, everyone was eager to jump on their bikes again. The day was cloudy but the hopes were high. During the briefing, we were told that we would be heading to two major climbs, Kühtai and Hahntennjoch, which would result in around 130 km and 3.500 m of climbing.
As soon as we got to the main road of the Ötztal Valley the traffic was intense, but since we were going down we could rapidly get to the start of the climb in Oetz. The first part was steep, and so would be the rest of the climb, with some intermediate parts that would allow us to rest. As we started climbing we could appreciate the valley at its fullest, which we had not seen the previous day. We climbed the mountain like a trail of ants, one behind the other. The Kühtai was full of cows, which made it more pleasant. After regrouping several times we reached the top, with amazing views of the lake and warmer temperatures due to some sunshine that was coming from behind the clouds.
We went down the same road, but we took a detour halfway through the descent that took us closer to the second climb. We were going down through a twisting road surrounded by a dense forest, and suddenly the road opened up to the immense valley, and we all got mesmerized by the high peaks.
After some kilometers through a national road crowded with trucks and cars, we arrived in Imst. We were all starving and thirsty, so we took the unanimous decision of stopping and refueling in a local bakery. If one thing is certain is that we would never have to worry about water, because there were a huge amount of cascades due to the non-stopping melting of the snow from past months, and the water from the fountains of the different villages was super fresh.
The weather was not promising, and the previously forecasted storms started to form in the peaks of the mountains. We knew we would get wet, and we discussed an alternative plan consisting of skipping this second climb as soon as we feel that the top was not reachable because of the weather or the lack of energy.
The first part of the climb was challenging, with lots of cars, heavy rain, and steep roads. Legs were starting to feel considerably tired and the group quickly split. Although we were getting wet, we could see the blue sky in patches, so we were confident that at some point the rain would stop. We rode through rocky peaks and green fields, and when we saw the top of the climb after one of the numerous turns, we unconsciously smiled and covered the last few meters with renewed energies.
The first ones to arrive did not know if the others would have given up at some point of the ascent, but when we were told that all of us were, on our way to conquer the Hahntennjoch, we gathered at the top and cheered for them. We were able to spend a few minutes next to the sign at 1.894 m of altitude chatting because luckily the sun was shining at that moment.
Once back in Imst, the route planned on komoot took us through some secondary roads, and then we decided to take an alternative bike path that would take us all the way home. It was maybe harder than the main road since it was some sort of rollercoaster, with many turns and some gravel sections, but it was certainly more scenic and quiet, passing through the forest, fields, farms, and little villages.
At that time, laughter was not prominent among us, and people just wanted to get home and eat. After a while, we got there at around 6 pm and prepared a mid-afternoon snack that brought back the smile on everybody’s face. After that, a mandatory shower, some long dinner conversations, and, at last, the moment to go to bed and rest as much as possible thinking about the following day.
Day 4 | Timmelsjoch (check route details)
This was the third and last big ride for the team. Legs felt tired but everyone was motivated and with high hopes. It was the day in which we would conquer the infamous Timmelsjoch from both sides. We were all awaiting to face the famous climb and get to Italy, with the idea of descending to the neighboring country and climbing it back from the other side.
The weather was promising since rain was not forecasted until noon, which for some would still be annoying, but not for us. At this point, a few raindrops would not stop us but, after all what we had to go through in previous days, we were looking forward to at least a couple of hours on dry roads.
As we started riding we went into the main road, and with a relatively cold temperature, we gradually approached the start of the climb. We marked the unofficial start of the climb in Sölden, and the proper slopes started in Zwesielstein, with some steep sections that disaggregated the group into multiple parts. Given the length of the climb, it was a day to pace ourselves and manage our energies. The landscape, which featured high peaks and a little river running through the mountainside, entertained our way to the top.
Halfway to the 25 km climb, we arrived at a toll with a big lookout spot. There, the views of the valley were superb and allowed us to see all we had climbed so far. However, there was still a big part left. From the toll, we descended a bit, and all of a sudden the last part of the Timmelsjoch pass appeared in front of us like a wall, making us feel tiny. We could not see the top, which was hidden behind some clouds, but the twisty road leading to it.
We checked in the first person the changes in temperature along the different sections of the climb. The landscape was astonishing and the clouds in the sky were starting to intimidate us, but nothing could stop us. Some sheeps appeared next to the road and they looked super calm despite the low temperatures and the rugged terrain.
The top was getting closer, but the fog around us did not allow us to see where we were going. Each of the last switchbacks had a sign showing the altitude we were at, so knowing that the highest point of the Timmelsjoch is located at 2.509 m of elevation, we could only guess what was left.
After reaching the top of the Timmelsjoch, which is also known as Passo Rombo from the Italian side, we were all super happy and satisfied. Without much time to spare because of the cold, we took shelter in the bar which is located at the top, ate something, and prepared for the descent.
Nonetheless, we were not sure about which way to go. The weather was not promising and, as we were discussing it, it started raining. Given the time constraints and remembering the hard times under the rain of the previous days, we all decided to not put the group at risk and headed back home.
We descended through a wet road with raindrops that felt like needles and shivers all over our bodies. As we arrived back at the toll, they warned us about a broken gas pipe that had blocked the road in Sölden and would prevent us from arriving home. We hesitated, but we decided to carry on hoping to find clear roads by the time we got there.
As we approached Sölden, we came across a big traffic jam, because some firemen were trying to free up the road ahead. Luckily, on the bike, we could take a quick gravel detour and continue our descent.
We arrived home at a reasonable time so we could still have a normal lunch. After that, some went for a walk and others preferred to rest and take a few beers, going over the highlights of the day. As the evening approached, our mind could only think about one thing: the pizza party that we were organizing in collaboration with Ooni to wrap up this edition of Among the Giants in the best way.
Day 5 | Farewell (check route details)
Different destinations meant different departure times, so already since the evening of day 4, we started to say goodbye to people we had shared the experience with.
Even knowing that we would have to leave the house before noon, we wanted to make the most of our stay in the Ötztal Valley and headed for a short ride early in the morning. After all these days, we were used to the rain so we ignored the weather forecast and explored a few more roads around the village we stayed in.
By noon we were already in our respective means of transport, remembering the unforgettable feats of the previous days or browsing our photo gallery to relive the moments that we were able to capture.
This was by no means an easy edition to organize, as we were constrained by the pandemic that threatens the world and forced us to adapt ourselves to a new way of traveling. Nonetheless, despite all these difficulties, we made it, and this edition of Among the Giants in the Ötztal Valley was a success. Another Alpine country conquered, and more giants that we can proudly say we have summited. Another amazing group of people that will always have a place in our hearts, and a huge amount of gratifying experiences that will be remembered forever.