Can the Fernpass be passed by bicycle in winter too?
What is the Fernpass?
The Fernpass connects the Inn valley with the Zugspitz region and thus represents the last major hurdle if you want to cross the Alps from south to north. By car, the Fernpass road is available here, which is normally well cleared but is also very busy. Only in case of heavy snowfall, it is possible that it will be closed for car drivers. But what about crossing the pass by bike or on foot?
Pass crossing on foot or by bicycle
Pedestrians and cyclists, on the other hand, can normally cross the Fernpass on the Fernpass cycle path. Unfortunately, this is not cleared at all in winter. Not even in a little, not the bean. Not at all! We ourselves felt this to be a great pity, as especially in the winter time, a pass is really worthwhile. At this time of the year there is much less activity on the nearby road and there are even some moments when it gets almost quiet. A privilege that unfortunately, during a crossing of the Alps alongside the valley roads, one can only rarely enjoy.
Crossable at the right time
Nevertheless, we did not let ourselves be deterred and tackled the long-distance cycle path together with our pilgrim carts directly at the beginning of December. In fact, the snowfall was already quite heavy on our backs, because the Inn valley, which is much lower down, was already completely covered with a white layer of snow. All the locals whom we asked about the situation were in agreement: If you want to cross the Fernpass, do it before the weekend! After that it will be impossible! To all those who also plan to overcome the Fernpass in winter and who ask themselves the question if this is possible, we can therefore give a tip in advance: Listen to the locals! They know their way around! We ourselves have chosen exactly the day that was described to us as "the last barely possible day". And we can say that it was just possible, but absolutely borderline.
Past Schönsteinsee Castle
On Thursday we already hiked up the first part from Imst to Nassereith. We had to pull our pilgrim carts almost completely through the snow. But this was not a problem yet, as the snow was completely flattened by occasionally moving cars. It was sometimes a bit slippery, so we would have liked to have something like Leki ski poles for safety. At least once they would have saved me from an extremely unpleasant landing on my butt, which I couldn't escape. From Nassereith on, the ascent became steeper and steeper and with every additional meter of altitude the snow got thicker and thicker. We reached the castle Fernsteinsee, which is used as café, restaurant and hotel and is located directly at the picturesque Fernsteinsee. Less picturesque, however, was the pass road, which also passed nearby and gave the whole thing a rather uncomfortable background noise.Hiking in deep snow From the castle, one can either follow a steep road upward in an arch or take an even steeper staircase and land right at the upper castle towers. We decided to take the second option and did not think that this would not be the most exhausting part of the hiking tour, even at the beginning. But a little upside the castle, the path finally narrowed so that no cars could drive alongside it. From here on, there was nothing left that could level the snow for us.
With every additional meter it became higher, and soon we were stuck in a snow chaos of about one and a half meters depth, together with the lower pilgrim carts. All around us was a dreamlike winter wonderland, with completely untouched snow. Now and then we saw some deer tracks and sometimes we were visited by a bird of prey. Once we even met a rather curious weasel, who watched our sweaty snow rummaging around from a branch. There was not much missing and he would surely have unpacked his nuts to have something to nibble during the cinema-ripe entertainment.
In fact, we could understand the little animal very well, because we must have made an excellent picture of the two of us panting and groaning as we pulled a pilgrim's wagon that was stuck in the snow up to the drawbars. It took us four hours for these last two kilometers. Then we came to a crossroads, from which another lumberjack had paved the way for us with his jeep. But from here we still reached the road to the pass to cover the last part to the pass on the cleared asphalt. What a pity, because the road is really no pleasure here.
On the road across the pass
At the top of the pass we were allowed to refresh ourselves after all the strains in the restaurant Zugspitzblick with a mixed grill plate. Then we started our descent, whereby now unfortunately the whole further cycle track was buried under a thick layer of snow, so that we were tied to the main road up to the first suburbs of Ehrwald.
So one can say the following about the Fernpass: On foot and by bike it is usually passable even in winter. But unfortunately, one cannot expect the cycle path to be usable here in snow, so that the road becomes the only alternative. Therefore, late autumn and early spring, i.e. the periods before the first snowfall and after the snow has melted, are the best times to cross the pass. Because then the cycle path can be used, but the traffic on the nearby pass road is not yet as heavy as in summer. How we fared in the valley or more precisely in Ehrwald, you will find out in our next daily report.