Trails under your wheels, Tauern mountains in view. The Stoneman Taurista as a two-day tour Tour challenges without over-challenging – and rewards mountain bikers with fabulous backdrops and a silver stone.
“You have to head that way, to the chapel!“ The lift worker calls to us and points to a gravel track, crossing underneath the mountain lift station. Admittedly, with our touring rucksack, touring bike and touring helmet we are – amid the full visor and protector-wearing downhillers on long-stroke bikes – easily recognisable as real bikers. But to therefore recommend a perp walk to God’s House? Or does the good man mean me and my two biking companions could do with a bit of divine guidance?
We prefer not to ask any further questions and steer our bikes in the provided direction. “Griessenkar – Edelweiss-Alm“ stands in large, white letters on the visible information board next to the said House of God. Hanging from its lower corner – the imaginary carrot of this afternoon, which we are following like donkeys: a hole punch, with which we can stamp the next hole in our start cards.
We find ourselves high above Flachau in the Salzburger Sportwelt, on the ridge of the Griessenkar – popular amongst skiers. The normally fabulous view is quite modest today due to the thick cloud, the atmosphere, in comparison, is cheerful and relaxed. In any case, a sheer unending downhill stretch through the whole of the Wagrain Bike Park rewards us for the eternally long forest track ascent up to nearly the 1,878 m high peak. Above all just 250 m elevation gain separate us from the final control point at the Edelweiss Alm. Then we’ll have completed the Stoneman Taurista challenge.
The Stone Man beckons
The Stoneman Taurista is a well-marked bike tour through the impressive mountain world of the Radstädter and Schladminger Tauern ranges. There’s a total of 123 km and 4.500 m elevation to conquer as a circular tour. Way too much for three aging ex-racers, who as a result of a jolly evening wish to prove their sporting ability – at least if they had to achieve this goal in one go.
Therefore the strategy for conquering the Stoneman seemed devised for specially for us: those achieving the trail in one day, receive a reward of a golden trophy. Yet more comfortable natures don’t go empty handed either. Finishers requiring two days, receive the later extendable “Stoneman“ in silver – the variation of our choice. A stone in bronze beckons to those taking three days.
As proof of completion there are markings, which are to be punched in your start card at a total of eight checkpoints. We’ve already got seven of eight stamps. Our collection of proof is therefore almost complete.
As always, we take time to study the board with information for the next segment: “The next section is an extreme stage… The twisty upper part is dotted with waves and short pump sections and leads into a natural and extremely difficult single trail with lots of tree roots.” Oops, maybe we should have invested a quick prayer back at the chapel?
In reality everything is not a bad as it seems. First of all, those wishing to do so, can detour the upper part completely along a forest road. Secondly, the key parts of the downhill also offer easier alternatives. And thirdly, after bravely huffing and puffing our way up so many elevation metres it’s really great fun to just go all out!
Moors, mountain lakes, peak pleasure
Having our bones thoroughly shaken and with slightly hurting hands, but wide grins, the 3.7 km long Hard Rock Trail spits us out 950 m further down after numerous roots, steps, artificially created bends and waves into the “Silent Night“ resort of Wagrain.
What a contrast to the day before, where non-professionally shaped terrain, doubles and step downs shaped by Mother Nature, ensured variety and biking fun.
Completely engrossed and enchanted, we headed up to start our two-day trip along fabulous natural trails through deep-green fairy-tale forests and seemingly mysterious high moors up on the 1.770 m Rossbrand. Radstadt’s local mountain is recommended for excursions due to its spectacular 360° panoramas of over 150 alpine peaks. I also liked its playful trails along mustard-coloured grasses, knotty trees and deep, dark pools.
Just a few hours later we found ourselves in high alpine terrain once again. Majestic ramparts made of rock and stone rose up into the sky around the Oberhütte, last green meadows forming a safe playground for men and animals. Two small mountain lakes enriched the alpine idyll with gloss and glitter. Right behind the garden fence the alpine climb to the Seekarscharte began, at 2.110 m the high point of our tour. In the lower part we tried to squeeze our way through the narrow footpath with its grassy knots and ever increasing exposed stony steps in just few minutes. However, we had to back down and carry our bikes – a strenuous three quarters of an hour long.
As an encore, Obertauern offered wonderfully varied trail passages through forests, meadows and rock. And after one of the most tricky parts, a wonderfully impressive natural spectacle too: the Johannaes Waterfall plummets around 60 m into the depths, bubbling wildly and gushing loudly – creating a delicate rainbow in the air.
Calories burned, heart recharged
Long before undertaking our tour, I considered how we could best split the challenges of the Stoneman Taurista over two day. Five official access points are available and a number of accommodation properties along the route, plus the Enns cycle path as quick transfer route between the stage resorts, leave you wide open to choice.
As I sank into bed at the end of the first day with heavy legs and a buzzing head, it was clear to me: it doesn’t (actually) matter. With its fabulous views and fascinating insights, challenging ascents and rewarding descents, slow trails and fast-paced lines, this tour is in any combination and sequence as hard as it is gentle.
After a short tarmac ascent up to the Edelweiss-Alm, we then too have our last Stoneman stamp in our pockets. Whilst we pedal back exhausted via the picturesque Moardörfl, Schloss Höch and the Enns cycle path to our starting point in Altenmarkt, the images of the past hours and kilometres roll by. We groaned crossing the Tauern under the weight of our bikes, we suffered and cursed in the murderously steep valley bowl behind the Vögeialm. We stood quietly for a while on top of the Rossbrand and counted peak upon peak of the alpine exhibition in front of us. We discover special things everywhere: sweet blueberries, little lizards, protected moor plants, cosy farmers’s snugs. We biked enthusiastically and enjoyed refreshment – alpine cheese, sausage soup, game gulash, Kaiserschmarrn (chopped pancake dish); yes, even a taster from the Mandlberggut Destillery was a must.
Now we’re tired, but we’ve finished. It’s time to pick up our silver stones and head home proud and happy.
Photo credits: TauernBikeTours, Lisi Hager