Summit and Sky
It doesn’t seem fair. Almost every country that borders Hungary has either amazing mountainous terrain or beautiful seashore. Slovenia is the Swiss Alps of the Balkans, Croatia has the magnificent Dalmatian Coast, Ukraine is not just black earth but also the Crimea, worst of all the Tatras in Slovakia and the peaks of Transylvania used to be part of Hungary.
Then there is Austria. It has more mountainous terrain per square kilometer than anywhere else in Europe. If one thing comes to mind when Austria is spoken of, it is soaring mountains and lush alpine landscapes. If only Hungary had such terrain. Consider how unlucky Hungarians actually are.
Europe is already the lowest continent on earth with an average elevation of 300 feet and the lowest area in Europe is the East European Plain, which Hungary is part of. The closest one can get to Alps-ish terrain in Hungary is in its extreme western regions. The land elevates in places near the Austrian border, just a few sub-alpine zones, but then Austria arrives.
What’s a Hungarian to do? Well many have been known to day trip it over the border by train or car to Lower Austria (something of a misnomer the way Hungarians see it). A couple of hours away, visitors can ride on a cog railway most of the way up to the Schneeburg. This is a true mountain experience worth seeking out.
Alpine tourism quite literally scaled the heights in the late 19th century and led the way to the top of the Schneeberg. Between 1895 and 1897 a cog railway was constructed all the way to the summit.
This type of railway has a tooth racked rail in between two running rails. Cog wheels fit onto this tooth racked rail and allow the trains to climb exceedingly steep grades above 7%. Because of the areas they traverse, cog railways afford dramatic views of alpine terrain.
In Austria, the Schneeberg Railway is one of only three cog railways still operating in the nation and traverses the highest terrain of those still in service. At nearly ten kilometers (6.2 miles) in length it offers stunning views as it climbs through the tree line. At 1,800 meters (5,900 feet) the railway stops and it is another hour of hiking to the highest point at 2,076 meters (6,811 feet).
From the railway’s terminus, the trek upward brings into focus summit and sky. Soon the highest point, known as the Klosterwoppen is reached. Here is the highest eastern point of the Alps. Looking down from atop this promontory the majesty of Lower Austria stretches out below.
Taking in the cool mountain air it is as though one is breathing purity itself. On a clear day, the horizon seems endless. Somewhere out there is the Carpathian Basin and the land of the Magyars. A view from atop the Schneeberg reminds visitors from Hungary that rarified Alpine air is only a day trip away.
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