The highest climbs of Europe #2 - Tiefenbachferner

Monday 14 September 2020 by Herman Nekkers

Today we travel to Austria in search of the highest climb in the Alps and the second highest in Europe. It start from Sölden in Tyrol. Its name: The Ötztaler Gletscherstrasse. Painfully steep and fabulously beautiful.


Picture 1 (Adobe Stock): Magnificent view of the Rettenbachferner.


Country: Austria
Height: 2829 meters


Tirol in Austria contains some of Europe's most famous climbs including the Kaunertal and the Timmelsjoch. The beginning of the Tiefenbachferner lies in Sölden in the Ötztal. This place is also the homebase of one of the most famous gran fondo's: the Ötztaler Radmarathon. As a cycling area, Tyrol is truly fabulous. Numerous passes and high roads make it a walhalla for every rider, road or MTB. However, bear in mind that it's often very steep. Besides, making a roundtrips is not always possible. If you don't mind doing dead ends, it's the place for you.

If you are looking for a beautiful destination for your family holiday, Tyrol is the place to be. Everything is well organised, there are plenty of ski lifts open in summer and there is plenty to do people in need of of an active holiday. The combination with beautiful cycling rides is obvious. 

The east side

"If this climb were in France it would be world famous", Laurens ten Dam once said. In 2015, 2016 and 2017 it was the final stage of the queen's stage of the Tour of Switzerland. The Ötztaler Gletscherstrasse is a pearl and a monster at the same time.

As said, this dead end starts from Sölden, in the middle of the Ötztal. From here it goes straight up steeply. The first 5 kilometres, the average gradient is a staggering 11.7%. At the toll gates, the legs get a few hundred metres to refuel. And they need that too, because the next 5 kilometres are just as murderous as before. The view here is truly dazzling, as you drive straight down to the Rettenbachferner. Ferner is a German word for glacier. The Rettenbach and the adjacent restaurant are the first destination. But the real die-hards drive on to the car park where there's a sign saying "Ötztaler Gletscherstrasse Höchster Strassenpunkt Europas".

Factually this would be correct, but the highest point is a few kilometres away. For this you have to climb on to the Tiefenbachferner. You keep on ascending through the Rosi Mittermaier tunnel which is as dark as it is cold. Light and warm clothing recommended! The tunnel exit is at 2829 metres, making it the highest paved road (not col!) in the Alps. There used to be a sign here, but on my trip in 2014 it was no longer there. Nevertheless it should not be missing on your palmares.

Cycling history

The Deutschlandtour was the first in 2005 with a finish at the Rettenbachferner at 2600 metres. Levi Leipheimer won before Jan Ullrich. In 2007, the event came by again. In 2015, 2016 and 2017 the Ötztaler Gletschstrasse was the final climb of the queen's stage of the Tour of Switzerland. The first two years the finish was at the the Rettenbach, but in 2017 the riders went through the tunnel to the Tiefenbachferner. It is the highest finish ever in a European cycling race. Slovenian rider Simon Spilak won both the stage and the final classification. 

Watch the video, this is fantastic.

Gran fondos




Routes and loops

The climb is a dead end, so there are no round trips. From Sölden you can make a 'fork' with the Tiefenbachferner and the Timmelsjoch. And of course there is nothing wrong with riding only the Ötztaler Gletscherstrasse. It is challenging enough.

Click on the image to download the routes.

The highest climbs in Europe, the list

2 Tiefenbachferner
3 Cime de la Bonette
4 Col de l'Iseran
5 Passo dello Stelvio
6 Kaunertal
7 Colle dell'Agnello
Col Agnel
8 Passo Gavia
Italy 2632
9 Col du Galibier
France 2632
10 Colle del Nivolet
Italy 2632
11 Grossglockner
Austria 2571
12 Timmelsjoch /
Passo Rombo
13 Pass Umbrail Switzerland
14 Colle delle Fauniera /
Colle dei Morti 
Italy 2481
15 Nufenenpass /
Passo della Novena
Switzerland 2477
16 Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard /
Colle del Gran San Bernardo
17 Furkapass Switzerland 2436
18 Roque de los Muchachos Spain 2426
19 Hochwurtenspeicher Austria 2421
20 Col du Granon France 2413



Picture (Herman Nekkers): A summer day with lots of snow, view of the glacier


Picture (Adobe Stock): Looking back on the valley


Picture (Herman Nekkers): One of the steep hairpin bends


Picture (Adobe Stock): Horribly steep and fabulously beautiful


Picture 6 (Frank Jansen): Bicycle and glacier, what a combination


Picture 7 (Herman Nekkers): Stopover restaurant Rettenbachjoch


Picture (Adobe Stock): Europe's highest road


Picture 9 (Herman Nekkers): View on the hairpins


Picture 10 (Wikimedia Commons TUTOR1)The Rosi Mittermaier tunnel 


Picture 11 (Wikimedia Commons TUTOR1): The tunnel, dark and cold


Picture 12 (Rob Thierig): Rob from Cyclokalender near the sacred sign at 2829 meters

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