The Austrian Road, so-called because it was built by Austrian POW's during WW1 in 1915, is a marvel of engineering located in the Altai Mountains of East Kazakhstan. The road is 60km (5 hours) long and climbs several mountain passes, including Burkhatskiy Pass at 2.137m (7,011ft) above the sea level and Alatajsky Pass, at 1.792m (5,879ft).
The road is famous for its beauty. Due its unique location and the climb in elevation over thousands of feet, and passing through remote areas, it is important when driving in these conditions to be prepared. The track contains several bridges and fords and climbs from 990 m in the Bukhtarma Valley up to the 2.137 m high Burkhatskiy Pass. Afterwards, it runs mostly gently up and down towards Lake Markakol at 1.445 m.
This gravel road was built as a strategic then transport corridor through the territory of modern East Kazakhstan region. It’s stony, and can be impassable after heavy rains or snowstorms. The Austrian Road was built from 1915 to 1917 by Austro-Hungarian WW1-prisoners captured on the Eastern Front. With the help of nothing more than shovels, saws, pickaxes and cables, they created a legendary track through a remote wilderness in the far northeast of Kazakhstan, under highly unfavorable climatic conditions. This road can be considered as a memorial to the heroic labor of man, who at that time managed to create this monument with only the help of simple tools - shovels and picks.
Located within the Katon-Karagaisky State National Nature Park, following the Sorvenok Valley, it’s a really difficult road, crossing 16 bridges and fords and never ending hairpin turns. The road is winding, in some places only wide enough for one vehicle, and in many places bordered by a drop of hundreds of meters (many hundreds of feet) unprotected by guardrails. Words can’t describe the road and pictures don’t do it justice. The Austrian road is a unique natural historical treasure. The path climbs through a picturesque ravine, crossing the Kara-Koba River several times over small bridges. But some bridges collapsed the last times and it’s necessary to cross the river.
Watch out for sudden loose-gravel breaks. And that pavement can ripple like a roller coaster track in places where “frost heaves” are caused by seasonal freezing and thawing of the ground. Wading though rivers or crossing risky bridges, this road has proven its worth in the last almost 100 years. The conquest of that Austrian Road by Michael Richter, a lone, 67-year old plant geographer with a 17-year old Pajero and no technical knowledge whatsoever, is the memorable tale that’s told here.
The road is impassable in wet weather. This track can get very muddy and slippery after rain making it challenging to get through. During and after a storm the road may be impassable, even with a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Several bridges on this adventurous 60 km long road have now collapsed, making the road and the shortcut impossible.