My recent guidebook Daytrips Austria has several one-day mountain adventures that are easy to take and require no mountaineering skills. In fact, anyone in good health can do them, but they're still a lot of fun and take you high into the Alps.
Ascent of the Hafelekar
Here’s a trip that can be as comfortable as you desire – or as challenging. The Hafelekar mountain peak towers some 7,658 feet (2,334 meters) above Innsbruck and is easily reached by cable car for a staggering view across the Alps. Along the way is the highest zoo in Europe. Several rest stops feature places to eat and drink while basking in the glorious sights. Once at the top, you might take either a short walk along a civilized trail, or test your skills at real hiking for a short distance. Or just sit there gazing at the mountains.
The rugged Hafelekar is one of the highest peaks of the Nordkette (North Chain), a part of the Karwendel Range of the Alps. It has an overwhelming presence for the people of Innsbruck, dominating every northward view from downtown streets. These are true Alpine mountains — jagged, rugged peaks often covered with snow – that will reward even the most novice hiker with a real Alpine experience.
This trip begins inside Innsbruck, with a choice of three transportation modes. The newest is to take the Hungerburgbahn from the Congress Innsbruck (Convention Center)(1) on Rennweg just north of the Hofburg. This modern funicular railway runs underground to the Löwenhaus, then crosses a spectacular bridge, and travels underground to the first stop, the Alpenzoo. It then continues to the Hungerburg stop, where you transfer to a cable car. The elegantly modern system, first opened in late 2007, was designed by the noted architect Zaha Hadid.
Another option is to take Route 2 of the Sightseer Bus from Maria Theresien Strasse to the Alpenzoo, then continue by Hungerburgbahn to Hungerburg and the cable car, or get there via a footpath.
The third option is to take City Bus W from Marktplatz to the Alpenzoo, then continue as above.
You will return via the same route.
Bring along a jacket and/or sweater, even in summer, as it can be quite cool (or even snowing) at the summit. Those planning to take the short walk will need good walking shoes; for the longer trek real hiking boots are more appropriate, along with a trail map. Of course, if you’re not going farther than the upper cable car station, ordinary shoes and attire will suffice.
If you are taking the long hike, be sure to check the weather forecast first, keep an eye on the clouds, have enough clothing to keep you warm in case of a sudden storm, and be prepared to turn back quickly in that event. Experienced hikers have died on this trail due to sudden weather changes.
FOOD AND DRINK:
Restaurant Seegrube (at the Seegrube cable car station) Both full service and cafeteria dining, indoors with a view or out on the sun terrace. T: (0512) 293-375. €, €€, and €€€
During the summer season the Hafelekar Mountain Lodge at the upper cable car station also operates a restaurant, with casual indoor/outdoor dining.
Numbers in parentheses correspond to numbers on the map.
Begin your tour by taking any one of the three transit options to the Alpenzoo (2), or drive there. The brand-new Hungerburgbahn Funicular starts at the Congress (Convention Center)(1) on Rennweg, just above the Hofburg in central Innsbruck. Runs weekdays 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., weekends and holidays 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Roundtrip €€, combo ticket including Alpenzoo and cable cars to Hafelekar available.
In just a few minutes you will reach the stop for the:
ALPENZOO (2), T: (0512) 292-323, W: alpenzoo.at. Open April-Oct., daily 9-6; Nov.-March, daily 9-5. €€. Café.
Europe’s highest zoo features wildlife of the Alps, with over 2,000 animals and birds representing some 150 different species. Among them are bears, ibexes, moose, rodents, reptiles, amphibians, and vultures. There is also a cold-water aquarium teeming with fish native to the region.
Return to the funicular and continue your uphill journey to Hungerburg. At the upper station you cross the street to the lower station (Talstation) of the Nordkettenbahn cable car (3), first built in 1927 but recently modernized. This will lift you in minutes to an elevation of 6,250 feet (1,905 meters) at Seegrube (4), from which you will get excellent panoramic views of Innsbruck and its valley. There is a good restaurant and cafeteria here, with both indoor and outdoor dining. Several hiking trails lead off, offering the possibilities of a short walk.
Now for the real climb. Board the steep cable car for Hafelekar (5), whose upper station (Bergstation) is at the dizzying height of 7,400 feet (2,256 meters), with a nearly vertical fall. The peak (Hafelekarspitze) is just 256 feet (78 meters) above this. Again, there is a restaurant and snack bar, this one open in the summer season only. Visitors can also inspect (from the outside) the research station operated by Victor Franz Hess (1883-1964), who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1936 for his discovery of cosmic radiation. You can then opt to just enjoy the stupendous *view, or you might go for a hike or shorter walk.
A short walk leads from the cable car station towards the east along the Goetheweg path (marked as #219), soon turning left up the east ridge to the Hafelekarspitze (6), then back down to the cable car. This should take about 45 minutes to complete.
A longer hike begins on the same Goetheweg path (marked as #219), but instead of turning left for the peak, contine on in the direction of Pfeishütte (7). You probably won’t get as far as that Alpine hut before turning back, but you will enjoy incomparable views to the south extending as far as the Europabrücke, Europe’s highest highway bridge, and beyond into Italy. Watch your time — it’s a 4½-hour roundtrip trek if you go all the way to the hut. Long before then, the trail passes to the north side of the ridge, with an entirely different landscape looking north into Germany.
Return to the cable car station to begin the trip back into Innsbruck. Mountain goats and experienced climbers might want to hike back as far as Hungerburg (3) by following the steep Arzler Reisse trail down a rubble-strewn gully.
Text and map Copyright © 2008 Earl Steinbicker
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