High up on the Hafelekar
The highest city stroll in the Alps: The lift ride up to the top of Innsbruck's local mountain takes you on a journey high above the River Inn, spruce forests and jagged rock formations, up to the home of the alpine ibex. Thomas Keil knows the route better than most: he works for the Nordkettenbahnen lift company and never ceases to be inspired by the rugged beauty of the mountains.
Thomas Keil simply cannot get enough of this amazing experience. On the journey up to Hafelekar, a thick blanket of cloud often obscures the view – but then there's that magical moment when the gondola breaks through the clouds to reveal a stunning blue sky above. "These skies", he exclaims fondly. "When the visibility is good, the view from up here stretches right across the Karwendel mountains and down into the valley far below."
Experiences like these have now been enriching Keil's day-to-day working life for 18 years. He started out working as a cable car operator on the Kitzsteinhorn mountain in Kaprun for many years before moving to Innsbruck in 2015. In Innsbruck, he initially worked as a conductor on the Nordkettenbahnen lifts and is now the Deputy Operations Manager. "For me, it’s all about the guests", he explains. "And as Operations Manager, I enjoy an excellent mix of contact with people and technology."
"A BRIGHT ARRAY OF COLOURS"
The Nordkette mountain range thrives on breathtaking contrasts and this is one reason why the region has achieved cult status amongst visitors and locals alike. "In autumn, the Seegrube dazzles with a bright array of colours", Keil says. "Higher up at Hafelekar, above the tree line, there is sometimes even a first sprinkling of snow in September". A warm Indian summer, the first snow, Innsbruck's vibrant lanes, a summit cross, the hustle and bustle of the city and complete peace and quiet are all located just a short cable car journey away from each other. Keil's workplace is quite simply other people's dream holiday destination.
Spectacular cable car technology
Keil shares responsibility for an extraordinary combination of cable cars: The futuristic-looking Hungerburgbahn funicular, which was designed by star architect Zaha Hadid, transports visitors from the centre of Innsbruck up to a mountain plateau above the city. Guests can then take the Seegrubenbahn cable car up to the Seegrube station before taking the Nordkettenbahn cable car up to Hafelekar, the window to the Karwendel mountains. The entire journey from the city centre up to the summit takes just under half an hour.
Flowing meadows and rugged beauty
In the course of his life, Keil has not encountered many places that mirror the change in seasons in such an astonishing way as the Karwendel Nature Park. During a "good winter", the Nordkette mountains can be covered in six to seven metres of snow and attract hordes of skiers and snowboarders but when summer comes, they transform into a green landscape full of lush meadows and shady coniferous forests. The jagged peaks of rock formations rise up, piercing through the steel blue sky.
Anyone looking for a challenge can enjoy the many hiking trails that lead up from the city to the rocky summits of the mountain range. For an easier route, there is also the "Perspektivenweg", a trail located 1,900 metres above sea level that starts at the Seegrube cable car station and does not require high levels of fitness. This trail combines a multitude of viewing platforms with philosophical quotations by Ludwig Wittgenstein.
Keil has a special tip for anyone who decides to take the Nordkettenbahnen lift up to the Hafelekar: a via ferrata that takes visitors clambering from peak to peak is located 15 minutes away from the top station. But doesn't it get really busy? Keil laughs: "It's normally only the locals who go hiking. Many tourists prefer to enjoy the weather from the terrace."
Up close and personal with wild alpine ibex
Is it really necessary to go right up to the peaks to experience alpine nature? Not necessarily, no. The Alpine Zoo, Innsbruck's large outdoor zoo at the foot of the Nordkette mountains, is home to a multitude of rare wild animals such as lynx, eagles and marmots. If you're lucky, you might even be able to discover some of these animals roaming free out in the wild, for example the group of alpine ibex that regularly huddles in the entrance area of the mountain lift station. In the winter, the station provides the horned animals with shelter from the cold and in the summer, it offers shade from the sun. But that's not all: "They love to lick the whitewashed walls of this listed building", explains Keil. "They like the taste." In the evening, a little fox also likes to visit the station every now and again. Wild Karwendel.
Did you know that ...
... Innsbruck's cable cars can transport you from the city centre up to the Hafelekar at 2,300 metres above sea level in just 30 minutes?
Mountains that rise up from the city
The natural diversity of the area creates a truly uplifting backdrop of barren landscapes and lush meadows, rugged peaks and gentle grassy slopes. A mountain paradise full of delightful valleys and mist-shrouded summits with a climate that ranges from cool and refreshing to warm and sunny. A world of mountains that rises up from the city.
Thomas Keil recommends everyone takes a trip into the Karwendel mountains, whether a local or a visitor from afar and regardless of previous experience with mountains and summits – preferably a trip up the "Kar", of course, as he fondly calls Innsbruck's mysterious local mountain.