Hiking on the Nordkette – A grand experience
The Nordkette, also called North Chain or Northern Range is situated right at the footsteps of the city of Innsbruck and comprises a row of mountains with the highest one peaking at 2,637 meters. The Nordkette not only provides an amazingly picturesque backdrop from the city but furthermore serves as a prime destination for sports fanatics as well as people who’d like to experience the breathtaking scenery from above without breaking into a sweat.
The Nordkette as seen from Patscherkofel
The Nordkette’s huge popularity for hiking and mountain biking during the warmer months of the year as well as for skiing and snowboarding in winter is the reason why it is rightly nicknamed “the biggest gym of Innsbruck”. So while tourists and locals alike frequently stop in their tracks whilst walking through the city streets in order to gaze up towards the mountains in awe, there are likely to be quite a few people looking down on the Inntal Valley at the same time, enjoying the combination of fresh air, sunshine and magnificent views from above.
Luckily though, the well laid-out hiking and biking tracks are not the only way to access the mountains and the Hungerburgbahn/Nordkettenbahn offers a great alternative for everyone who seeks the views but is either limited on time or simply prefers a more relaxing experience.
Having recently moved to Innsbruck as an international student, my very first experience on the Nordkette was as exhausting as it was memorable and rewarding. I set out on a Tuesday afternoon to explore the mountains somewhat but not really planning to go all the way up, also because I was not particularly well equipped, wearing jeans and sneakers. However, I did bring a compact camera, a map I had previously purchased at the local tourist information, water and food and I was keen to take whatever path looked promising and led upwards. After riding my bike to Alpenzoo at 750m, I started to walk up the first bit of track to Hungerburg station which is a popular access point to the Nordkette and which can also be easily reached either by Bus J or cable car from the city centre.
After looking at the huge information board at Hungerburg that shows all the available walking tracks, mountain huts and stations while giving estimates on how long the various walking tracks take, I decided on the most direct route that is zigzagging up underneath the gondola (Norkettenbahn) that takes visitors up the mountain in mere minutes. While this track is probably the hardest due to its steep elevation, it is also the quickest way to hike up. While other hikers where mostly better equipped, some of them were also significantly older than me which encouraged me to go all the way to the station of Seegrube at 1,905m in a “what they can do, I can do” spirit. About an hour and a half into my climb, I started to hear two other hikers constantly engaging in conversation behind me in a rather familiar accent. While I was already struggling and breathing heavily, the two of them seemed not to be affected much by the exercise and chatted away happily. When I made one of several shot breaks to get some air back into my lunges, they were catching up to me and I took the chance to make their acquaintance. As it turned out, the guy was named Nic and came from Australia, while the girl’s name was Emma who visited from New Zealand, countries in which I have spent considerable time myself. They were both backpacking through Europe and had only met themselves two days earlier.
Emma, Nic and me, shortly after we met
After our initial contact, I couldn’t quite keep up with their pace but met up with them again at Seegrube, where we sat down together for a break and some more small talk. At this stage I was already exhausted and would not have gone further up to the very top would I have been on my own. However, the two of them had set their mind on going all the way to the top of Hafelekar (2,334m). So what choice did I have?
In fact, I was so happy to have met Emma and Nic, that I was easily convinced to join them for the final climb, even though I was tired of walking. I thought to myself, if I had made it so far, I might as well try to reach the top and furthermore, I wasn’t sure if the opportunity presented itself again anytime soon.
On our way to the top
To cut a long story short, after loosing sight of the track and stumbling around in a foggy haze that enveloped the mountains for a while, we eventually made it to the summit where all struggle and effort was forgotten once the panoramic view towards the North revealed itself. The three of us were amazed by the sheer beauty that opened up in front of our eyes and as an Australian, Nic was especially happy to discover some patches of snow that we utilized to make some snowballs.
In summary, it was possibly the best day I have spent in Tirol so far and I encourage everyone who has the chance to experience the Nordkette one way or another to take advantage of it. Here are some links that you might find helpful. And if anyone’s curious: Yes, I did take the gondola down. ;-)