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Where ibex, chamois and eagles live: with a ‘snow-shoe ranger’ in East Tyrol’s outback.

Guided tours through the snowy expanses of the Hohe Tauern National Park

When the Hohe Tauern National Park ranger bought snow-shoes a good ten years ago to guide visitors through the terrain using these soup-plate sized bases, scepticism prevailed. Why not start ski tours and be rewarded with a speedy valley descent in deep snow? Yet in the meantime many of the locals also discovered the snow-shoe for themselves, since this gentle winter sport combines seclusion, romance and an experience in nature like no other. ‘We get to places which you wouldn’t otherwise reach’, says Andreas Angermann, who has long been familiar with chamois and ibex in East Tyrol’s outback and never leaves without binoculars and a spotting scope. He and his eleven colleagues offer guided rambles almost daily. Start is at 9.30 a.m.; finish at 1.30 p.m; with a maximum of 250 relaxed metres altitude and no more than two hours of pure walking time – and incomparable views and insights.

The car park in front of Lucknerhaus in Kals, at 1920 metres, is the starting point for Andreas Angermann’s favourite tour. ‘The majority of novices walk with their legs too far apart’, he says, describing the cardinal error which, as experience teaches, is quickly eradicated since this gait is very energy-sapping. The range proceeds in switchbacks through the larch forest to the tree limit, with the steep cliff faces of the Glockner group in sight. There are 200 ibex here, the biggest single population of this proud mountain goat in all of East Tyrol. “You will see them too”, promises Andreas Angermann, calmly setting up his 60x magnification spotting scope and handing out top-quality binoculars. All tours are agreed upon with the hunters; rangers keep an appropriate distance so as not to disturb the wildlife. So the pictures for your photo album back home are still impressive, Andreas Angermann shows you how to take photographs with a digital camera through a spotting scope.

Defereggental rangers can give out a ‘chamois guarantee’ around St. Jakob. In this area temperatures in winter often drop to minus 20 degrees and lower. In spite of that it is not uncommon to a see a pack of 20 to 40. “There is no wind in the valley, the cold is dry, which means it is easy to put up with, acknowledges Andreas Angermann, who walks a bit faster if visitors are freezing. Before chamois can be seen, he makes a foray into avalanche training, explains about the tracks of martens, foxes and the like and ensures there will be some ‘ohs and ahs’ while he performs his professional duties as a National Park Ranger – why are the legs of the alpine hare larger than those of the brown hare? Because it has adapted and moves about in a similar way like snow-shoe hikers who have bigger shoe bases. By the by, the worst danger for the alpine hare is the eagle. There are total of 45 eagle couples in the National Park, each of which has a hunting ground covering at least 45 square kilometres. “We have so much going on here”, says the Ranger, for whom it is not the king of the skies that is a great experience, but catching sight of a rare bearded vulture.

The moonlight tours are a special highlight for romantics. The three-hour excursion into this fairy-tale land starts at 7 p.m. at the valley station for the lift in the Lienz ski area of Zettersfeld. The ranger proceeds through fir and larch forest following the tracks of the animals, while the owl calls and the fox barks. The moon plunges the scenery into a magical light, the Schober group, to which 53 giant rocks belong and which protrude 3000 metres high into the sky, seem hazy. Andreas Angermann explains how visitors can orient themselves using the stars in the sky, pointing out the Big Dipper and the North Star, and sets course afterwards for the Naturfreunde-Hütte at Zettersfeld. A ‘Jagatee’ or some mulled wine to warm up. Then it’s back to the direct route. The ranger does of course assist with snapping on your snowshoes – “so nothing goes awry”, he says. Incidentally, when there is no full moon, holiday-makers get to enjoy some evening snow-shoe romance carrying lanterns.

Information:

Guided tours with a maximum of twelve participants cost 15 Euros per person, including hire of snow-shoes, which are made available on site. Hiking poles would be helpful (please bring these yourself). Routes vary depending on the weather conditions. Guided snow-shoe hikes are offered from mid-December until mid-March, and there are also hikes by moonlight and using lanterns.

Additional tours available on request:

Nationalpark Hohe Tauern Tirol
Kirchplatz 2
9971 - Matrei
Tel.: +43 (0)4875 / 5161-10
Web: www.hohetauern.at

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