Trekking in Karwendel: Hallerangerhaus to Nordkette
Our third day of our 3 Day Tour of in Karwendel took us from Hallerangerhaus, which is in the depths of the Karwendel Nature Park, to the bustling city of Innsbruck. That is, back into realms of civilization.
Most of the day’s walking was on the Eagle Walk (Adlerweg) that crosses Tyrol from end to end. Nearing Innsbruck, the trails took us to the Nordkette range, just north of Innsbruck.
Briefly About Karwendel Nature Park
The Karwendel mountain range is the largest in the Northern Limestone Alps. Most of it is in Tyrol Austria – conveniently just north of Innsbruck. The northern parts of Karwendel are in Bavaria, Germany. The walk of the day took us to the southernmost range in the area – the Nordkette.
Karwendel Nature Park is one of the oldest nature reserves in Europe, having been preserved since 1928. It covers almost the entire Karwendel mountains range and is 727 square kilometers (~280 square miles) in area. It is beautiful, wild and has an amazingly remote feeling to it despite being right in the middle of civilization.
The area is rich in everything you would expect to find on a good hike or a longer trek. This includes rare animal and plant species, beautiful and remote places and mountain huts where to stay when you explore.
Getting to Karwendel
The Karwendel Nature Park is basically surrounded by civilization which makes it easy to get to by trains and other means of transport. Main points of entry would be Innsbruck, the Seefeld Olympic region to the west, and the Achensee region to the East. All accessible by public transport.
Read the first part of this article for more info on Karwendel and how to get there.
Day 3: Hallerangerhaus to Innsbruck
Our day 3 would be the last of our 3-day tour to the Karwendel Nature Park. The first day had been an easy one with a leisurely walk up to Karwendelhaus for the night. The second day, on the other hand, had been very tough with a vertical ascent of 1,4 kilometers both up and down. We expected the walk from Hallerangerhaus to Innsbruck to fall somewhere in between.
Our trek of the day would first take us to Lafatscher Joch. From there we would continue to Stempeljoch on the Wilde-Bande-Steig. From Stempeljoch there would be a descent to Pfeishütte and lunch. The Nordkette range begins at Stempeljoch and continues west way beyond Innsbruck to the Erlspitze Group near Seefeld.
The famous Goetheweg begins right after Pfeishütte and that then takes you all the way to Heifelekarspitze and Innsbruck. Our intention was to majestically descend into the city on the cable car, saving a couple of hours walking down the Nordkette ski area and saving our feet for after-trek festivities in Innsbruck.
The entire day was spent on what’s also the Eagle Walk, or Adlerweg.
Rainy Morning at Hallerangerhaus
The night before, we had woken up to a thunderstorm and heavy rain. By morning the thunder was gone but rain continued.
We had breakfast at Hallerangerhaus and were trying to gain information on the weather forecast. It was supposed to get better according to the forecast but during breakfast we saw no sign of that.
Rain gear or not?
The big question, of course, was would we put on our rain gear and just go for it or wait and see if it gets better. No matter how much Gore-tex is advertised to breathe, going uphill with a backpack and rain gear on, you’re simply going to be soaked in your own sweat no matter what. Of course, our path towards Innsbruck started with over 300 meters (~1000 ft) of vertical ascent to Lafatscher Joch.
If it’s possible to avoid hiking in rain gear, especially going uphill, I try to avoid it. If I have to, I find it most comfortable to just wear merino long johns and a long sleeve merino shirt under the gore-tex and nothing else. It’s comfortable against the skin and there are no extra layers unless you need them.
The only downside is, when the rain stops, you need to strip out of the underwear on the trail and dress up in something more appropriate.
We took our time packing our stuff slowly and decided to wait for a while.
Ascent to Lafatscher Joch
The rain had reduced to a drizzle and it looked it was going to pass soon. After about an hour after breakfast we decided against rain gear and hit the trail.
We were correct in our choice since only after about half an hour the rain had completely stopped. By the time we got to Lafatscher Joch, we were already basking in sunlight. Clouds remained in the valleys below.
It was an uneventful ascent. Easy path continuously rising towards the mountain pass above. We were happy to see the rain go and needed to adjust gear at the top since the sunshine brought heat along with it.
To Stempeljoch on the Eagle Walk
From Lafatscher Joch it was a deceivingly easy to walk along the mountain side on the Wilde-Bande-Steig (Trail number 222) until we hit the gravel. Once the gravel was hit, that changed. The final ascent to Stempeljoch was a tough one.
The path was very steep, crisscrossing among gravel, loose rocks and dust. The going was very slow. It was similar to what we encountered the day before going up to Birkkarspitze.
I was really amazed when some people came down the same route carrying mountain bikes. I would have been even more surprised to see them ride down. I’m sure the biking is enjoyable after the steep gravel portion of the trail.
Once we reached the top, we took a deserved break before continuing down to Pfeishütte. We were now on the Nordkette range.
The walk down to Pfeishütte was very straightforward. About 300 meters of vertical and no difficulties. By the time we got there, we were more than ready for lunch and spent a good while relaxing in the sunshine.
Pfeishütte is a proper mountain hut with a restaurant and accommodation for overnight mountaineers. It’s a few hours walk on the famous Goetheweg from Hafelekar above Innsbruck. Since you can get up to Hefelekar on the Nordkette Cable Car from Innsbruck, I assume it gets a lot of “touristy” traffic from that direction.
It’s also a stay over hut on the Karwendel Höhenweg, and I think some people would spend the night having walked the Goetheweg.
After lunch we set out on the final leg of our 3-day Karwendel Tour. The Goetheweg is much advertised for a reason – it is beautiful, and it is unique, especially the parts of it where you have an unobstructed view down to Innsbruck, the Inntal and towards the Brenner Pass. Of course, it is a big attraction for tourists visiting Innsbruck.
Beautiful as it was, it brought along a big change from the feeling of being in the wild. There were lots of people walking on it. The closer we got to Nordkette and Innsbruck, the more people there were. It was Saturday and it was a beautiful day, so no wonder.
This is where I first got the pronounced feeling that our trek was coming to an end. Having been “out there” for a few days, the number of people just seemed out of place. I’m sure the ones just peeking outside the city felt the same way looking at us. After all, we were unshaved, sweaty and probably emitting all kinds of trail odors…
The contrast of Innsbruck with all its infrastructure laid out on one side of the mountain and Karwendel in all its remoteness on the other is breathtaking. Interestingly, I recall having a similar feeling of contrast hiking in the mountains on Hong Kong island, with the city on one side and the Tai Tam Reservoir area on the other.
Even if you have no plans to go deeper into Karwendel but have day to spend in Innsbruck, I highly recommend walking the Goetheweg. At least some of it. It’s not difficult, but you do need good shoes and a good head for heights. As for the people, if you come from the city, you’re used to them already.
Just make sure the weather and visibility are good, otherwise you won’t get to enjoy the stunning views.
All good things must come to an end and that was the case with our 3 Day Tour to the Karwendel. We were eagerly waiting to get down to the city and into a proper hotel room, hot shower, beer and a big meal. At the same time coming back to civilization meant the fun was over and the realities of everyday life awaited.
We rode the Nordkette Cable Car down to the city center and once there, sat down at the nearest terrace and got beers. After complementing each other for trail companionship, etc. we wrapped it up and walked to the very modern and chic PENZ Hotel we had booked beforehand.
After a fun night out in Innsbruck, it was back to reality. A train ride to Munich Airport, and a flight home brought us back to reality.
By the way, if you’re looking for a unique and historical hotel in Innsbruck Old Town, I can also recommend the Goldener Adler. It’s charming and is located right next to the famous Golden Roof.
What You Need for this Trip
- Read The Ultimate Packing Guide for the Alps for advice on what gear I think you should bring.
- Read What You Need to Know about Staying in Mountain Huts
- Sign up for the Gohikelps.com newsletter to get my printable packing checklist.
- Get a map. Here is the Kompass Karwendelgebirge 1:50000 which I used for the entire 3 days. It covers the entire area.
Map & Altitude Profile
Karwendel is Impressive
I was a little unsure what to expect from Karwendel before I went. I’m not used to something so spectacular, wild and remote being right next to a major city like Innsbruck. I have to say, I was very impressed.
Considering the ease of getting there, I’m most likely going to go there again. Next time, I envision doing another few days’ tour around the eastern parts of it. Or perhaps going around the lake Achensee area.
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