As I inched higher into western Austria’s mountainous parameters, I soon find out that not all journeys are the same. Tirol boasts six mountain parks and in spending much of my time in St. Johann in particular, I quickly saw that there was more here the just the country’s famed hiking routes.
Gondola cars drop you off at various stations where alternative adventures await.
Wavy lines of greens and blues, where the hills blend into the mountains and then into the sky, form the dreamy panoramas of the region’s surrounding Kitzbüheler Alps that many conquer via days long hikes of dizzying heights. However, those of less mountaineering stature can seek it through adrenaline-charged activities requiring a lot of balance, a thrill-seeking spirit and… a simple climbing harness.
Breathing in the fresh alpine air, while struck by the postcard perfect view, only added to the adrenalin rush of being up so high in a region of Austria which encourages you to get closer to nature via venturesome means, and not just survey it all from the ground.
Intermediate Station – Hornpark High Rope Course Park in St. Johann
My nerves were put to the test at St. Johann’s high rope course Hornpark where semi circular shapes of rope, tight steal lines from which you inch across step by step, wobbling climbing boards and puzzling wooden beams were all a part of an adrenalin pumped balancing act.
It’s fair to say I am no pro (my balance has never been a strong point), but when it’s just you armed with your harness of karabiners and a zip line hook, you feel charged with an energy that only the breathtaking view of the Wilder Kaiser and surrounding mountains, that teasingly poke through the trees of the forest, can give you. You immediately feel like a true adventurer.
Tirol decided to build itself an adventure playground at the intermediate gondola station for those looking to clamber and climb through the beautiful alpine forest. The St. Johann Hornpark stands as the biggest park in the Kitzbüheler Alpen, with over eight different courses comprised of over eighty elements, including a 210-metre zip line – the Flying Fox – which soars over the Angereralm Mountain Lake.
Some members of my group, in a testosterone fuelled frenzy, decided to take on the last and toughest of all the courses, which included obstacles so high that there was literally no turning back. We cranked our necks while our hearts skipped a beat watching them. If I were a few inches taller, longer legged and able to balance less precariously, I wouldn’t have said no to it myself. Instead I was part of a three-man cheerleading squad on the woodland below.
Teamwork is essential, as your climbing comrades help you guide your next step, give reminders of the karabiner clipping system (which you learn beforehand with ones of the park’s experts) and laugh at your clumsiness, of which there are many moments. Not all adventurists glide through this assault course gracefully.
Of course, there is always a way down. The trees are rigged with carved ladders made of branches, and park eyes are on hand to come to the rescue – like when I got to the end of the zip line, lost my footing and swung half way back out on the line. It was fun to hang there for a few minutes observing the calm of the forest before being pulled back onto the platform.
Zip lines are addictive – the Flying Fox is set up so that you can sample it many times over without having to complete a full obstacle course – and if Tirol rigged this entire platform of forest with more of them, boosting its current 500 metres of flight, I would be there all day swinging through the Austrian Alpine like a very happy monkey. Who knows if one day it will compete with the zip lines of Costa Rica or Nepal – they certainly have the landscape for it.
Top Station – Via Ferrata Routes on the Kitzbühler Horn in St. Johann
On the same Harschbichl gondola, right at the very top to the last line, you can combine a small hike with a chance to try out two recently re-designed Via Ferrata courses.
Kitted out with the climbing harness and a full briefing, a small group of us hiked for around half an hour to the Kitzbuheler Horn that marks the entrance to the practice Via Feratta route.
We worked our way in tandem along the lower park of the mountain walls, in a heart-racing survey of the panorama of the Wilder Kaiser and the Lofer and Leogang Stone Mountains.
In a short circuit of over 100m in length, you are soon back at the entrance point again, where you can choose to continue on the summit path to the Kitzbuheler Horn on a slightly harder course (difficultly level C), whose 350 metres of twists and steep ridges, winding to an extra 150 metres of altitude, lead you to an even wider view of Tirol’s lands and the Großglockner – the highest mountain in Austria.
Be sure to bring the best hiking shoes you have, or invest in some – my trail runners were not adequate enough to tackle the more slippery of rock faces at this more challenging level.
Traditional Rest Time – Traditional Austrian Eats
No activity in the great outdoors of Austria is without a stop at a rustic mountain hut for a hearty meal to replenish your energy. In St. Johann Park, and after the climbing park in particular, we made the short 15-minute climb up to the Angerer Alm mountain hut to devour Tyrolean produce including cheese, ham and farmhouse bread, alongside traditional Austrian dishes including Tiroler Gröstl (a hearty dish of potatoes and pork, known as a traditional way of ‘eating the leftovers’) and Kaiserschmarn (a type of pancake served with an apple sauce and cranberry jam), all washed down with a favourite Austrian soft drink called Almdudler.
The owner of the Angerer Alm, Annemarie Foidl, is also a qualified sommelier and considered an international expert on wine – the cellar here is particularly impressive and full of some of the oldest bottles of vino I have ever laid eyes on.
These establishments form a part of the true Austrian experience, where you can take in the view of the land you worked hard to get close to while reveling in a sense of sporting accomplishment.
While the toughest of peaks may be out of reach for some, climbing in Austria is one way to reach the Kitzbüheler Alpen’s famed heights, in a way that is easily accessible, enormously fun and very different.
Editorial Disclosure – The #InAustria blog trip was created and managed by iambassador in association with the Austrian National Tourist Office, Tirol Tourist Board and the Kitzbüheler Alpen Marketing GmbH. Borders of Adventure maintains full editorial control of the content published on the site.