Snowshoe hiking in the Karwendel: Among chamois – journey


Normally, Marina Hausberger would now stand a little longer and tell the guests how the chamois survive the winter and why it is so important not to disturb them. But at minus 15 degrees Celsius, not only is the Falzthurntal at the southern end of Lake Achensee almost frozen, the ten guests who are taking part in the snowshoe hike and want to learn more about the behavior of wild animals in winter almost freeze over their explanations. That’s why the ranger of the Karwendel Nature Park does it like the chamois: she optimizes movement behavior. “Now let’s just walk until we get some sun,” says the 37-year-old. And laughs.

It’s about understanding the needs of wild animals

Apart from the cold, Hausberger certainly has a nice job and enough reason to laugh: as a ranger in the Karwendel Nature Park, the enthusiastic mountaineer can spend part of her working time where she also likes to be in her free time, namely in the mountains. She is responsible for bringing nature closer to people like Adelhaid Kastner-Schulz from Heidelberg, who is vacationing at Lake Achensee with her ski club and would like to try out snowshoeing; she shows how to read the tracks and signs of wild animals and tries to make fellow hikers understand that wild animals sometimes need rest, for example.

The nature park stretches from Innsbruck in the south to Hinterriss just before the border with Germany, from Scharnitz in the west to Lake Achensee in the east, that’s 727 square kilometers of mountains, valleys, alpine pastures, a coveted recreational landscape. Or, as Marina Hausberger puts it: “There are some very nice places here.” In the summer, the ranger, who lives in Innsbruck, often has to look after the alpine pastures and direct the crowds of visitors. The number of guests has increased even more since the Corona pandemic, so the topic has become even more urgent. In the winter, the task is a little easier, many destinations are inaccessible because of the snow, and the temperatures, like this January day, are doing their part to lure people back inside.

In which direction is the rabbit running?

As promised, Marina Hausberger makes a stop at the first sunny spot. There are numerous traces in the airy crystals of the snow. “It was a bunny,” explains Hausberger, who, after training as a florist, studied geography as a second course of education and then found her way as a ranger through an internship. She would have liked to explain the morphology of the Karwendel mountains to the snowshoe hikers beforehand, but because the information board at the Pertisau cross-country ski car park is in the shade, she can’t really warm the guests up to the story about the limestone of the Karwendel. Animal tracks in the sun get a lot more attention. The ranger clearly explains how the hare leaves this distinctive mark. First you see two prints in a row, these are the front paws, followed by two parallel prints, those of the hind paws. “The rabbit overtakes itself,” says Hausberger. And in which direction did the animal run now? Ha, how about the front and back paws? The guests from Wachau join in the puzzle, as does the couple from Limburg. From right to left?

Snowshoeing in Austria: And who was out and about here?  Definitely a small and light animal, that's for sure.

And who was here? Definitely a small and light animal, that’s for sure.

(Photo: Johanna Pfund)

It’s a small beginning to more understanding, says Hausberger. “The next time they go for a walk, people will see tracks and guess who walked there. Then they’ll know more.” Then you know the rabbit and its direction of travel, the filigree track of the squirrel. Or at least once in their life they have seen the run of a deer. “In the hunter’s language you say run to the leg,” says Marina Hausberger at the next stop in the sun and pulls prepared barrels of red deer, roe deer and chamois out of her backpack. While the guests handle the pieces with great respect, Hausberger gestures with the preparations in his hand, she is used to it. And because she’s already there, she also passes around a chamois skull and the sling bar of a red deer, which, unlike the chamois, sheds its old antlers and pushes in new ones every year.

Bite marks on branches show who ate there

Then it goes without a break through a forest in the direction of the Falzthurnalm. No problem for Hausberger, but the group of guests is also keeping up. In the wide stream bed, the ranger invites you to the next stop – nutrition. She plucks some twigs from the edge of the creek bed. “Here you can see who has bad teeth.” You learn that hares bite off cleanly, while roe deer are more likely to tear off branches. And that chamois can usually be seen on the sunny slopes above the creek bed. “They come further down in search of food,” says the ranger. But the spotting scope that she brought along specifically for wildlife observation remains unused that day. Despite the sun, the chamois find it too cold. And they do what they are good at: reducing energy consumption and keeping quiet. “A disturbance can be deadly for the chamois,” explains Marina Hausberger. Because if she has to flee because of some people who are marching through the forest in the early morning or evening hours, then she uses up energy unnecessarily – and she could lack that at the end of winter.

Snowshoeing in Austria: ranger Marina Hausberger shows who nibbled on a branch.  Roe deer are more likely to tear off the fibres, while rabbits bite through the twigs with their sharp teeth.

Ranger Marina Hausberger shows who nibbled on the branch. Roe deer are more likely to tear off the fibres, while rabbits bite through the twigs with their sharp teeth.

(Photo: Johanna Pfund)

The whole group of guests felt how it is with the energy and warmth that day. The warm-up stop in the Alm is more than welcome. On the way back, attention drops. The chapter “Learn to read the slogan” is still on the program. So recognize which droppings belong to which animal. Marina Hausberger has a nice plastic box with her, with the coffee bean-like droppings of the roe deer, for example, or with the small dumplings that the ibex leave behind. The box is quickly passed around, Hausberger hasn’t even packed it when the first guests are already marching on again. The ranger sees it calmly. “It’s a bit different with every group. With some I’m only back at the parking lot at 4 p.m. But I’m flexible – it just depends on the weather and the people.”

Snowshoe hiking in Austria: You can also tell from the legacies, the slogan, which animals are out and about in the respective area.

You can also tell from the legacies, the slogan, which animals are out and about in the respective area.

(Photo: Johanna Pfund)

But the exchange suits her. “I do like dealing with people.” Not just with guests, but also with those who are often skeptical about nature conservation, such as farmers. She has to talk a lot, maybe even more than with the tourists who come, have a look and then drive away again. But the farmers who stay, and nature conservation has to be coordinated with them all year round. “But I still found a green branch with everyone,” says Hausberger. You believe that after this day.

Information:

The Achensee tourist office offers a variety of winter hikes, which are led by rangers from the Karwendel Nature Park. Some focus on wildlife, others teach snow tracking. The rental equipment – snowshoes and sticks – is included in the price of 15 euros per person. Warm clothing, good shoes, a hat and gloves are also recommended. More information and booking on the website achensee.com or by calling 0043/595 30 00.

You can find out more about the tasks and projects of the Karwendel Nature Park on the website karwendel.org. The nature park also offers numerous activities in summer.


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