With the national park ranger on explorer tour

With the national park ranger on explorer tour



The gateway to Austria's largest national park is unmissable when in Zell am See-Kaprun: The Kitzsteinhorn rises mightily more than 3,000 metres into the sky and offers impressive views of the Hohe Tauern National Park. Werner Schuh has the best job of all here in the 1,856 square kilometre protected area: he is a national park ranger and as such is out and about in nature every day. On guided explorer tours, he takes guests on an exciting journey from the valley to the summit, and explains how flora and fauna are changing due to climate change. 

"I have been a national park ranger since 2011. At that time, the Kitzsteinhorn National Park Gallery was opened and rangers were needed for it, so I applied - and have stayed in this profession ever since," Werner Schuh explains. What fascinates the Pinzgau native about his job is above all the variety. "No two days are the same here. In winter, I get to discover wildlife paw prints together with children as a tracing detective, go snowshoeing, on other days I am a guide on winter hikes. I also often visit schools and talk to the pupils about the national park and its fauna and flora. In between I'm of course also out and about in the area a lot, alone or in a team, observing and recording changes: I make a note when I see golden eagles or bearded vultures, observe environmental influences caused by microplastics or changes in temperature." In summer, Werner Schuh leads wilderness camps, does survival training and photo seminars, or accompanies multi-day hiking tours.

Tour through four climate zones

In addition to their educational work, Werner Schuh and the other national park rangers are also important contacts for guests visiting the National Park. And the Kitzsteinhorn Explorer Tours are a particular highlight: these exploratory tours take place daily in summer, and every Tuesday in winter. Accompanied by a ranger, you explore four climate zones on the way from Kaprun village to the Kitzsteinhorn summit terminus at 3,029 metres above sea level. You go uphill comfortably by cable car and stop at every mountain terminus. In total, the tour takes three to four hours and is also suitable for families.

From the tundra climate to arctic climes

Starting with the temperate climate and green meadows and small streams in the valley, the tour then leads uphill to 1,900 metres above sea level. Here, the tundra climate prevails: The area is already above the timberline, but here you will discover alpenroses and gentian, and perhaps even a marmot. The third stop is the rocky landscape around the Alpincenter. Here you will find yourself at an altitude of 2,500 metres and the periphery of the glacier’s Eternal Ice. The destination of the explorer tour is the summit terminus on the Kitzsteinhorn glacier. Here, at an altitude of over 3,029 metres above sea level, the climate is arctic and the peaks and valleys of the National Park lie at the visitors' feet.

In focus: constant change

"On the tours we explain how vegetation changes with altitude," says Werner. And something else is always a topic: climate change and its consequences. "We explain to the tour participants that, for example, the vegetation belt is rising more and more upwards, and draw their attention to the possible consequences of warming: rockfall or permafrost - there is even a designated research station on the Kitzsteinhorn for this, measuring all the changes and rock movements in the mountain. These are, of course, major challenges for the future," says Werner Schuh.

From here you have the best view over the nature | © Kitzsteinhorn
The objective? Sharing know-how 

"The wildlife also has to adapt: The marmot gets too hot, the alpine hare, which can't change its coat colour fast enough due to early spring, then becomes easy prey." For the tour participants, he says, this is very impressive to see: "Many of our visitors are in part already informed, but on the other hand they are always amazed, because you can observe the effects of climate change in detail, especially on the glacier. If you read in the newspaper that a chunk of ice has broken off in Antarctica, and that's why the sea level is rising, that doesn't affect us directly. Coastal regions feel the effects. But here on the mountain, in high alpine terrain, climate change becomes more tangible," says Werner. "However, we don't want to draw attention to these changes with a moralising undertone. We simply want to share know-how. We want to inform, not shame and blame." 

At the end of the tour, visitors are invited to walk through the gallery, the National Park Gallery, to the viewing platform of the same name. Then you stand right at the gateway to the protected area, which spreads out impressively here. "With our tours, we want to inspire people, so that they want to delve even deeper into the theme of the National Park and into nature," says Werner Schuh.



Would you also like to experience an explorer tour or join Werner Schuh and his ranger team? You can find all the information here.

Natural history from a bird's eye view | © Kitzsteinhorn