Beautiful places have problems. Even the most exotic of paradises suffer from their popularity in some way; in Innsbruck its the smog. Its not that bad; it’s hardly even noticeable most of the time. The problem is that Innsbruck, or the Inn valley to be precise, is one of the busiest corridors in Europe. The beautiful limestone lined valley of ski areas, mountain streams and saw-toothed peaks is also the home of the main railway from Germany to Italy, and the most direct motorway route too. There’s lots of traffic in this valley. When you’re here, living, you hardly even notice it. It passes by, on the way to somewhere else. Munich, Verona, further afield. I can ride 10 minutes from the city and ride singletrack for the next 2 hours without seeing a soul on the paths, but the cars leave their mark in the faint haze hanging over the city.
I noticed the polluted haze back in February, when I donned touring skis to make the most of fresh snow, blue skies and a new location. Climbing to the top of the Mutterer Alm, a local ski hill, I turned around to find my house among the sprawl of city laid below. Instead I saw brown cloud, low and heavy, sitting just over the city. Since then I’ve been wary of those inversion days when the heavy air keeps the pollution tucked up tight against the high rise buildings. I’ve used the mild pollution (we’re not talking Singapore or Beijing here) as just one of many superfluous excuses to climb out of the valley at every opportunity.
This is the background on how I found myself atop of the Rangger Köpfl. Like my introduction to the pollution haze, I first discovered the Rangger in the winter. Its entirely insignificant shape stuck out on the map, and also on the ground. Its peak really isn’t a peak; its slopes are a slow hogsback leading to a flattened dome on top. In lots of ways its much more similar in shape to a Devonshire hill than an Austrian mountain. The Inn valley isn’t straight; the Rangger Köpfl watches over one such turn in the valley, and thus it can be seen straight on from the city. My cartographic wanderings had already led me to plot the zigzags up the hill, but the injection of previous experience by Tracy gave me the green light to get to the top.
The weather hadn’t really understood my desire for warmer temperatures, and rewarded my impatient pleading for sunshine with just that; hot humid heat. From two weeks without cessation of liquid pouring from the sky, we now had a thick blue sky. The plants were giving up their moisture; every field, every tree was steaming with pent up rain.
Without so much as a pair of arm warmers, I pedalled to meet Tracy at the prison outside of Innsbruck – its equidistance from our houses, and it being at the bottom of a couple prime descents meant that it was the ideal rendezvous location. From there we rode steadily around the contours at the base of the valley; repeating small stretches of singletrack I’d only touched on briefly at the beginning of my time in Innsbruck. I had a feeling of anticipation that only comes with being guided – I spent a lot of time choosing my own adventures, and creating them for other people, that this experience is relatively rare for me. When you’re in charge of someone else’s free time, you’re responsible for whether they are excited, happy, or scared. When I’m in control of my multiple solo expeditions, I feel like I owe it to myself to make the best use of the limited miles I can pedal in one day. So now I was here with Tracy, who had bravely volunteered his knowledge of this route to my great anticipation.
It started well with an unknown turn onto an unknown trail – a potential offroad linker to the pre-explored stuff further up. It was a good omen for the day as the trail was steep, rooty and challenging. A couple of tight corners, and plenty of shaded relief from the sun. The initial elevation gain brought us to Oberperfuss – a small village on the shelf around Innsbruck, and from there we began the climb proper up the Rangger Köpfl. Before long the trees had been left behind, and we’d crested the domed peak, and carried on along the shoulder of the mountain to gain the next saddle, the Kogele. This brought us to the top of a ridgeline spanning the gap between Sellrain and Inntal – a junction of mountains with a trail running all the way down its shoulder.
The high alpine did not disappoint. From up here the haze covering the city was but a distance speck of the huge landscape. We gained the ridge easily, covering the last few hundred metres with bikes on shoulders, and did not hesitate in beginning the descent. Stored gravity put to its best use. The downhill took us back through the myrtleberry scrub of the higher slopes and into the pine trees with their distinctive forest floor coating; pine needles giving off a buzz of excitement as your tyres cruise over them, and pine cones – little cylindrical marbles just waiting to catch your tyre at the wrong angle and send you careening away from where you were headed before. From the conifers, we went lower into the mixed woodland, and then eventually out into a green pasture dotted with haystacks drying in the sun.
Travelling great distances doesn’t have to involve huge miles. This ride through the strata of the Inn valley allowed me to escape the city, even though I could see it all the time. We pedalled slowly through the village and back along the contours of the valley towards the city, occasionally glimpsing over our shoulders the huge ridgeline we’d just gone down. A pretty satisfying adventure, and one more peak check off the list – I’d love to stand on top of all the peaks that look at Innsbruck – but that will be a long term project.