The International Writers Magazine:Ice Cavesin Austria
Hell Freezes Over
by lush, rolling hills and only an hours drive from the
Alps, Salzburg, Austria is alive with the scent of fresh country
air and of course the sound of music.
common visitors misconception is that Salzburg can be conquered
in a day. Despite its small geography, the UNESCOs World
Cultural Heritage site boasts plenty of charms to keep a tourist
busy for days, including an unforgettable journey to the worlds
largest ice caves.
The birthplace of
both Mozart and Red Bull boasts the centuries-old Augustiner Bräustübl
monk-run brewery; and Festung Hohensalzburg a fortress which dates back
to 1077, to name a few attractions.
Naturally, one might recognize the picturesque city from the award-winning
wartime musical "The Sound of Music," and various tour companies
take visitors to the key film locations in town and the surrounding
However, taking the tourist path a little less travelled will lead you
on a unique adventure through the Austrian Alps and into Eisriesenwelt
Höhle, the "Giant Ice Caves."
To get to the caves, you can rent a car and drive along Hwy 10 to Eisriesenwelt
Höhles hometown of Werfen, but for those who dont have
the means or the time, there is a bus tour available that will pick
you up in Salzburg and transport you to the cave site. The medieval
village, itself, is a point of interest. With a population of just 3,000,
Werfen is tucked between the Hochkönig und Tennengebirge mountains.
The stunning Blühnbach Castle, built in the early 17th century,
sits atop a lonely rock cliff, towering over Werfen, asserting its dominating
presence on the mountainous landscape.
Eisriesenwelt Höhle are located approximately 1,700 metres above
sea level, in the Alps mountain range.
Altogether, the journey to the cave entrance includes about 500 metres
of walking and a 500-metre journey in one of Europes oldest cable
The entrance to the ice cave has remained untouched since it was first
penetrated in the late 19th Century. Prior to that, the townspeople
of Werfen saw the cave as an entrance to Hell and refused to explore
it. But, in 1879 Anton Posselt, a natural scientist from Salzburg, infiltrated
the first 200 metres of the caves and discovered the winter wonderland
within, bringing new meaning to the phrase "When Hell freezes over."
From there, he published a report on the caves, which lead to further
exploration and development of the site.
have mapped all 42 kilometres of the extensive cave system, though
only the first and most exciting kilometre is open to the public.
When first entering the cave, theres a rush of ice wind that
will literally blow your hat off and extinguish your torch. Once
inside the cave, the temperature drops to at least 0 degrees Celsius,
regardless of how hot it is outside.
Even though we were among the 150,000 lucky tourists who visit this
natural phenomenon every year, it still almost felt like we were
the first ever. Relighting our lamps and securing our beanies and
mittens, we ascended a 20-vertical-metre ice mountain stairs.
many years to conquer that wall with just their climbing equipment,
though it took us less than 10 minutes to reach the top of this ice
wonderland. Our procession of 20 eager visitors ascended the stairs
single file, holding carbide lamps which created an eerie red
glow within in the dark depths of the cave.
At the various points of interest, the guide used magnesium to light
up the natural ice sculptures.
Massive stalactites and stalagmites form when the winter snowfall melts
and the dripping water freezes before it hits the ground, creating impressive
natural ice sculptures, including a castle, elephant and polar bear.
The ice caves are thousands of years old, which is visible on a giant
wall of ice layers, each one depicting a year much like the rings
of a tree trunk.
Altogether, the tour took a little over one hour, and by the end, we
were glad to emerge from the freezing cave into the October sunshine.
The Dr. Oedl Haus (pronounced "Oodle House"), at mid-base,
is an excellent resting spot to hit before continuing your descent.
The prices are decent for such a remote location and menu highlights
include the Oedle strudel and an alcoholic orange punch, which is guaranteed
to knock more than your hat off.
Seeing the magnificent ice sculptures is an once-in-a-lifetime experience,
and, although it puts a dent the average backpackers budget, it
is well worth it.
The ice caves are open from May 1 to Oct 26.
© Amber Turnau Feb 1 2006
Go to the official link and see more amazing images from the caves http://www.eisriesenwelt.at/
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