Exploring the Eisriesenwelt Ice Cave in Austria
One thing to do, in the relatively short time we're granted here on Earth, is to create some memorable life experiences . It might be a person, place, smell or sound. In this case, it's a combination of them all. In the hills of Werfen, Austria lies a place that will guarantee you a memorable experience to last a lifetime.
Getting to the Eisriesenwelt
Just South of Salzburg, home to Mozart and that cute blonde lady from "The Sound of Music," lies the small town of Werfen. Here, you can find Eisriesenwelt, the largest ice cave in world. The Eisriesenwelt (German for "World of the Ice Giants"), was once feared by locals as "the entrance to Hell," not being first explored until 1879 by a man named Anton Posselt. What was Posselt's inspiration for venturing off into this Austrian abyss with little more than a lamp and an ice pick? Maybe a mental disorder, who knows, but we can all thank him for it.
Today, guided tours are available for those interested in entering the cave and into an ice wonderland. For this adventure, a good pair of shoes and warm clothes is recommended. After a 20 minute hike, a ride on the steepest chairlift in Europe (built in 1955), and another 20 minute hike, you arrive to the mouth of the cave. Upon reaching the 20m wide and 18m high entrance, you are slapped in the face by a gust of freezing cold air, and handed a carbide lamp similar to the one Posselt used almost 150 years ago.
The cave itself is 42km deep, with only the first kilometer shaped by ice and able to explore. The Eisriesenwelt was formed as a result of rain water and run-off seeping down through cracks in the rock above. As the water reached the colder first kilometer of the cave, it began to slowly transform into the ice formations you see today.
Exploring the Cave
Exploring the ice cave is an incredible experience, one that is unique to anything else in the world. Ice formations are lit up by the glow of your carbine lamp and the occasional flare by your guide. Walking through the cave you pass numerous ice stalactites and stalagmites, colossal walls of ice, and waterfalls literally frozen in time. As you make your way deeper into the cave, the temperature drops well below freezing and each breath becomes increasingly visible. Knowledgeable guides take you along wooden planks and up frozen stairs to different points of interest. The first is an ash mark in the shape of a cross, left by Anton Posselt just before he turned back. Continuing on, you come cross giant ice formations including one in the shape of a woolly mammoth. After 75 minutes, the tour climaxes at 400m underground and one kilometer into the cave at "the ice palace". At this time, visitors reach their freezing point and begin re-trace their steps out of the cave and back to reality.
Cheers to Ice Caves in Austria
Experiencing the Eisriesenwelt ice cave is uplifting and intensely spiritual. It will leave it's visitors with sore cheekbones from constant smiling. Before getting on the chairlift and hiking back down the mountain, give your feet some time to thaw out. There is a cafe with incredible views of the surrounding Alps and the town of Werfen below. Here you can suck in the view and enjoy a fine Austrian brew. Sit back and cheers to more other-worldly explorations in the future.