We hate tours, and we’re not really fans of caves either; their creepy, dark, bat ridden and in my opinion just an accident waiting to happen. So it seemed an odd choice for us to go check out the ice caves in Werfen, Austria.
But at 10am we found ourselves being ushered into a large cable car and hoisted steeply up on what looked to be a piece of dental floss. From the top of the ride we had a walk uphill towards the cave entrance, it had a sort of half tunnel section with a roof but no sides and on that roof were thousands of tiny rocks collected and ready to fall on someone one day, not today though.
The cave was literally a big dark hole in the rocky face of a mountain. At the entrance we waited by the ‘English’ sign till there were enough people for a group. The guide ended up taking both the English speakers and the Germans and did a separate speech each time. We somehow ended up at the front of the queue and were handed an open flamed lantern; anymore hazards you want to give us? Maybe cover our clothes in petrol and pack some dynamite? Every few people were given a lantern and once we were ready he said “hold onto your hats” – “halten an hut!!” And then he opened the door to the cave…whoosh! A big icy gust of wind hit us and blew out all the flames.
We were shuffled into the cave, and had our lanterns relit. It was totally pitch black inside except for the lights we held and the guide was forever lighting magnesium strips. Apparently they don’t use electricity out of respect for the first explorers to give you a sort of idea of how they experienced it. Though you clearly walk past electricity cables and the postcards for sale in the gifts shop show it all lit up very brightly.
Eisriesenwelt as it’s know is the largest ice cave in the world, it’s only open to public in the summer when the door is shut to keep the subzero temperatures in. In winter it’s left wide open to freeze over again.
There wasn’t much to see at the beginning, you could tell you were in a large cave, walking on a wooden platform which turned into over 1000 wooden steps and rose us to roughly 1700m altitude. There were a few impressive ice stalagmites and the ground was all icy, but nothing too grand as yet. We got to a really thick ice wall which was as far as the first ever expedition got due to their basic equipment and the 70% incline.
There was an amazing site round the corner though; a huge, curving ice wall, which had an archway through it and the guide stepped inside to give us all a speech. He lit a magnesium strip and the ice shone the most beautiful blue colour. Behind this area was a bulging ice formation otherwise known as ‘the elephant’. The guide was rather amusing when describing it, as the elephants head had broken off and new formations had grown on it’s back “so, please uze your imagination”. As we were at the front he started chatting to us as we walked; we asked if Austria had a football team, he said yes but nobody knows it. We asked if Austrians support Germany instead, he said no we hate the Germans. But he said it all with a cheeky smile and that wunderbar accent that I was cracking up at everything he said.
The highlight for me was walking down the steps through a complete blue ice tunnel, it was pretty impressive how long it was and just pure ice; imagine discovering it and sliding down in a tube!!
Apparently we walked 1km into the cave, it continues into the abyss for 42km but the rest doesn’t have any ice. I was actually expecting it to be an ‘ice cave’ like all made from ice, but I guess that was silly, we’re in the alps, not Antarctica. But I did enjoy the tour, I didn’t feel scared inside as it never became too small an area to make you feel claustrophobic and no screaming kids! It’s the first ice cave I’ve been to and I thought it was rather stunning and worth the trip.