Salzburg, besides being famous for ‘The Sound of Music,’ also boasts convenient proximity to Werfen, home of the World’s Largest Ice Cave.
I’ll pause so you can oooh and aahh in wonder.
I, like hundreds (thousands? millions?) before me, was drawn to this mysterious cave, curious to see what the fuss was all about. That is, until I was told that in order to reach the ice cave, you first had to walk 20 uphill minutes to a cable car of questionable safety, and another 20 uphill minutes to the cave. Also, since the caves were full of ice, they were cold. I don’t like cold. Then, once you are in the cave, there are an additional 700 steps – 350 up, 350 down. Or something ludicrous like that.
But, I had already paid my 17 euro to Carlos on the Eastern Trekker bus, so like it or not, I was going to see the cave. I foolishly wore 3/4 length trousers and a thin jumper, along with covered shoes. I didn’t really think about whether or not this would be sufficient, which it clearly wasn’t, as I was about to take a 75-minute guided tour around the world’s largest natural freezer.
As our group filed off the bus, Carlos gave us an informative pep talk.
“I’m going to run up there and get your tickets first,” he said. “That way you can go straight into the queue for the gondola. When you finish, get down to the gondola as fast as you possibly can, otherwise you might be stuck there for two hours, just waiting to get back down.”
Then he sprinted away, his head of bouncy curls shrinking in the distance as he ran up the hill towards the ticket booth.
Roughly twenty minutes later, the rest of us arrived, Carlos presented us all with our discount tickets and ushered us into the line for the gondola. I don’t know how he got there so quickly, but was grateful he had, because the queue was massive, and this was just to buy tickets. He reminded us again to run down afterwards, and headed back to the bus.
After the swinging gondola ride up the mountain and the second 20-minute hike, I was there. The view during the hike was unexpectedly stunning. I stupidly left my camera behind in the bus, because I knew we weren’t allowed to take photographs inside the actual caves – definitely bring yours along, if only for the walk up. (Thanks to Luke & Felicite for lending me photos)
The tour guide divided people into groups of about 40, if I am remembering correctly. Germans in front, English speakers in back. The tour was conducted in both German and English, with the guide speaking for an eternity in German, then for about ten seconds in English.
The initial blast of air as we pushed through the entrance was frightening. If the wind at the beginning had been constant throughout the whole tour, I would still be there now, frozen solid, a permanent fixture in the ice.
As it was, we could barely hear or see our guide, as he was so far up in the front. The upside of this was that the seven English-speakers were free to take as many illegal cave photos as they desired.
I didn’t start to get really, really cold until about fifteen minutes in, when I felt sure that we were at least halfway through, and became depressed to realise that there was an hour to go.
It became torture after forty minutes, when I realized we were only now halfway through. I had seen enough ice to last me at least until winter, and retreated to memories of the week before, when I was in the Croatian sun. I remembered an experiment we did in sixth-grade science, when we put a goldfish into a beaker of water. Then we put that beaker into a larger beaker, full of freezing cold water, and watched as the fish (mine was called Fabio) slowly stopped moving. I felt just like Fabio. My body was shutting down.
Luckily, also like Fabio, I began to recover as soon as the tour was over and we spilled out into semi-normal temperatures. Heeding Carlos’s advice, I began to run down the mountain, despite the fact that I couldn’t feel my toes. I passed elderly couples and jogged past families. I shouted apologies as my shoulder clipped the shoulders of people my own age, who watched in bewilderment as I continued my marathon downwards.
All of the Eastern Trekker passengers arrived at the gondola well before the rest of the tourists in the ice cave group, and we all made it down to the bus in time for our departure to Salzburg. My feet finally retained feeling after about thirty minutes (I am not exaggerating), and we told the people who had chosen to remain on the bus that it was amazing.
Well. If I hadn’t gone, I would have wondered what it was like, and I definitely would have missed out on the views, not to mention the unexpected exercise. Not having seen an ice cave before, I didn’t really have the scope to appreciate the World’s Largest. I couldn’t say, “Now, that cave was really something! Makes the one I saw in Alaska look like a closet.” Or wherever else in the world one might find ice caves.
It was worth seeing mainly because I hadn’t done it before, and likely won’t get the chance again. Besides, you can always tell everyone back at home that it was amazing. If you’re lucky, they’ll take your word for it.