Monday, July 25, 2016

The Ice Caves! Day 2, part 2...5/27/16

We left off at the entrance of the Eisreisenwelt Ice Caves. We made it up the mountain....Alex practically ran up the last section of the climb, I felt as if I barely made it at a crawl. But we were here! We made it into that little hole of an entrance we could see from down below and now we waited for our tour to begin.

Yea, that's right, I can finally sit down for 15 minutes! 

And be so thrilled that I actually made it up the mountain! The worst part had to be over right? We've been in caves before. When they say there are 1400 steps in the cave, how difficult could they be? ONLY 700 steps are up, and surely there will be plenty of stopping to look at the ice.

Finally, our group was ready to go. There were about 8 or so English speaking people and maybe 20 or so German speaking people in our group.  The English speaking got to line up first. The caves are totally dark.  There is no electricity in the caves at all to protect the structures. So, what they do is give every other person a candle lantern to carry. 

And as I mentioned before, there are no pictures allowed in the cave, for safety reasons.  Once in there, I totally understood this.

A little bit of the science behind the ice in the caves....Cave ice can be formed by a variety of processes. The Eisriesenwelt is a dynamic ice cave. This means that the cave galleries and fissures form a link from lower entrances to higher openings, which – like a chimney - allow the passage of air.

Depending on the outside climate, the temperature inside the mountain is either cooler or warmer, causing an air draft from top to bottom or vice versa due to the specific weight differences of the air. In the winter, when the air inside the mountain is warmer than outside, cold air enters into the passages and cools the lower part of the cave to below zero degrees.

This means that the melting water entering the rock fissures in the spring and dripping into the cooler areas of the cave will freeze, forming the spectacular ice sculptures in the interior of the mountain.

Now this chimney or air draft, means that when that door is opened, there is a major gust of cold, cold air that rushes out of the cave! It makes one wonder just what they're walking into!  The gust of air is blowing Alex's hair all over the place!

So while we couldn't take pictures in the cave, the photos on the website are freely available for use and I also purchased a book with beautiful pictures that I have used here so that you can see just what the caves looked like.
When we walked in, the only lights were the glowing from the lanterns that ever 2 or 3 people in the group had. We were walking along the wooden paths that covered the ground and we came along to a semi circle where our guide went into an area covered by ice. In each area where he went and explained something, he would take a magnesium string and light it to illuminate the ice structures while he was talking.  It would totally burn away, leaving really nothing behind when he was talking. 

Being in the English speaking group, we were still in the front of the line of people.  The guide began by telling us the history if these caves.  The total cave is over 40 km! That is huge! However only about 1 km or so has the ice structures in it. It was discovered in the late 1800s and then rediscovered and fully explored in the early 1900s. Once we learned those details, our guide let us know that we shouldn't worry about all of those steps, because we'd only be starting out with the first 350 steps at first!  I honestly wanted to cry right then and there. But just that first bit of ice that we had seen already and being in that cave was so amazing, that I would push myself and do it.  What's 350 steps at one time, after walking up hill for 40 minutes?

We were on our the end of the first climb, all of the group had well passed me except a wonderful German family, who took me under their wing to be sure I wasn't left in the dark. So I really never got to hear any of the tour in English.  By the time I had caught up to the group I was hearing the German descriptions! But I did make it up the steps, very slowly and sometimes I lagged really far behind, having to use my cell phone flashlight to see because I sent my family with their lanterns ahead of me a bit...but I could always see the tail end of the group! When they finally came to the end of the first 350 steps and I caught up, the remaining 350 steps up, were broken into much smaller and slower segments.  Stopping here and there to hear about the structures. 

It's so hard to visualize the vastness of the cave, and the amount of ice in there with the pictures, but it was spectacular!

I think we probably were in the cave walking around for about 90 minutes. Around every turn was something even more spectacular.  But perhaps the most incredible part was walking back down the steps. To get to the exit, we walked through basically an ice tunnel. The photo is looking upwards, but we walked down the tunnel to the exit.

We made it through, and while it was probably the most physically challenging thing I've done in years, it was also the most amazing site I've seen in quite some time!  What a sense of accomplishment as well!  I was feeling great, but also feeling like I'd be paying for this tomorrow!  We exited the cave and made our way back down the mountain to meet up with the rest of our group.

Back down the cable car

And even with my super slow walking we even had time for some souvenir shopping before our guide was ready to head back to Salzburg!

Before leaving we had a few minutes for the group to take some pictures in front of the Hohenwerfen Castle.

What a morning! Our day was really just getting started...we were on our way back to Salzburg for an afternoon of sightseeing next!  Our second day in Europe was perfect.  And I was so glad that I went ahead and decided to challenge myself to take that tour!  Go me!

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