Here is what I know about Austria: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Vienna sausages. Also, there’s some bizarre tradition they have where people dress like monsters and beat up other people. This is all I know. The most important fact about Austria though, is that my friend Kevin lives there. I met him right before the jungle party in Koh Tao, Thailand last summer. We’ve kept in touch often and both decided that I will come down to stay with him for several days so he could show me his country. Out of all the European countries I’ve been to so far, my prior knowledge of Austria was the most lacking, so my expectations were bare. I took a Meinfernbus, two hours south of Germany to a city in Austria called Salzburg. There Kevin and his buddy Alex were waiting for me.
Just like before, Kevin spoke like Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was pretty amusing to me and he went along with it. “Put the cookie down!” “Get to the chopper!” Since Thailand, Kevin has been doing a lot of working and a lot of music festival partying based on all the photos he’s been showing me on Whatsapp the past few months. His friend Alex just came back about a month ago from a solo backpacking trip around Southeast Asia. He was actually on the islands too when I met Kevin last year, but he was sick in the hospital the whole time I was around. Kevin and Alex decided we should all have a home cooked meal and so we stopped at a super market, grabbed some grub, and went back to Kevin’s house where they prepared the feast.
Kevin had tons of cool things planned for my visit and I was pretty pumped and game for anything! There is a mountain called Hochkogel Mountain, which is part of the Alps, and inside at the top is the largest ice cave discovered on Earth! The cave is called Eisreisenwelt and it spans 42km deep! That’s humoungous! The drive to the mountain was about an hour or so. I don’t exactly remember because I was passed out most of the drive. But once we made it, we had two options to get to the cave: we could take the cable car up, followed by a short hike or we could hike all the way to the top. Kevin and I opted for the long haul and were the only ones to do so for this day. On our way past the starting point, a lady told us we were wearing the wrong shoes for the hike, as it’s a little difficult. Kevin and I both had on sneakers which were perfect for us, but the woman recommended hiking boots. We said we’re fine and continued on anyways. The fact that everyone else took the cable car up made the hike up the mountain more enjoyable. Kevin and I were the only ones around and the sights around constantly left me in complete awe.
The path up the mountain was indeed slippery. There were unsteady pebbles of rocks laid across the trail and one false step meant an undesirable fate. The trail zig-zagged up the base of the slope, piled with stones, pebbles, and rocks of all sorts of shapes and sizes. At one point I decided to take a short-cut and instead of following the trail, decided to climb straight up which would shave plenty of time. With me deciding to take a shortcut usually turns out to be a really great idea or a really bad one. This was a bad one. Kevin is game for anything also so I convinced him how much easier and more fun it would be to climb straight up instead of following the linear path. Upon beginning, I knew in my head that maybe this wasn’t a good idea, as the rocks I grabbed onto were loose and the bushes and grasses were wet and slippery. If I fell, it meant I would fall and slide down the mountain along with a bunch of stones. I made it up a few meters while Kevin waited to see if I could set a path for him. As he was busy fumbling with his GoPro, I accidentally dislodged a stone the size of my head and it came rolling down past me…straight towards Kevin!
“Kevin! Kevin! Watch out!!” I shouted in a panic.
He looked up and just as he did, he quickly dodged his head as the stone tumbled and flew past his shoulder. We both had an “Oh my God!” look on our faces. I almost just killed Kevin! With that, I proceeded up back to the nearest trail and he wisely decided not to climb up and proceeded along the trail and met me where I stood. My bad Kevin!
After that brief rush of adrenaline, we took it easy; no more daring stunts. We progressed up the mountain and every turn we made led us to another spectacular view of Austria…and it was beautiful.
We stopped a lot to rest and take pictures. Kevin with his GoPro and me with my Nikon. A couple of hours in, we finally made it to the point where the cable car would drop off patrons, but we still had a 20 minute hike ahead. We could see the entrance of the cave from where we were.
I wish I could explore the cave freely. No…not here, this was a guided tour. I dread those words: guided tour. There was a group of about thirty of us waiting at the top for the next phase of the tour to begin. While everyone began to dress up in their winter coats, hats and gloves, Kevin and I were standing there in shorts and t-shirts. Just how cold is this ice cave? The tour guide announced it was zero degrees celsius inside. We had to make do! We’ll be okay…right? I don’t operate well in cold weather.
Upon entering the cave we were blasted with frigid winds! It felt like someone placed a jet turbine in front of Antarctica and set it on full throttle. It was cold! Fortunately the winds only lasted for a few seconds and the inside of the cave was calm…and icy!
“No photography allowed,” said the tour guide.
But why? This isn’t a church or museum. It’s completely natural here. I couldn’t think of a single good reason why we weren’t allowed to take pictures…so I took some anyway! Discreetly of course. We didn’t climb all the way up here for nothing!
The cave is 42km long but we only went into the beginnings of the cave. It started with a steep climb up an iced out wall via a staircase. The stairs led us to a giant chunk of ice in the shape of a wooly mammoth. It wasn’t carved that way, it was completely natural and it really did look like a mammoth!
The cave is comprised of several chambers, some with filled with more ice than others. Each chamber of the cave had a chunk of ice that resembled some kind of giant monster. Use your imagination. Over years, the giant chunks change and deform as water from the outside slowly drips onto the ice. In ordinary caves, you’ll find stalagmites and stalactites and here you would find the same except made completely out of ice and frozen mineral sediments.
The cave itself was cold but bearable. If you ever go here in shorts, you’ll live. The tour lasted for about an hour before we exited back to the chilly winds at the entrance.
For being the largest ice cave on the planet, I decided it’s worthy of being added onto my ATLAS.
No, you’re not allowed to take photos for whatever unknown reasons, but if you have the chance to visit, go ahead and take some! Just turn the flash off and do it when the guide isn’t paying attention. You’re not hurting anyone. Also, if you’re in the mood for a dose of some of the most amazing scenery ever, hike up the mountain! It’s an exercise but the photos will show for it.
Kevin and I decided to also hike back down the mountain and stopped at certain points we missed along the way. The late evening was approaching and the sun beamed its last rays of daylight through the gaps of clouds and mountain peaks. I’d say the hike was the cake and the ice cave were just the sprinkles added to an already delicious dessert.
Kevin had more to show me. There is an entirely different world above the clouds. And we’re going there next!