Monday, August 10, 2009

Eis Riesen Welt

[click to enlarge] From Salzburg, we left for Werfen to see the largest ice cave in the world. To get to this hole in the mountain, first we had to take a death-defying bus ride. There is a secured entrance where a woman came up to Dragan and asked him how long his bus was (10 m) and whether it could make the 10% grade. At which point Dragan lifted his eyebrows and shrugged his shoulders and Rob and I wondered if he'd even understood the question, because that bus is easily Paleozoic or late-Cretaceous period.
After escaping from the bus, we still had to climb two blocks or so to the ticket office, another 15 minutes to the bottom of the tram, up the tram praying all the way (see Maddie above and the teeny tiny tram shadow against the limestone mountain), and then another half hour hike to the entrance of the cave. At this point the kids suited up in their rain pants and Rob found the strangest bathroom of his life -- carved out of the rock and with water coming out of the sink so cold it stung, but he said it tasted like the cleanest, purest water he'd ever had.

This system of caves goes into the mountain nearly 40km, and is filled with ice because of the shape, where the cold air coming out in summer and warm air coming up in the winter causes freezing and melting of the water inside (the shape was created when an 40 million year old ocean receded). The tour only goes into the first km or so, but even that entails climbing up and down more than a thousand stairs. In the dark. Carrying a davy lamp. Sebastian was having enough trouble that Rob gave back his lamp. When the middle eastern family in front of them had an argument and decided at the only crossroads to turn back about 1/4 of the way in, then there was no light for Rob and Sebi to ascend by, except the people behind. Maddie and Will were both with Megan who took great care of them.
I was so proud of all the students and kids for going! The kids say it was 'dark' 'cold' 'creepy' and 'you couldn't see the entrance when you got up there'. Rob said it was very untouristy and the guide had magnesium flares that he would light whenever he wanted to show something to the group. He would also slide up and down the ice to get around, and he was wearing nothing more than tennis shoes!
After coming back down, the group sat at the parking lot for a minute to eat some lunch. This butterfly kept attaching itself, first to Shelly and then to Maddie. Maddie named it Copper and would have kept it as a pet, but I told her Copper didn't want to die in Dragan's bus. None of us did.
And here we are on the way down again, looking back up toward the cave, just happy to be alive.
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And this is what Joss and I were doing while everyone else was climbing stairs in the icy darkness. For four hours. I have never been so grateful to have to stay out of a tour. Of course we saw two dogs who were heading up to the cave, but they probably comported themselves perfectly!

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