June 20: Eisriesenwelt and Lichtensteinklamm

Werfen, Austria

It started as a grey, overcast day but we thought we might be able to see the ice cave at Werfen just as well in bad weather as good. We drove to Werfen and enquired about a visit to the "Eisriesenwelt" (The world of the ice giants), the largest accessable ice cave in the world.

We drove out of Werfen about 10:30 AM and took the narrow mountain road to the cable railway station. The road was one-lane with a dirt surface, with steep inclines and hairpin bends scratching up the side of the mountain. We parked the car at the top of the road and after about a 10 minute walk reached the cable railway station. We could see the valley and the river far below, and the castle which sits on a small hill outside Werfen. There would have been much wider views, but it was cloudy and foggy.

The cable car was a small one, holding only six people standing. There were two cars on a continuous loop of cable which kept the load fairly well balanced at all times. There were tremendous concrete counterweights which moved in some fashion when the cars moved up and down. The 4 minute ride to the top station was not particularly scenic since we plunged into a fog bank almost immediately and all we could see was the sheer rock face of the cliff we were climbing. Nevertheless, it was an interesting ride - our first experience with a cable railway.

From the upper station we had about a 20 minute walk to the entrance to the ice cave. Upon entering the cave in a group of about 30, a carbide miner's lamp was given to about every 5th person. We moved into the entrance and were immediately walking over a sheet of ice on a wooden catwalk. In a long single file illuminated by the periodic lamps, we moved through the cave on well-constructed wooden walks, ramps and stairways. A guide led us and explained the various features of the cave - in German - we were the only English speaking people on the tour as far as we know.

We saw a "frozen waterfall", some very pretty ice stalagmites and walked continuously over a sheet of ice 100-150 ft thick. There was one complex formation which could easily be imagined to be a high-vaulted room in one of the ornately designed cathedrals (the ice chapel). There was a cave through the formation and the guide walked through and lighted a magnesium flare. The translucent, slightly bluish ice formation was really beautiful with the glow of the transmitted light.

Another formation had a large ice formation at the top with almost regularly spaced stalactites coming down from it - it is called the ice organ. It was also very beautiful with the transmitted light of the magnesium flare. At the foot of this formation were some crystal-clear stalagmites of many different shapes.

The round trip tour was about two kilometers long and took about two hours. We rode the cable car, walked, then drove down the mountain. We reached Werfen again about 3:30 - an elapsed time of about 5 hours for the visit.

We drove south to St Johann im Pongau and down to the gorge known as the Lichtensteinklamm. We parked the car and walked into the gorge. Wooden walks were build along the sheer rock walls at the edge of the gorge and crossed the stream on wooden bridges two or three times.

The gorge started as a gentle depression with a quiet stream blowing through a nice green forest. As we proceeded up the gorge it got narrower, the walls became higher and the water increased in fury. Soon the gorge narrowed to about 30-40 ft and the walls must have been well over 100 ft high. At the narrowest points it was perhaps 25 ft across and you could not see the sky at all! The water was a raging torrent, often almost reversing its direction in its narrow, twisting path. It had carved strange patterns in the solid rock which formed its bed.

At the upper end of the gorge, at its beginning, a long waterfall dropped into the cleft. Just away from the foot of the falls, a huge boulder, perhaps 30 ft in diameter, blocked the water which went seething around it. Soon afterward it dropped over another fall of perhaps 40-50 ft and went rushing sown into the narrow part of the gorge.

The wooden walk stood a good 20 feet above the present water line, but the end of the walk had been torn away by previous flood waters. One shattered section was hanging grotesquely out over the rushing water from the falls.

We drove our weary way back to camp at Zell-am-See after having witnessed two outstanding natural wonders in one day.

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