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Eisriesenwelt, World of the Ice Giants



Wefren, a small town in Austria, is home to what was once considered the gateway to hell.

If hell had frozen over, then the locals might be onto something, because what they used to call an icy gateway is actually the biggest ice cave in the world. Eisriesenwelt, German for World of the Ice Giants (and the name of the cave), is the most appropriate possible description for this cold, limestone cave.

 

The cave can be found inside the Hochkogel Mountain in the Tennengebirge section of the Alps. At the rim of the Karst platueau in the Salzburger Alps, you can see its limestone opening. Extending more than 42 km in size, the cave is indeed massive. But even with its mammoth size, the 200,000 plus visitors that it draws every year are only allowed to explore the first kilometer– the only part of the cave that is covered in ice (the rest is covered in limestone).

 How did all this ice get here?

 

Snow! While the Salzach River was forming the Eisriesenwelt cave, thawing snow would drain into the cave, where it would freeze again, building up into the ice formations that exist today. You’re probably wondering why it doesn’t melt right? Since the cave is always open, chilly winter winds blow through its passage and freeze the snow inside. And in the summer, cold wind from inside the cave blows toward the entrance, preventing the ice formations from melting.

 

Who Discovered It?

 

The locals always knew about Eisriesenwelt, but again, they thought it was the gateway to hell and refused to explore it. But, a natural scientist named Anton Posselt didn’t spook and decided to explore the cave in 1879. Posselt published his findings in a mountaineering magazine- a report that was soon forgotten.

 

Alexander von Mork, however, remembered Posselt’s discovery and started to lead his own expeditions of the cave in 1912. Mork caused the snowball effect (no pun intended), as explorers thereafter began uncovering the cave as well. A cabin for the explorers was built in 1920, followed soon after by the first established routes up the mountains.

 

Visitors could take a 90 minute climb up the routes to see the giant cave for those first 30 years, until it was replaced by a 3 minute cable car in 1955 (lucky you).

 

Visiting

The cave is open from May 1st to October 26th every year, from 9:00 am to 4:30.  It’s usually below freezing level temperature inside so warm clothes are recommended. The people that run the joint will most likely give you a guided tour of the cave. Pay special attention to the room dedicated to Alexander von Mork, after his death in world war 1, his ashes were seated inside a niche in the rock.

 

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