In Werfen, a historic market town in Salzburg, Austria is a natural limestone ice cave called the Eisriesenwelt in German and the World of Ice Giants in English. It is known for the beautiful and glistening, crystal-like ice sculptures that form when water sips through the rock fissures into the below zero degrees cave conditions and hang on the caves like interior decorations. This mazy and rugged cave is 40 kilometers south of Salzburg city and is also the world's largest ice cave. The Eisriesenwelt is 20 meters wide and 18 meters in height and extends 42 kilometers deep into Hochkogel mountain where it is.

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Eisriesenwelt Ice Cave History

The Eisriesenwelt ice cave was discovered and first explored in 1879 by Anton von Posselt Czorich a nature explorer. The ice cave's isolation in high mountains made explorers have no knowledge of it. Cave exploration back then was of little interest to explorers. While discovering it Czorich penetrated about 200 meters into the dark cave and a year later published an exploration report in an Alpine association newsletter that was quickly forgotten.

Alexander Von Mork, Salzburg Cave Explorers' founder discovered the importance of  Czorich's report and carried out further research in 1913 with other cave exploration pioneers like Riehl and Angermayer. After the first world war, researchers like Walter Von Czoernig and Robert, and Friedrich Oedl carried on with pioneering explorations into this large and mazy cave. By 1920 the Eisriesenwelt had become a famous tourist attraction. A lodge was built there to accommodate tourists plus a climbing system that facilitated the visitors to access the cave.

By 1924, the icy section of the cave had simple wooden planks for walking on and an explorer cottage named after Friedrich Oedl was built in 1925. From 1953 vehicles used an unpaved, single-lane road to access the Eisriesenwelt ice cave in challenging conditions. But in 1955 an aerial cable car (gondola) that transversed the steepest part of the footpath in minutes was added that was "retired" in 2014.

How ice forms in the caves

Eisriesenwelt ice cave has cracks, fissures, and galleries from the lower to higher entrances like a chimney that allow for air passage. The initial cracks and fissures in the limestone caves started forming during tectonic elevations approximately 100 million years ago. The temperature inside the mountain can be cool or warm depending on the climate outside. The conditions cause an air draft from top to bottom and vice versa due to the distinct air weight differences. During winter when the air inside the mountain is warmer than the outside, cold air enters into passages and cools the lower part of the cave to below zero degrees. That causes the melting water to enter through the fissures in the spring and drip into cooler areas of the cave and freeze. The freezing causes the formation of spectacular ice sculptures inside the Eisriesenwelt cave.

When to visit the Eisriesenwelt ice cave

The suitable months to visit the Eisriesenwelt ice cave are from May to October and guided tours are offered. During the 75 minute guided tours, visitors learn about the history and scientific information about the ice cave. On hot summer seasons, visitors to the cave find themselves surrounded by magnificent ice sculptures. On a clear day at the cave entrance, visitors can get panoramic views of the stunning and sprawling Tennengebirge Alps range that Hochkogel mountain is part of. Visitors are given miners' lamps to enable them to see inside the caves while exploring.

The touring experience

About 200,000 tourists visit the Eisriesenwelt ice cave yearly. From the visitors' center, physically fit visitors can opt to hike through the rugged Tennengebirge Alps range to the Eisriesenwelt ice cave entrance. Alternatively, they can ride a cable car that carries them up to the cave entrance. The cable car ride is the steepest section of the footpath and elevates from 1084 meters to 1586 meters. This ride is the steepest in Austria. Inside the ice cave, there are sections with a gradient of about 134 altitude meters and countless stairs and require a level of physical fitness. Since the ice cave temperatures are about zero degrees even in summer, warm clothes are necessary to wear. Visitors also need to wear sturdy hiking shoes. Inside the ice cave are winding passageways with apt names like the 'Diamond Empire'. The ideal time to visit the ice cave is before or 10 am or after 2 pm when there are lesser visitors.

Eisriesenwelt Management

The ice cave belongs to and is managed by the Austrian Federal Forests which receives a significant portion of the annual entry fees. The following are the different current rates charged to tourists that are subject to change. Youths are classified as 15 to 18 years old and children are classified as 5 to 14 years old.

Cave Visit and Cable Car

  • Children: €18
  • Youth:  €23
  • Regular: €33

Cave visit without Cable Car

  • Children: €9
  • Youth: €11
  • Regular: €16

Cable Care without Cave Tour

  • Children:€11
  • Youth:€14
  • Regular:€20

Food and Drinks

There are food and drinks joints that visitors to the Eisriesenwelt ice cave can enjoy refreshments while hiking and enjoy the panoramic views of the Tennengebirge Alps range. The two are, YGGDRASIL Restaurant elevated at 1000 meters and the Dr. Oedl House that has a diverse menu and can host up to 200 guests.

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