Ice, Ice Baby

Hallstatt, Austria


Cheryl and I were up early in order to catch a cab to take us to Obertraun, which is the site of the Dachstein ice caves and 5 Fingers lookout. For some reason I have always wanted to visit an ice cave and Austria game me the perfect opportunity. There was fog on the lake when we got up at 7:00, but when you looked up all you could see was clear blue sky. It was going to be a spectacular day in Hallstatt.

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Early morning fog on Hallstatt Lake

We put on our warm clothes (ice caves reach zero degrees and we were going to be over 2,000 meters above sea level for the 5 Fingers lookout) ate breakfast and were in a cab by 8:30. We reached Obertraun around 8:50, bought our tickets for the ice caves and 5 Fingers, which is higher up the mountain beyond the ice caves and caught the 9:00 a.m. Dachstein Krippenstein cable car 1,350 meters up. What we found particularly cool, was all of the elderly hikers who joined us on the ride up. Many had to be in their late 70s and with walking poles in hand they were all headed out to hike the Alps in the beautiful sunshine. (There were a myriad of hiking trails in the area.)

Once we reached the “middle” station, Cheryl and I had 15 minute hike straight up to Eishohle to see the caves. Fortunately, the hike involved a series of back and forth switchbacks making it a little easier, however, in the thinner air it was a pretty rough hike up. However, with the beautiful clear blue sky, the hike was absolutely spectacular. And the bonus of the day, we were in the first group of the day to tour the caves.

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View from the

As per the tours we had taken so far in Austria, the guide gave the tour in both German and English. The tour started with a little history of the caves. The caves have been open to visitors since 1913 (can’t imagine hiking through there back then because I am certain they didn’t have a guide, walking platforms or any other conveniences we had. We also learned that the ice is formed by water which seeps from the Dachstein plateau down into the cave through small cracks. In the higher part of the cave, the dripping water hits the limestone rock and creates stalactites. However, the further you go into the caves, the colder the air so when the water penetrates deeper into the caves, it freezes and forms magnificent ice shapes. During the summer warm arm flows into the caves and cause melting, but during the winter, the ice caves grow because of the freezing air flowing into the caves.

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Dachstein Ice Caves

So, as we hiked through the caves for the next hour we passed the limestone rock formations and then we climbed deeper into the caves and the ice formations came into view. The formations were absolutely amazing as you can see from the pictures I have included. As we moved through the caves, we hiked up and down metal platforms while our guide described the name of each of the formations and a bit about the history of each location. What was really amazing is that at one point we came to a piano that had been installed into the caves for Friday night concerts in the summer. This country is music crazy so I shouldn’t have been surprised, but it was really weird to see a piano in the middle of the ice.

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Dachstein Ice CAves

As we hiked back out of the caves towards the warmer air, the ice overhead began to drip and more than once I got drops of cold water down my back. YIKES! We finally exited the caves a few hundred meters from where we entered and hiked back down the hillside to the cablecar where got on the cable car for the Mountain station at 2,060 meters.

On the way up the cable car we ran into a couple girls from Chicago who seemed a little clueless on where to go. They wanted to go to the ice caves, but had not even checked in to get a time for the caves. And now they were on the wrong cable car heading to 5 Fingers. They had apparently bought a ticket for 5 Fingers (since they couldn’t have got on the cable car without the ticket), but didn’t seem to know anything about the lookout point.

Anyway, Cheryl and I exited the cable car and were immediately met with the stunning view of the Dachstein Glacier. Unfortunately, in the past 150 years, the glacier has shrunk by half. And people claim there is no global warming!!!

We walked down the hill and around the corner and up past the first rest area. We then began the approximately 20 minute hike down to the hill to 5 Fingers. We lost the two girls from Chicago who went up the hill to the rest area. We never saw them again and figure they thought the rest area was 5 Fingers and headed back down after stopping at the rest area. Gesh!

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Five Fingers lookout over Hallstatt and surrounds

Now a little about 5 Fingers. 5 Fingers is actually a viewing platform that takes it name from its hand-like hand shape. It is said to be the most spectacular viewing platform in the Alps because the individual, approximately 4 metres (12 feet) long fingers were built over a precipice of about 400 m (1200 ft) in depth.

What was cool about the hike was all of the various nationalities who were walking either down to 5 Fingers or back from 5 Fingers. (And by the way, we were not looking forward to the hike back… Yowza …. all up hill for 20 minutes in this really thin air.) Anyway, about the nationalities. We ran into Japanese, Czechs, Poles, Brits, Chinese, and Austrians. I am sure there were more, but those were the folks we helped with pictures.

Anyway, we reached 5 Fingers and it really was spectacular. Cheryl and I took turns taking pictures of each other. Then we had this really nice dude from the Czech Republic take our picture on the “thumb” of 5 Fingers. It was a little nerve wracking walking out on those fingers – made of steel obviously, but hanging so far out over the ground below …. and I’m not great with heights. Nevertheless, we hung out there for a while just because the view was so darn spectacular.

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Hallstatt Glacier

We finally made the loooooong journey back up the hill to the Mountain station, grabbed some peach iced tea and took the next cable car back down. The journey was beautiful (and much faster) going down, and the bonus was there were only a couple people in the cable car so we could walk around and catch all the amazing views on the journey back to the Middle station. We then had to wait about ten minutes for the second cable car back to the bottom. We called our cabbie and were back at Hallstatt by 12:00.

We had our cabbie let us off at the far end of the village and we wandered back through so I could stop at the bank. We had decided to grab some lunch and then catch “Stephanie” back to the train station for the train trip to Bad Ischl and then the bus trip to Salzberg. (We had been advised to get off the train at Bad Ischl and catch the bus because the bus route was through the scenic Salzkammergut district (the lake district) outside of Salzberg.

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Hallstatt miner

So we sat out on the deck of our hotel, watched the boats come and go, drank a beer, ate more meat and cheese (Cheryl ate her sausages, horseradish and mustard) and ordered an ice cream, wild berry (a local berry) and wipped cream. I went to use the restroom and by the time I had returned, there was one dessert sitting near my seat and one spilled all over our table. Cheryl had apparently tried to “help” the waiter and the result was all over our table. Cheryl and I couldn’t stop laughing. Cheryl said the poor guy was apologizing and told her he would go make another one (which he did). Oh Cheryl.

Anyway, “Stephanie” was right on time so we gathered our luggage, boarded the boat for the quick little trip at 2:15 across the lake. Our train to Bad Ischl met us 10 minutes later and we were back winding through the farmlands at the base of the Alps.

But the coupe de grace for the day was the bus trip from Bad Ischl to Salzberg. Now before I describe the fabulousness that was the bus trip, I have to take a moment to describe the world’s worst woman. Cheryl and I loaded our lugged into the underside of the bus and as I was loading our luggage, this elderly Austrian woman began grabbing Cheryl’s camera and bag out of her hands and motioning for Cheryl to load her bag for her. I immediately reached for her bag, hit my head on the open bus door for the luggage area, and almost dislocated my shoulder. The bag must have been loaded with rocks. Mon Dieu!!

Anyway, I got the woman’s suitcase loaded and stood up, whereupon this woman immediately turned and barged in front of Cheryl and I and got on the bus. No thank you. No acknowledgement. No nothing. I was furious. I told Cheryl that there was no way we were helping this horrible woman once we reached the Saltzburg.

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The White Castle across the lake from Hallstatt

Now despite how the trip started, the hour and a half ride was stunning. Although the distance was short (only 35 km), the drive took an hour and a half because the bus took us through all the little villages in the Salzkammergut district. We also made frequent stops to pick up everyone from the elderly to a childrens’ soccer team. Cheryl and I figured Austrians use public transit for schoolchildren because the teacher accompanied the team on the bus and then kids got off throughout the drive at various little villages. In fact, the teacher even got off the bus before the last of the children got off the bus.

We passed by little churches, Tyrolean style houses, rolling hills, farmland, and beautiful, beautiful lakes. All the while, the mountains played the backdrop for the scenes that unfolded before us. It was absolutely wonderful.

We finally reached Salzburg around 5:30 and as luck would have it, our bus stopped at Miarabellplatz right near our hotel. YES. We got off the bus and I told Cheryl we should take the nasty lady’s bag off the bus and leave it on the side of the road. Obviously we did not do it, bit the idea was sure tempting.

Now, our hotel was on the other side of Mirabelle Gardens so we cut through the middle of the gardens to get to the hotel. BIG MISTAKE. I almost lost Cheryl because the Mirabelle Gardens was the scene of the famous Do Rae Mi dancing scene around the fountain in the Sound of Music. Cheryl immediately wanted to dance around it. So …. two minutes in Salzburg and I’ve already lost her ….. it was going to be a looooong 4 days in Salzburg!!

Author: lawyerchick92

I am a lawyer by trade, but long to be a full time traveller. My life changed for the better when my brother donated a kidney to me on October 14, 2002.

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