Even though I was born in Austria, I am a somewhat atypical Austrian. I absolutely hate skiing (can anyone explain to me why going down a mountain in the cold is fun?), I find Leberkäse disgusting (I am prepared to be crucified; if you are unfamiliar with this Austrian/German “dish”, google it and you will understand my point of view) and I do not pass my weekends or holidays hiking in the mountains.
Last weekend was different. I had planned a relaxed trip to the area around Salzburg with lots of coffee, cake and a nice dinner. I then remembered that when I was a child, I went to the so-called “Eisriesenwelt”, a cave in the mountains with indoor glaciers. I looked up the website and it sounded fun to revisit. I was 12 when I went there and all I could remember was the view of the mountains and that there were some steps we walked down for quite some time. I should have gotten the hint then, but my excitement was bigger.
According to the website, it is a 20-minute walk from the parking area to the cable car, then another 20 minutes to the cave and then some stairs inside the cave. I did not sound too bad. When Google tells me 20 minutes, it takes me ten, and such a popular tourist sight cannot be that difficult to access. Ahead I went, I booked the tickets and packed trainers and warm jackets. The latter was the only real preparation I did, because it was a no brainer that inside the cave it would be cold if there was ice… Another thing I did not question was the weather situation. The website only said that on rainy days, parking can be a problem. Obviously, a lot of people decide to visit when the weather is not great. (Not a good idea, let me get to this point a bit later.)
The morning started a bit gloomy and I asked at the hotel if they thought it was a good idea to visit the cave. They assured me that it was not a problem, because it would clear up soon. “Today it will be OK but believe me, when the weather is bad, the high mountains are not fun.” Another hint, I overheard.
It was still a bit foggy when we started our drive up the mountain. I am quite used to driving up winding mountain roads, but I already got a feeling that I may have underestimated where we were actually headed too. After changing into what I considered “gear”, we quickly passed the ticket check and started the first part of the “walk”. Now let me break this to you: the whole thing was clearly not a walk – maybe for Western Austrians it was but I was glad that I am quite fit and used to these kinds of walks which are 90% uphill. a “walk” in the high mountains is very different from your usual park stroll. I saw some people equipped with very professional gear. (Some even had special backpacks to carry their children up the mountain.) I felt bad for people who came unprepared (like the woman in Converse chucks and maybe a tiny little bit for the girl in the flowy skirt who may have overprioritized her Instagram picture over her safety…).
When we reached the cable car station, I was still quite relaxed. I did not even think about the cable car ride, because when I was a child, we used to take the cable car for skiing every year. But when the cable car left the station, I had this weird feeling in my stomach. Was I scared? This is the funny thing about growing up. As a child, we are oblivious to the dangers of the world. All I could now think of was recent cable car incidents. But the ride was short and off we went onto the next leg of the “walk”, which was basically a hike up to the cave. Again, I was glad I am quite used to this, but the number of people making use of rocks on the side to take a break grew rapidly, the closer we got to the cave. The entrance of the cave was at around 1,700 m altitude. At this point in time, there was almost no view, as the whole valley and the mountains were still covered in fog and clouds. (I do not want to imagine the cable car ride and the “walk” up on a rainy and windy day. Listen to the locals when they say the high mountains are not fun during bad weather.)
And when everyone thought, we finally made it, our tour guide who met us at the entrance, had a special surprise: the walk inside the cave was about one kilometer. That did not sound too bad – until he said that we had to climb 1,400 steps – half of them up. And then I realised why I had remembered a long walk down – because before that, there was a long walk up the stairs to see the glaciers. Some people turned around after some time, admitting that they would probably not make the whole walk. I volunteered to carry one of the oil lamps (there is no artificial light inside the cave) and we went up. Initially, it was a bit scary to just walk into the darkness holding this old-school lamp, but as soon as we passed by the first ice part, we all knew why we were doing it.
It was quite an experience. Not only to see the indoor glaciers again, but also to know that I had made it up. At multiple points, I could have just turned around and said “I’m done”. But I kept going, into the unknown. Granted, there was an experienced guide with us. But it still was this feeling of not knowing what we would see next.
After the tour, we were rewarded with sunshine and breathtaking views of the valley. And when I entered the cable car, I just threw the worrying feeling out of the window and was even standing at the front of the gondola to have the best view heading down. So many things, worries and problems are just in our minds.
And this is one learning I took from this “walk” which ended up being a tiny adventure. If we do not let our mind play tricks on ourselves, we are capable of more than we think. Even when we are scared or we think we cannot keep going anymore, we can cancel out the noise and convince ourselves that we can do it.
With this, I am sending you (a little bit late) into this new week. Keep a strong mind!