The Alps’ magical ice caves risk vanishing in our warming world

For centuries, this spectacular underworld recorded the local climate and entranced visitors. Now its fairy-tale features are receding, drip by drip.

SCHWARZMOOSKOGEL (AUSTRIA) Photographer Robbie Shone walks among towers of ice in a cave east of Salzburg.
Video by Tobias Margreiter, THNC

As a child, Karoline Zanker had a magical playground. From her home in the quaint Austrian village of Sankt Martin bei Lofer, near Salzburg, she’d hike past a little pilgrimage church and up into the Lofer Mountains, just below the tree line where even hardy larches cease to grow. At an altitude of about 5,200 feet, under the lofty peaks, she’d slip through a narrow portal in the limestone and crawl right inside the mountain. Prax ice cave, she says, was just like a fairy tale.

Ice poured down from the cave ceiling like frozen waterfalls, and towers of it rose from the floors of corridors hundreds of yards long. Ice crystals and icicles glittered like precious gems on the walls.

“It was incredibly marvelous,” recalls Zanker, now 48 and working as a cave guide.

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