One might expect to spot a shark 2000 metres below sea level, but probably not 2000 metres above it. Yet, along the Heilbronner circular trail around Austria’s beautiful Dachstein mountain plateau in the heart of the Salzkammergut, the Dachstein Shark is certainly one of the most unusual sights hikers will come across.
The eight-metre long metal structure, caught in mid-lunge, was placed here in 2013 both as an additional tourist attraction along the trail, and as an educational tool for younger hikers; in prehistoric times, the whole plateau was under water and shark-like creatures were believed to inhabit the waters. The official tourist literature for the area celebrates the placing of this structure as the return of the “king of the primeval ocean” to his natural home.
Visitors to the structure can not only marvel at the sight of a rusting shark high up in the Austrian mountains, but can also climb inside it and view what was once a sea-bed as seen through the eyes – or rather jaws – of a primeval sea creature.
The prehistoric past of the Dachstein plateau is further celebrated half way down the Krippenstein mountain with both the fascinating Mammut Cave and enchanting Ice Cave.
Dachstein’s Ice Cave close to the Mammut Cave, presents visitors with spectacular ice sculptures, colours and patterns formed over hundreds of years by Mother Nature.
NB – although taking photos inside the cave is frowned upon for fear of camera-flashes affecting the ice and cave temperature, I did not use a flash on any of the photos I (cheekily) took inside it. The photos below were all lit solely from the lighting inside the cave.
The star of the show inside the cave is the stunning Ice Mountain, an ever-growing formation of ice, now approximating eight metres high and still growing. Water continues to seep through the mountain into the cave landing on top of the present mound of ice, before freezing under the consistently low temperature inside the cave.
Where the Ice Mountain looks like a large extended finger, back at the top of the Krippenstein peak, a precarious looking viewing platform known as the 5fingers awaits the brave and adventurous.
The 5fingers offers visitors some of the most stunning panoramic views of the Salzkammergut as long as they dare to walk to the end of any of the five walkways making up the 5fingers. The walkways, each differing in apparent ‘risk-value’, protrude out of the mountain peak and appear to hang over the edge with nothing but a 2000 metre drop below it… as this short TLT video illustrates (it’s only three minutes long. Enjoy).
The caves, the 5fingers viewing platform and the Dachstein Shark can all be reached via the Dachstein-Krippenstein cable car starting at Obertraun. Combined tickets for the cable car and any or all of the activities featured here can be bought from the ground level cable car station at Obertraun. Prices are steep (as listed here on the official Dachstein Salzkammergut website here), and as a result one may be tempted to buy the ‘All Inclusive’ ticket giving access to all the activities mentioned, to save money. Please note however, that this ticket is only valid for the day it is first used, and most will be pushed to visit both the caves and the Krippenstein peak all in the one day. My advice would be to stay in the area for a few days (Hallstatt is stunning, Obertraun is less tourist-beaten and fractionally cheaper) then visit the caves one day, and the Krippenstein peak another day. It will cost more but where one loses in money, one will gain in time and opportunity.
The Dachstein Shark and the 5fingers are in opposite directions to each other and are both around a thirty minute walk from the Krippenstein peak cable car station. So it will take at least an hour to get from one to the other, unless one chooses to trek the full length of the Heilbronner circular trail and come across both along the way. The trail takes around three hours to complete, weather-permitting.
The cave tours are each one hour long, and the times of the tours are allocated to visitors once they arrive and disembark at Schonbergalm cable car station. Follow the signs to the kiosks where tour times will be allocated, first-come-first-served.
Each cave is a ten-to-fifteen minute mild trek from the kiosks. Once again, the caves are in opposite directions to each other. The assistants in the kiosks will allow visitors at least thirty minutes to get from one cave tour to the next. However, miss your tour time and you miss your tour. The caves are very well sign-posted and the paths well-maintained and wide enough to accommodate pushchairs and wheelchairs, although the ascent may leave one a little breathless.
The cave tours are mainly in German but visitors may strike lucky and get a bilingual tour guide who may offer a truncated translation of the tour. Otherwise, booklets in various languages are lent to non-German speaking visitors before the tours begin. Bring warm clothing and good walking shoes for both caves.
For those who do not want to stay in the area overnight, probably the most convenient way to reach the Dachstein-Krippenstein cable car is via Obertraun which can be reached by regular train from Bad Ischl. Obertraun is the stop after Hallstatt. From Obertraun station, it is a rather pleasant one hour walk to the cable car station – well sign-posted – or catch the bus direct from the train station. The journey by bus takes around ten minutes. Visitors can also get the same bus via Hallstatt, but it should be noted that if on a day trip, the train station for Hallstatt is on the other side of Hallstättersee (Lake Hallstatt). A ferry meets all trains and takes passengers across the lake to the village in ten-to-fifteen minutes. The bus station is then a short walk from the ferry port.
Further information, timetable links and advice on how to reach the cable car can be found on the official Dachstein-Salzkammergut website here.
There are cafes and toilet facilities at the Schonbergalm cable car station for the caves – the first station reached when ascending the Dachstein-Krippenstein cable car from Obertraun. The Krippenstein Peak cable car station is the second stop on ascent and is the stop for the 5fingers and the Dachstein Shark. When I visited it in September 2015, a huge hotel and restaurant complex was under construction by the station. The third stop along the cable car is to Gjaidalm, in greater demand during the Winter ski-ing season.
More on the Dachstein plateau, the activities mentioned here, and anything else to do with the region can be found on the Dachstein-Salzkammergut website here (available in English).
Breaking Bad Ischl … crystal clear waters and meth-od in the madness of a gung ho emperor holidaying in this happy-go-lucky Salzkammergut town
Hallstatt … salt mines, stunning Salzkammergut views and the not-as-eerie-as-one-might-think Austrian ‘Bone House’