19 May 2013

Stratena to cave
Dobsinska Ladova Jaskyna

After breakfast we had to head out to find these Ice caves.  Hopefully second time lucky.  C01Our hostess had provided us with a topographical map of the region with a nice walking track marked on there, and this scenic route should only take us about two hours.  We should be there before the 12:30 tour and that left the 2pm one as a backup..

The walk started out well, through the town and along a small mountain stream.  The path was fairly clearly marked with blue white lines painted on trees.  This is a nice quiet walk.  Occasionally we crossed the stream, and occasionally it went up the hill.

Following the crystal clear mountain streams

Following the crystal clear mountain streams

Loosing track of the markers was a bit of a problem as they were few and far between, and once when there was a small ladder to go up the rocks, we went the wrong way.  This was probably because the ladder was lying on the ground, and we thought it was another bridge.  Still, we made our way along.  Looking for bears and deer.  I heard something that could have been deer’s hoofs, but turned out to be a woodpecker.  The sound was fairly faint, and although we looked through the trees, we couldn’t see it.  A bit further along we heard it again.  This time we spotted it.  It was on a tree only a few meters away, but was only small.  This is why the noise was so faint.  We got to watch it running up the tree trunk pecking away at the bark for a bit then continued on through the mixed forest of pines and other trees.  Yep.  I have no idea what they were, but they had leaves, so should be trees.

Picture perfect

Picture perfect

The stream took us to a clearing that opened up onto a beautiful mountain meadow full of wild flowers and lush grass, this is perfect deer country apparently.  Good food, and the safety of the trees not too faraway, but still no deer.  We did see a few traces of them though.  With this in mind, we were a bit disappointed.  Until, that is, we got to see a once in a lifetime event.  Probably.  Tree sex.! Seriously.  With the wind blowing through the meadow, it was shaking the trees about a bit, and occasionally one tree or another would release great clouds of pollen to fertilise nearby trees.  These billowed out in the wind as they drifted down the valley.  A stunning thing to see.

C07The next section of the walk took us up past small limestone cliffs to the top of one of the ridges.  This was an almost vertical ascent, and made a little tricky from the half rotting leaves deposited before winter.  These cover the ground in a thick mat that could hide anything from good ground to small holes, or slippery rotting branches.  It made for an interesting climb.  Winding back down the other side was much easier, and eventually we popped out at Dobsinska Ladova Jaskyna.

This is the ICE CAVE!

Apparently it was formed 250 million years ago, and there is something unique about the geology that keeps the temperature between -5 and 0.5 degrees all year round.

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It has been a bit of a tourist attraction since the late 1800’s when one of the miners in the area discovered it.  Patronised by writers, mathematicians, geologists and princes.  Now being visited by us.  The lady at the ticket office was not that helpful (you can’t have everything, and apparently the place gets over 75,000 people a year) and we freaked out when we saw admission was 7 euro each (well,it is UNESCO) and 10 Euro for photos!  Still, we were willing to pay the price. She didn’t charge us for the camera though.  It was in obvious view, and I even waved it at her, so thought that if I got in trouble for not having the right ticket I would play dumb tourist.  It turned out we had made it just in time.  the 12:30 tour was almost ready to start.  Kids running around, screaming, hitting each other with sticks or lolling around in prams.  Out of the 20 odd kids there, you would be lucky enough to find one that would remember this in 5 years, let alone 5 days.  And why would you take a baby in?  Still, that’s what we will have to put up with, we will.  Its an ICE CAVE!!!
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The tour was only in Slovak, with another in Hungarian slightly later.  On asking if there was anything in English, we were told we needed a group of 40 people.  This means we have no real info on the cave itself.  (You know the website – wiki…)C59postpano1
On entering through the locked doors the first thing you see is a small walkway down to the cave entrance.  Flanked on either side by snow.  Entering this area the temperature plummets as the cold air billows up from underground.  Following the path you can already see ice forming on the handrails, and entering the cave you instantly see a wall of ice on the side.

C55postpanovert1C57postpanovert3C56postpanovert2The first chamber is stunning with a few stalactites and mites, even columns of ice over a large smooth area.  The room is glistening with crystals everywhere, and it is an amazing sight.  Although we didn’t get to stop here, it was apparent that we would be going past it on the way out.

The next sections are descending deeper into the system, here you can imagine a frozen deep freeze with all the little crystals gone, leaving the big thick compacted ice behind.  Smooth and silky.  Looking wet, but dry to touch.  The colours changing from white to blue to green.  It is flowing down through the cave and ripples as it goes.  There are no obvious fissuring of the surface, and it it smooth all the way down. Then you have to go through a couple of ice tunnels, these are almost similar to a fun house.  The ice is still smooth, but there are dimples and it undulates along.  A stunning thing to see before you pop out the other side and see another ice flow with bits sticking out of it.  C60postpano4Here there is a warmer pocket of air, and it creates some interesting effects with icicles coming away from the wall.  The roof also has formations on it.  Some of these are similar to normal cave formations, eg shawls and coral stone, but not to the extent of a limestone cave.  Back up and around a UNESCO sign listing the place (Made from Ice, of course) and back to the starting room.
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As the tour was in Slovac, we had been lagging behind taking photos, as it did not seem to be a problem, and as we caught up with the group again, we got to see the main formations that we had glimpsed on entering.  These are where the water drips through the overhead rock to create the aforementioned columns and stalagmites.  As this is only a small amount of the water entering the caves, the people looking after it have also carved fairly deep trenches along the metal walkways to funnel the fresh water deeper into the system to protect these formations (and probably make it easier for tourists).  The tour group left, and we decided to hang back a bit more.  It hadn’t been a problem before, and where could we go?  So we took our time admiring some small details before the Hungarians caught up to us.  C52postnice1C53postnice2C54postnice3Deciding it was time to move on (my fingers were so frozen by now that I couldn’t adjust the camera any more, and it was so frozen it wouldn’t take photos anyway!) we headed back up and out.  Jumping all the chains and opening the (Thankfully unlocked) door.  No problems.  Most people had departed for the walk back to the car park, and we took some time thawing out before doing the same.

The car park is a 20 minute downhill walk away (NOT Dobsina, thank you very much tourist info!) and a lot easier than the one we had just done.  Looking around at the end, there was a hotel that if it wasn’t closed, you could be worried that it would close very suddenly and terminally, and an overpriced restaurant.  There is nothing else here, other than cars.  We did find out that the cave system has been charted up to 22km and the Karst area we are in has many caves throughout it (not surprising for limestone country).

Walking back we got a bit adventurous,and decided to take another trail.  It was not that much fun following the road.  This one started out well, and led us up another hill, in the right direction.  The mixed forest with plenty off undergrowth of ferns and moss turned into a purely pine forest with needles everywhere, then got a bit darker.  The markers disappeared, the “path” completely vanished and the bush turned aggressive.

Entering the evil woods...

Entering the evil woods…

The trees sprouted dead, spiky branches everywhere, and were growing so close together that you couldn’t avoid them.  The hill got steeper and more treacherous, and eventually we came to a small limestone outcrop that we had to climb up.  It did offer an amazing view back the way we had come.  After an hour or two of hiking we were only about 1km from where we had started.  Now we had to get down the other side.  Needles to say it was worse.  Still, we made it with only a few major setbacks, as we zigzagged down, trying to avoid cliffs and passively aggressive trees!

It is a beautiful region, and the walks were both completely different, from open and airy, treey and soft to dark and foreboding.  Great contrasts all in one day.

Back at the Hostinec we had a great evening, they had a couple of books on Australia, and we had a very merry time talking and watching Sweden thrash Switzerland in the finals of Ice hockey.  It all came crashing down when the didgeridoo  came out though.  I tried to play it, and was impressed I could get some sound out of it but nothing good.  Still, what are the odds.  In the middle of Slovakia playing a didge?

AA

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