Pitch-black darkness surrounds us – and absolute silence. Only now and then a quiet plop sounds out of nowhere. I turn my head – to the left, to the right – but no spark of light can be seen. Shortly afterwards the headlamps on our heads flare up again and a breath of relief whirrs through the cave. Urs, our guide, starts to tell stories – about the first explorers and secret accesses to the system, about underground waterfalls and long gone misfortunes. We are sitting deep down in a 200 km long cave system, the largest in Europe – welcome to the hellhole, the “Hölloch”.
Trip to a foreign world
The trip into this world so foreign to us started in the bright light of day, where Urs greeted us and equipped us with overalls, rubber boots, gloves and helmet. A short walk led us quickly to the entrance of the hellhole – where a stream of cold air wafted towards us, already mystically spilling from the entrance. We had decided that our “course” should be the most adventurous variant of the ones available, and so we quickly left the main path and started directly into the vertical. Through a narrow gap we walked on steps, ropes, ladders and chains deep down into the darkness. Again and again the light of the lamp was lost in the nothingness – was there one or 10m below us? And where might this branch-off lead to?
Liquid rock and a breeze out of nowhere
Soon the first stalagmites and stalactites appeared before our eyes – tips formed by centuries of dripping, growing from the ceiling and floor. Or was that perhaps a giant mouth we were just walking in? We looked at each other – breathed out – softly billowing white steam formed in front of our mouths… The hellhole came to life – the illusion almost perfect. But of course it was only the 100% humidity and 6 degrees air temperature that created the almost winterly (and a bit mystical) atmosphere. We quickly climbed on, without movement it soon became fresh. After a few meanderings through narrow slits and slippery sections on the bottom of our pants, we waded through fine, black sand – only to suddenly arrive in front of a small lake. According to Urs, we were now on the same level as Lake Zurich. Who would have thought that? We also learned that depending on the weather, the cave system is regularly flooded with water. Luckily not today, it usually takes approx. 10 hours between thunderstorm and flood – and the rain outside had only started this morning.
An ice-cold surprise
On the way back, we made one last stop – what might be the previously announced surprise? We speculated and guessed – but we hadn’t expected what was about to come. We were asked to take off our shoes and socks and continue barefoot. Brrr! Carefully we put the soles of our feet on the sensitive sinter rock and climbed up on it. Soon our toes became cool – but now we even continued through ice-cold ponds. Now they were definitely cold. Painfully cold. But the crystal clear ponds were extremely beautiful at the same time, and so we gazed in awe at the formations – and slipped back into our warm boots with a sigh of relief afterwards.
Dreaming allowed: Of waterfalls and a dark bivvy spot
Slowly we went upwards again, steeply towards the exit – unfortunately time had passed much too fast, there was so much more to see. Urs told us about deep canyons, underground lakes, a 17m high waterfall, and about crabs that you can find down here. But all this was not on our tour, because we only went one kilometer into the system. One of 207 kilometers… Hard to believe, because for us it felt like another world. Soon it was clear: To be continued – both waterfall and a bivvy overnight stay in the dark sound simply too tempting. The hellhole calls – we will come back.
Facts about the course
If you now feel like visiting the Höllloch in Muothatal, you will find all necessary information on this website. The tour is possible all year round and therefore a great bad weather program (except after heavy rainfalls).
We had booked the cave course as a 3.5h private tour, this can be done on a desired date for groups of 6 persons or more. It is recommended to bring robust clothes, which can get dirty and wet, or to rent a cave overall on site. On request, the tour can be adapted to the participants, from a more moderate tour to a sportive variant with climbing and abseiling. The “Höllloch” is with 207km length the biggest cave system in Europe. Between the lowest (551 m) and the highest (1584 m) point there are 1033 meters of altitude – world record.
Disclaimer: This contribution is in no way sponsored. The tour was paid for by yourself.