Those who dare to climb down the steep, icy entrance into what is known as the "Ice Cathedral" are rewarded with a striking view that is visible for only a few short months out of the entire year. Light beams from the entrance are reflected on the cave's frozen ice walls, which illuminate the cave and offer those who enter an otherworldly view.
Also nicknamed "the Mill," the natural ice cave of Glacier 3000 sits hidden below the snow-covered ground on a high-altitude glacier in the Swiss Alps - and it disappears only to reappear for a time every year.
Glacier 3000 opened its first cable car to Tsanfleuron Glacier in the western Bernese Alps in 1959. Since then, the company has expanded, offering visitors ski slopes, dogsled rides, a glacier flight, a suspension bridge, access to the Ice Cathedral and more.
The cave has been off-limits for quite some time, but visitors got the chance to venture inside for the first time recently.
"It's magnificent, but even that isn't the right word. I've never seen anything like it. Almost as [if] it's not of this world in fact. It's magnificent, I can only recommend it if you have the chance to go," Helen Tromp, a resident who lives nearby, told Reuters after visiting the cave.
Previously, access had been too treacherous to grant to the general public, according to a spokesperson.
"We discovered [it] maybe four or five years ago, but its access was too steep and dangerous. This is the first time we can allow people to visit it, but under their own responsibility," Marketing Coordinator of Glacier 3000 Arnaud Magnin told AccuWeather in an interview.
The frozen spectacle was created by Mother Nature as a result of a siphon effect. In spring and summer, the cavity fills up with water from melting ice. The accumulation of the water and residue blocks the entrance. What was once an open cavern in the ice turns into a lake. In the fall when temperatures begin to drop, the plug disappears, and the water spills out as in a siphon and gives way to a cave. This unique process is where the name "Mill" originated, Glacier 3000 said.
"This cave is totally natural, the human has nothing to do with it and that is the reason why it is such a wonderful place," Magnin said.
The spectacular structure is about 20 meters long, however, due to the unique way in which the cave is formed, its size and shape vary every year. Frequent visitors could be treated to a new scene to explore and photograph each winter.
But the cave isn't always safe to enter, and Glacier 3000 checks on the ice integrity on a daily basis to ensure the safety of visitors, especially to ensure that there is no risk of the cave filling with water.
"Our team checks every day the ice, and we will condemn the access way before the ice melts," Magnin said.
Bernhard Tschannen, CEO of Glacier 3000, told Reuters that the cave was officially opened to the public for the first time in December 2020. He explained that while the cave has existed in previous years, it was more steep.
"And this year it looks like an Ice Cathedral, so it's really beautiful," Tschannen explained to Reuters, adding that the cave's interior is quite flat this season, making access easier.
Locals and visitors across the globe have been enjoying the newly granted access to such a one-of-a-kind natural wonder since its official opening in early December.
"People who enter feel the greatness of nature and its silence. The light is also very special and makes the cave very impressive. The photographers will take amazing pictures of another world, between earth and ice," Magnin said.
But people who enter to see the majestic views do so at their own risk, and the company's website spells that out clearly. "This ice cave delights lovers of atypical landscapes and photos, who can access it easily, but under their own responsibility," the company states on its website.
After following a signposted path, visitors reach the cave's opening -- which is alluring, according to Magnin. "The entrance is small and seems like a hidden door. That makes the experience more magical and unique," Magnin said.
Changeable weather during the winter and the accumulation of snow in front of its entrance do not guarantee the feature's accessibility during the season - making the experience even more elusive.
"It's very impressive. The vault is incredible. Standing beneath it, you can just imagine the weight above. It's beautiful," Brice Rozes told Reuters while touring the site.