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Nothing but Gold - Diving in Austria

After several trips already to the region called "Salzkammergut" in Austria, we were trying this time to trace the fascination of the clear water lakes and some remaining secrets, all documented by a digital video production and a photo report.

Text and photos by Jerome Konen and Pascale Wallers
(Trip from 10 - 16 September 2000)

"It's time to go, pack the equipment and we will meet Paul and Nico at the end of the village for departure" I told Pascale. At 4.30 a.m. we started for a secret mission in the dark forests up in the mountains half an hour drive away from Hallstadt, our base camp village which is more than 4000 years old.

The secret lake

In the foggy night, under the black fir trees shadows we assembled our heavy diving equipment for carrying it about 2km through the dark fir tree forest to the secret lake. Nico was our surface assistant and Pascale busy with the video equipment.

The Secret Lake

Wet sweated we arrived at the water discovering a tremendous scenery. Fog lying on the water surface and fir trees raising out in the dawn. Time had come to go into this ominous still water. Slightly we disappeared under the dark surface just leaving the low noise of bubbles in the dawn.

Equipped with powerful lights, double tanks and in a perfect co-ordination we had to go deep, very deep for our mission. First on our way down in the dark, we were crossing huge trees blocking our way draped with a mysterious grey curtain of alga. After the first layer of 20m, there is no more oxygen, no more life in the water, apart from bacteria and a unique worm living in the sulphuric depth.

The bottom of the lake is more than 100m deep and from 40m on there are impressive explosion craters recognisable. The Germans put a lot of new explosives to test in this lake during the World War II and it seams to be a wet treasure for top secret material.

At the end of the war, secret freights, military arms, huge amount of boxes were thrown in the lake by a special German operation. Rumours say there could be also the legendary NS Gold Treasure as well as the Hungarian gold treasure among the secrets lying in the dark depth of the lake.

Finally we had to take care about our decompression profile. And the water keeps in silence, mystery covered, dark and fearsome in our mind.

Back in the village for breakfast we were discussing around myths and facts. This lake will last long in our mind, it is a unique experience after all.

A 4000 years old under water talus

Hallstättersee

The lake called "Hallstättersee" is probably one of the most interesting ones of the big lakes but the visibility is changing from 5-20m all the time over the year. Notice the several fishing protection zones around the lake where diving is prohibited.

At a place called "Hundsort", 1400m after the tunnel of the village of Hallstatt there is some like a 4000 years old under water talus where you can find old Celtic remains as well as newly scrap. But it is only worth a visit when the waters are clear.

For more information ask the "Zauner Diving School" in the village.

A must dive

"If you are looking for best ever visibility, this is the one to dive!" I was telling Marco at the border in front of the lake called "Gosausee". He was still starring in the endless visibility of the under water border grounds. There were fish schools around the boat pier, quite unusual, as fish life is rare in this place. The visibility is perfect nearly over the whole year apart from the melting of the snow period.

The mountain scenery is astonishing here, the lake is surrounded by the "Dachstein" massif up to 3004m.

Gosausee

During the briefing I told everybody to pay attention to the modified decompression stops, as the lake is at an altitude of 960m.

The dive experience in the clear but very cold water is unique especially under 20m where the visibility becomes endless. Huge rocks, like giant stones are spread over the grounds and have a strange artificial appearance.

This is definitely what altitude diving is about.

The sunken forest

We were told about a sunken forest of the "Altausser See" in the first right part of the lake. The remaining trunks should have enormous sizes and up right in the ground. Paul and I got Marco convinced to join us for that exploration even that it would probably be a bit heavy in diving the distance.

The access to the lake from the parking side just near the Hotel is perfect and the landscape around is one of the most beautiful in that region.

Under the boathouse

We did the crossing on the surface to right after the boathouses and let us going down close together in a group to the bottom. The water in there is the coldest of all lakes and it's like burning your face. Immediately we had to focus our concentration to orient ourselves again, we were much too deep, we had to dive back a while to 23m where we came across some single trunks of a considerable size. "There has to be more", I was thinking again and again while observing the remaining air pressure. Finally we found some more huge trunks which must going up only a few meters under the surface, a second area of trunks at 12-15m depth but our air was running out and we finished the dive alongside the boathouses where fish schools are present all the time.

Exhausted but satisfied about the fact we were just leaving an ancient forest sunken 1600 years ago. Wow!

Watch pikes hunting

For the afternoon we definitely needed an easy dive and what could have been better than the "Grundlsee", the green emerald of all lakes. In fact the green under water flora is of a fabulous density with an abundance of fish life within. Ideal conditions for macro photography and fish portraits.

Pike

In the very shallow waters I shot my best ever pike portraits watching them hunting over and over again during more than an hour.

Access to the lake is quite easy and comfortable especially in the village at the end of the lake where an air filling station is located in the firemen's boathouse.

The ultimate mountain dive

Who hasn't dreamed about a mountain lake of pure spring-water with tremendous transparency, embedded between mountain peaks, surrounded by fir trees and a natural grass plateau.

Transparency

This should not longer be like a diver's dream in our mind. Gerhard Zauner from the Diving Centre in Hallstatt arranged the permission needed from the local hotel host on the alpine pasture called "Tauplitzalm". On this huge high mountain plateau (altitude ~1500m) there are 6 lakes altogether, the next to the last is the "Steirersee" where we had to go.

So arrived just in time on the plateau we met the friendly local host, diver himself, who brought us down near the lake with his 4x4 Jeep. "I will be back late in the afternoon to pick you up with your equipment. Have a nice dive!" Then he drove back again to his hotel.

We were left at least 20 minutes mountain walk away from the lake. Walking there and back two times with the diving equipment back packed, tanks included, we finally set up our camp at the bank, completely exhausted.

Trunk draped with alga

From the first moment on I was amazed by the indescribable beauty of the underwater scenery. Some trouts swimming over the abundant green flora, trunks draped with a green curtain of alga making the scenery some like unnatural. Like a paradise for underwater photography.

At the end of the day the unique under water visual impressions outweighed by far the physical efforts necessary to make the dream real.

Water transparency like air

For our last day, Gerhard Zauner from the Hallstadt Dive Centre had another unexpected surprise ready for us. Diving in the river "Traun", by choosing the most spectacular place called "Traunfall", where several basins are near a waterfall having so clear water that the visibility seams nearly unlimited.

Recently permission is necessary to be allowed diving, but with Gerhard's reputation in the region, this was no hurdle.

In the basins

Arrived at the place already the view down into the basins from the crossing bridge was impressive. So together with Pascale we both decided to do some extreme wide angle under water scenery shots by using my newly acquired fisheye lens. With this fragile photo equipment in my hands, I decide to go the easy way into the water by passing under the waterfall whereas the 5m high jump in the basins cost an effort.

Once you are down, the water transparency is like air. Under water canyons, eroded rocks, tunnels and giant trouts are only some of the highlights. Just amazing!

Summary

This was an overwhelming showdown of our trip bristled with a few very dramatic moments, in some way the perfect script for our video and photo sessions. We started by searching some lost gold treasures, but after a while and some really wonderful dives, we learned to appreciate most the natural beauty of the lakes. Nothing but gold, that's what fresh water diving is here about.

About the lakes
Hallstättersee
Alt. 508m, depth 135m
Can be of interest when the visibility allows it. Notice the prohibited diving zones.
Gosausee
Alt. 960m, depth 65m
Perfectly clear visibility but cold water, a must dive.
Altausser See
Alt. 721m, depth 53m
Very interesting because of the sunken forest but extremely cold. A quite and beautiful place for diving. Easy access from the car parking.
Grundlsee
Alt. 709m, depth 64m
Abounding in fish. A perfect lake for easy diving. There is a filling station at the lake in the village called "Gößl".
Steirersee (Tauplitzalm)
Alt. 1460m, depth 30m
The ultimate mountain diving experience, but only for those who are not afraid of any effort in carrying equipment. Notice that permission is required. By far the most beautiful lake in the area.
Traunfall (Steyrermühl)
River, depth 6m
Diving is allowed only with permission. The basin near the waterfall has the clearest water, the visibility is nearly unlimited. The under water canyons, eroded rocks, tunnels and giant trouts are some of the highlights.
Pike

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