2021, February, Calcite, Ramingstein
In mid-February, after a busy few days of work, I felt a call from the wild: an urgent need to do something outdoors. My initial thought of a solid skiing tour became less attractive as the temperatures fell considerably. The thought of standing on a mountain summit in minus 15 degrees dampened my enthusiasm. Still, I had to get out and do something, preferably related to digging for minerals. How could I look for minerals in the dead of winter when most everything was frozen? Then I suddenly remembered that about 20 years ago I was with Gerhard Kocher in Ramingstein to photograph and document several tunnels of the former silver mine. Of course, I also had looked for minerals there, but Ramingstein is mineralogical rather uninteresting for most collectors. Small gypsum crystals and now and then a little calcite being the most common finding. However, in one of the tunnels, I found a nice specimen of calcite with a crystal on matrix. The calcite had a diameter of about 3 cm. Although in the ensuing twenty years I thought a few times about returning, I never actually managed another visit to that mine. Now the time had come.
Because this tour seemed to be the best alternative in mid-Winter and would not be too time-consuming, I started to pack my backpack and that put me into a good mood. This immediately ignited my enthusiasm for collecting. From Tamsweg it doesn’t take much time to reach Ramingstein and then to start climbing in direction to Finstergrün Castle. This structure is one of the three larger castles in Lungau. In 1841 a huge forest fire destroyed it. In 1901 the castle was re-built in 13th-century style. Around the castle there are several tunnel entrances from the former silver mine. The mine I wanted to visit was below the castle. Luckily I didn't have to go too far because the way down in the forest was steep and very icy. A thaw a few days earlier followed by more frigid temperatures resulted in a very slippery and dangerous climb. I no longer knew exactly where the entrance was and hoped that I didn't have to search for it too long in the steep terrain. Apparently I had made a good note of the location of the tunnel entrance, because even after almost 20 years I came directly upon the opening.
Finstergrün Castle - in its immediate vicinity there are several tunnel entrances to a former silver mine
In front of the entrance I found a small rock plateau, on which I could comfortably stand. From there, a large, cave-like entrance went into the mountain; the actual mine entrance is about 20 meters deeper in the cavern. I couldn't at all remember this impressive picture, which invited a short break to enjoy the sight. The day was already saved because with the ice formations in the front entrance area I actually already enjoyed sufficient impressions to justify the trip. When I then found the remains of a buzzard's head, I was more than satisfied, because such experiences are uncommon.
Mine entrance in the background and funny ice formations
Quite a large head of a buzzard in the area of the mining entrance
Now I prepared to enter the mine. I left the backpack with the tools outside for the time being, because I wanted to make sure that it was the right mine. The finding place wasn't that deep, if my recollection was correct. Inside the mine my attention was drawn to dead white spiders hanging from the walls everywhere. It had to be some kind of mold that made the spiders turn white. The spiders were still on the walls as they had died - and that looked really fascinating. For this reason I went back to the backpack to get my camera. I photographed some of them. In doing so, I gradually got deeper into the mine and was able to determine in passing that this was the right tunnel. I examined the spot where I had found the calcite. It wasn't looking very good for new finds. So I went a little deeper into the mountain to photograph a few more spiders. After about 100 meters the mine came to an end. I turned around and went outside to get my backpack.
Dead spider covered with white mold
This dead spider is hanging on the wall in a particularly dramatic way, resembling a skeleton
Dead spider with living conspecifics
When I returned, I put the backpack down and examined the spot with a better lamp. I was looking at a calcite vein that ran along the top of the adit. The calcite vein was slightly wider over a length of approximately 2 meters. In this area, the calcite opened up into small cavities, where small calcite up to about 1 cm in size had crystallized. At one point I noted an elongated cavity that slanted upward at an angle of about 45 degrees. The cavity had a diameter of about 20 cm and was about 50 cm deep. Work had already been done there on calcite and the piece that I had found at the time also came from this area.
The back of the cavity where the work continued
The cavity was still partially overgrown with small calcites on the side, but otherwise there were no other signs. First I tried my luck by working the calcite vein outside of the cavity. After several attempts and about an hour of chiseling, I gave up this site. Now I tried my luck directly in the rear area of the cavity. But first I had to gently convince all the spiders that had holed up there to look for another niche. After a hectic confusion, the last inhabitant was finally gone and I could start my work. I tried my luck in the rear area with my long chisel and the cleft hook. But I wasn't successful here either. I stopped my work and began to search the tunnel carefully. But I couldn't find anything of interest. I returned to the site and wanted to pack my backpack. Yet that nagging feeling of going home empty handed troubled me – that is a sensation best avoided. So I did what any enthusiastic collector who refuses to accept defeat would do: I looked again in the cavity. I took my headlamp in my hand and focused the illumination precisely on the rearmost area. I noticed a matt shine in the upper left of that area. A small glimmer of hope rose within me; I again unpacked my tools. I began working in this area with my two cleft hooks. To my delight, I was soon able to determine that there must be a cavity with calcite here. My chisel was already too short for this area. Therefore I laboriously had to open the front area of the cavity with the two cleft hooks. This only worked because the slate in this area was relatively soft. The shiny piece kept getting bigger but seemed to be firmly attached to the side. I thought a few times about quitting my work and coming back with a longer tool. Reason dictated doing this, but I just couldn't let go. Slowly I widened the area and at some point I dared to hook the cleft hook on a spot of calcite and gently pull on it. And then the surprise, it moved very easily! Then everything went very fast. A short time later I had a larger piece of calcite in my hand and more followed relatively quickly. I was surprised and delighted at the same time.
The first freshly recovered calcite specimen
I took my time examining the pieces and with the headlamp I could see that some were very transparent. But now it was really time to stop the work and continue working here another day with a longer tool. I carefully packed the pieces and headed home. The descent was still a bit exciting due to the ice and I had to turn on my headlamp because it was already dark. I managed to get to the car without a single slip.
When I got home, I happily told Maria about my unexpected find. I immediately began washing the pieces. I was preparing myself for the common experience that a fresh find on the mountain looks better than it does at home after it's been washed. Instead I experienced the exact opposite: the dirty calcite only showed its true quality and shine after washing. Most of the calcite crystallized as floater specimens and can reach considerable sizes with a diameter of up to 10 cm. The surfaces often show an etched structure and are highly polished. Or they are flat and have an elongated, fan-shaped structure, also with a high-gloss finish. In the ideal case, a high-gloss, transparent crystal has grown as the 2nd generation. Depending on the light source, the color changes from light orange in artificial light to light yellow in daylight. Under UV light, the calcite shows an intense orange-red color in some areas.
During the second visit to this site, the cavity was worked up with a longer tool. I was able to salvage a few nice pieces that day. This find really surprised me in its size and quality. These pieces are an asset to my local collection. Even more so, when we consider the location and recall that no other pieces are to be found in any collection. I never thought I would put Ramingstein minerals in my display case. Really good start to the season!
Calcite as a floater piece crystallized with a second generation. This was the piece that caught my attention in the cavity due to the matte sheen. It was also the first piece recovered, 9 x 7.3 x 4.5 cm