Video of the Week: Alaskan Ice Caves

Do you need to cool off from the stifling August heat?

Video of the Week is just what you need! This week we explore the melting ice caves of Alaska’s Mendenhall Glacier. Currently about 13 miles long, Mendenhall Glacier has been retreating for hundreds of years, and its melt rate has increased in modern times due to climate change. This melting, paired with failing ice dams, has put Juneau residents at risk for flooding as Mendenhall Lake’s water levels continue to rise.

This has not stopped thousands of people from visiting the glacier every year, however. The Mendenhall glacier is a popular tourist destination that flows from the Juneau Icefield all the way to Mendenhall Lake. In fact, the tourist-accessible features of the glacier are in the planning stages of being redone to incorporate new facilities and trails. Unfortunately, the ice caves featured in the video are not as easily accessible to visitors who want to make the adventure themselves. Mendenhall Glacier’s ice caves typically form and melt away quickly, so this video might have to suffice for now to help you escape this summer’s temperatures.

To learn about how Mendenhall Glacier helps teach about climate change, check out one of our articles from earlier this year.

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World’s First Rave Inside a Glacier

In less than two weeks, seventy people will gather almost half a mile below Europe’s second largest glacier. There, they will dance to an electronic DJ set, and will be served drinks made with glacial vodka and glacial ice cubes.

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The Langjökull ice cave event, called ICERAVE, is part of the Secret Solstice 2015 festival on June 19-21 outside Reykjavik, Iceland, where thousands of people will party to bands like The Wu-Tang-Clan and FKA Twigs over three days of 24-hour sunlight. The festival’s page states that it is “themed after the Norse religion and mythology of old. It‘s set to deliver a unique party atmosphere filled with great entertainment. The summer solstice was a time of bounty in the lives of the Nordic nations and a cause for celebration. The Norse mythology and religion commonly known as the Asatru is deeply rooted in natural symbolism.”

Secret Solstice Festival Lineup
Secret Solstice Festival Lineup from IcecaveIceland’s Facebook page

Keeping in line with that intention, the main event is taking place in the Laugardalur recreational area. An open green field, Laugardalur’s name translates to Hot Spring Valley. The festival’s sponsors state “citizens of Reykjavík used to bathe and do their laundry in the geo-thermal hot spot . . . there is a huge swimming pool . . . a botanical garden and a theme park/petting zoo.” Camping is also available for those who want to sleep under three nights of sunshine.

After a highly reviewed debut last year, the festival is going even bigger this year, offering many other exclusive side events for those who want a little extra. In fact, this year they’re offering what has been described as the world’s most expensive festival ticket. For $200,000, two people will be flown to a luxury hotel in Reykjavík, helicoptered everywhere else they need to go, given private assistants and cooks, and a private yacht for the weekend. For those who don’t have a quarter million dollars to spend on one weekend, they are also offering a one-night boat party for 100 ambitious festivalgoers.

Taking advantage of Iceland’s extreme latitudes and remote location they are also offering a second excursion into nature, the opportunity to attend an all night music event inside a century old, 102ºF natural volcanic hot spring.

Image of the Flúðir volcanic hot spring  for the Secret Solstice Festival
Image of the Flúðir volcanic hot spring from IcecaveIceland via Facebook

While partying inside a glacier or a hot spring may not exactly be low impact, and doesn’t scream, “leave no trace,” the festival may prove to be eco-friendly. Last year locals were reportedly throwing away their cigarette butts where they belonged, to the surprise of foreign guests. Already, the ICERAVE event has strict rules in place to not allow overly intoxicated individuals into the cave, and is enforcing a 2 drink maximum.

Overall, the festival looks like it will be a great deal of fun for everyone involved. The ICERAVE event is another example of the many different ways people explore the potential of living in a glaciated world, whether by drinking glacial water, or vodka, or dancing inside a glacial cave.

You can get tickets to the Festival, here, and to the ICERAVE event, here. Check out their Facebook page to stay up to date with all they have going on.

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Ice Cave Collapses On Mt. Hood

In the warmest winter on record the roof of a highly popular ice cave on Mt. Hood, Oregon fell in. The Snow Dragon ice cave at the bottom of the Sandy Glacier on Mt. Hood was first publicly documented in 2011 by Brent McGregor and Eddy Cartaya– we covered their experience documenting the Sandy Glacier last October. Since then, the western US has experienced one of the warmest and driest winters on record, and the Sandy Glacier responded.

An image of the opening to The Snow Dragon Ice Cave on Mt. Hood before and after roof collapse
The Snow Dragon Ice Cave on Mt. Hood before and after roof collapse. Credit: “Glacier Cave Explorers” Facebook page

As can be seen in the photos above from McGregor and Cartaya’s Facebook page covering ice cave explorations, the Snow Dragon cave has been significantly reduced this winter. The roof to the entrance collapsed in what McGregor on Facebook said he “would consider . . . the biggest change in the cave system since we have been monitoring it.”

This was always a fate for the ice cave that could have been anticipated. For years, many climbers  have said Snow Dragon and other cave systems like it would melt before long. Ice thawing from within the glaciers forms the caves. As that thawing continues and expands outwards, it begins to breach the surface. Once tunnels open to the surface, the glaciers continue to melt in an increasing positive feedback: warm surface air travels down the tunnels to the glacier’s core, increasing the rate of melt and creating new surface openings.

Ice cave systems are inherently temporary, so expeditions attempt to explore and document their beauty, chemistry, and biology before they’re gone. As we posted in January, a team from Uncage the Soul Productions shot “Requiem of Ice” in the Sandy Glacier system with help from McGregor and Cartaya for just that reason.

In an interview referencing the current collapse in the Snow Dragon cave with Oregon’s KGW, McGregor said although they knew the caves were temporary, “we thought we had another 5 or 10 years till we reached that point, but it’s accelerating. It doesn’t matter what you believe as far as climate change, the fact is that we are losing ice on our glaciers, just not in Oregon, just not on Mt. Hood, worldwide we’re loosing a lot of ice.”

In fact, at one time there was an even bigger cave system than the Sandy Glacier system. The caves on Mt. Rainier, Washington’s Paradise Glacier– first discovered in the 19th century– were some of the biggest and most popular ice caves in the country by the 1950’s. By 1970 glacial retreat had caused their roofs to cave in and tunnels to collapse, and today, only the highest ice caves in the system are left.

An image of a Hiker in Paradise Glacier ice cave on Mount Rainier, July 27, 1924
Hiker in Paradise Glacier ice cave on Mount Rainier, July 27, 1924 By Lindsley, Lawrence Denny, 1879-1974. Posted on Flicker by IMLS Digital Collections and Content.

Glacial ice caves don’t always melt away slowly and when no one’s looking. In 2008 a teenage boy became trapped inside an ice cave on Mt. Baker, Washington. The boy’s mother was taking his and friends’ photo inside the cave when the roof suddenly fell in– trapping them inside. It took 6 hours to get them out and the boys were only semi-conscious when they were finally rescued. Events like these outline the dangers associated with these highly volatile cave systems.

More recently, in July 2014, a popular ice cave on Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska collapsed due to increasing glacial melt. No one was trapped inside that time, but scientists and park officials are worried that as temperatures warm and glaciers retreat, more people may be injured exploring popular glacial ice caves unprepared.

image of a women standing inside an ice cave in the Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau, Alaska
A women stands inside an ice cave in the Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau, Alaska. By: Andrew E. Russell, Via Flickr

As beautiful as the caves are, and as amazing as it is to have the chance to explore their tunnels, they are inevitably disappearing. Nature is always in flux, and we find ourselves currently in an era of increased climate variability and uncertainty. Fortunately, until the ice caves around the world become too dangerous to explore, passionate scientist and adventurers will continue to document their lives, their tunnels, their expansive chambers and hidden lakes, unique flora and fauna, and their immense beauty.

Heart Shaped Opening of the Pure Imagination Cave Mt. Hood OR
Pure Imagination Cave, part of the Sandy Glacier cave system by Brent McGregor via Facebook

For more photos of McGregor and Cartaya explorations, and the Sandy Glacier cave system, check out their Instagram, or follow them on Facebook. For photos from the Mt. Baker collapse rescue see, here.

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Photo Friday: Ice cave in Kamchatka

Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula is a remote place by any measure, but it’s worth the trip to see an ice cave nearly a kilometer long that was created by water from a hot spring that flowed under a glacier. Reader Roberto Lopez of Asturias, Spain submitted these pictures from a recent trip. See more of Lopez’s photos at http://www.robertocarloslopez.com.

Photo Friday highlights photo essays and collections from areas with glaciers. If you have photos you’d like to share, let us know in the comments, by Twitter @glacierhub or email us at glacierhub@gmail.com.

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