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Mendenhall Glacier Caves

The ethereal beauty of Mendenhall Glacier Caves

The ethereal beauty of Mendenhall Glacier Caves

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The Mendenhall Glacier Caves is a series of extraordinary caverns located inside the gigantic, 13.6 miles long Mendenhall Glacier. The Mendenhall Glacier is, in turn, situated approximately 12 miles north of Juneau in southeastern Alaska, inside the Tongass National Forest.

Mendenhall Glacier Caves by Andrew Russell
Mendenhall Glacier Caves by Andrew Russell

Glacier caves are formed from a combination of events, which includes ablation effect and density loss, among others. The view inside of these caves is almost surreal. The bluish glow emanating from spectacular ice formations on the floor, walls and roofs are like something concocted by Hollywood’s visual effects wizards. It feels like an alien landscape, and its beauty will leave you breathless.

However, the caves are not permanent geological features, and can crumble or sink due to retreating glaciers. This is exactly what happened to the famed Mendenhall Glacier Caves in June 2014. The thinning roof of the cave partially collapsed, and the surviving sections are expected to suffer the same fate in the near future. Tour guides have stopped taking tourists to the caves due to fears of another collapse.

A body of water illuminated by an eerie bluish light in an ice cave inside Mendenhall Glacier. Image by Bureau of Global Public Affairs of the United States Department of State
A body of water illuminated by an eerie bluish light in an ice cave inside Mendenhall Glacier. Image by Bureau of Global Public Affairs of the United States Department of State

However, this has not stopped people attempting to view the spectacular caves on their own, despite the difficulty in getting to the Mendenhall Glacier. In the absence of trails, visitors have to trek across a dangerous icy peninsular that is treacherous to the uninitiated. People can get hurt going on these treks, and the Juneau Mountain Rescue are regularly summoned to rescue injured hikers. An alternative way to get there is by kayaking to the edge of the glacier itself – another challenging endeavor.

The good news is, new caves have been spotted forming inside the glacier. However, it is still not advisable to venture here on your own. The safest course is to go to the nearby Mendenhall Lake Visitor Center. If there is a safe cave to view, the folks there will be the first to know, and tour guides will only be too happy to escort you the caves. Otherwise, you may have to be content with hikes on the guided trails around the lake – which are still amazing.

Song of the day: Bob Dylan – Tangled Up in Blue

 

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