Forest Service warns of imminent collapse of ice cave

Release Date: Jul 17, 2014   Juneau, Alaska

Contact(s): John Neary, Laurie Lamm, Laurie Craig


Mendenhall Glacier Ice Cave entrance from the air

A recent aerial observation of the popular Mendenhall Glacier ice cave reveals significant deterioration of the cave entrance. US Forest Service officials warn people to stay away from the cave due to potential for collapse.

The entrance to the ice cave appears to be thinning dramatically and will soon collapse. New holes in the ice are opening and widening. The danger involved in entering this cave has likely increased considerably.

Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center Director John Neary flew over the ice cave on Wednesday en route to view the condition of Suicide Basin. Heavy rainfall and typical summer melting are the possible source of the deterioration of the ice cave. Ice caves are temporary natural phenomena with limited longevity.

“Although ice caves are inherently dangerous because they occur under a melting glacier, this one seems particularly ready to collapse,” said Neary after his inspection flight.

A commercial tour company agrees. Above and Beyond Alaska is one of two companies with Forest Service commercial guiding permits for the west side of Mendenhall Glacier. In a written statement, Above and Beyond Alaska co-owner Becky Janes said, “[our] guides evaluate the condition of the cave on every one of their trips and on July 3, 2014 as a company they decided that the large cave along the glacier’s margin was unsafe to enter with clients.”

A collapse of the ice cave entrance could be fatal or cause serious injuries if falling ice or rock debris drop onto people or pets. A significant number of emergency rescues occur each summer on the glacier and nearby rock peninsula from trips and falls. There is no maintained trail to the ice cave.

On the Forest Service website at http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/tongass/about-forest/offices/?cid=stelprdb5401454, officials caution hikers and kayakers to be prepared for rugged conditions if they try to access the ice cave and glacier. The Forest Service advises wearing sturdy hiking boots and good outdoor clothing and quality raingear. Have a communication plan so a friend knows where you are traveling and your anticipated time of return. Carry dry clothing, food and water for survival in case of an unplanned overnight stay. Additionally, officials ask people to stay at least 250 yards away from nesting birds.