Ice Caves Hike (June 2011)

On the west side of the Mendenhall River (the opposite side from the visitor center where the buses take the tourists) there is a trail that goes to the Mendenhall Glacier. It is considered the country's most accessible glacier. A three mile hike on the West Glacier Trail, then the Ice Caves Trail will get you to its edge. Along the sides of the glacier there are ice caves big enough that you can walk in.

The GPS track of this hike. The trail starts on the left.
On the way out I hiked up the Mendenhall Lake Edge Trail which is an unofficial trail with lots of flowers. 

Flowers on the Lake Edge

A Bird Along the Trail
This trail runs splits off from and rejoins the West Glacier Trail; it is mainly a walk along the edge of the lake. When the lake level is up, this trail is underwater. After rejoining the West Glacier Trail, I took a right turn onto an "Unmaintained Hazardous" trail, which is a rough trail marked with cairns that leads to the side of the glacier. At the end of this trail, there is a short descent to the glacier. I did not see any ice caves right away so I walked onto the glacier. The surface was rough ice and not too slippery. The top of the glacier is hilly, not smooth. The far side of the glacier is filled with seracs (ice columns). 

Ice Arch on the Mendenhall Glacier

Stream on the Glacier
Then I went back to the side a little further down the glacier and found a couple of ice caves. 

Blue Ice Cave

Ice Cave
Inside these ice caves you can see how blue the ice is. This ice is blue since it has squeezed all the air out of it so that there is only water left; water reflects only blue light. This ice takes ten years to form under pressure up in the ice field and 200 years until it flows out at the end of this glacier. Since the ice was dripping and the glacier is constantly in motion, I did not stay inside them long. I walked toward the end of the glaicer then followed rock cairns back toward the ice caves trail.

End of the Glacier
While walking away from the glacier, I heard a rumble and turned back to see the glacier calving near a waterfall coming out from the other side of it. I stayed on the West Glacier trail back to the trailhead. It is possible to bike this trail about a mile in before it gets technical. Distance: 11.4 km (7.1 mi); Time: 4:53 (including looking around)

I plan to go back again with my new camera which should be able to handle to lighting better than the one I use on this hike.


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