Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Quest of the Ice Cave

I don't remember exactly when it was when I first came across the surreal image on the internet, but it was around 2012 after I came back from my big trip. A man inside a bizarre-shaped-icy-walled blue cavern of some sort. Naturally, I didn't think it was real. But I dug abit, and was intrigued that this was possibly a real thing. The image(s) of the ice cave were taken in Kamchatka Russia. These caves are essentially found beneath glaciers, and so it was really a cave within solid blocks of ice!

I told myself that I needed to see this in person. And then, out of the blue (pun unintended), a friend seemed to be arranging a trip to Kamchatka! What a coincidence I thought! But the trip was arranged through a Russian agent on a pre-arranged itinerary. It was difficult to liaise in Russian on a customised itinerary. So I gave up the thought of seeing the icecave in Kamchatka.

And then I discovered that icecaves are one of the attractions in Iceland! And Iceland had always been in my radar for travel. So in Sep 2015, I finally went on a drive trip with friends to Iceland. I had not researched it detailed enough though. As it turned out, the agencies and guides only start bringing clients to icecaves only in late Oct, where it's safer to visit. I was deeply disappointed that yet another chance to visit an icecave had gone up in smoke.

So 2017 is the year. The year that I visit Alaska, where yes, there is also a well-known icecave in Juneau in Southeast Alaska. It was confusing though. I contacted some agencies, and generally, most tours seemed to operate only in summer. I thought about going in winter but logistics and travel in winter in Alaska is frustrating. So again, I decided to go in Sep where the tours to the icecave are still running, and more importantly, I found that one can visit the icecave on our own! I found GPS tracks that people had shared online, and in the worst case scenario, I would trek to the icecave on my own.

I arrived in Juneau on a wet dismal evening on the Alaska Marine Highway ferry. It had not been the best start of a trip. In the short 5 days prior to Juneau, I discovered that Southeast Alaska had one of the wettest seasons in recent years. I caught a flu and cough during my 25-hour ferry ride. I spent half of my 3 days in Haines recovering in my cabin. And I also realized that travel has a new dynamic for me nowadays. I lost my progressive lens, and I felt so handicapped!! :{. Reading maps, brochures and supermarket labels posed new challenges....

Cloudy days on the ferry, but you get glimpses of the scenery

The weekend signaled a turning point. My couchsurfing host advised that according to forecast, Saturday would be mostly sunny, and Sunday a full sunny day! This was after weeks of rain! I was buoyant. I arrived in the excellent Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Centre early in the morning. This is where most tourists come to to see the famous glacier. The trail to the icecave beneath the Mendenhall Glacier is in another location, which I planned to go next day.

The Mendenhall Visitor Center with direct views to the glacier

The Mendenhall Glacier
The tourists (and locals) and out in full force. I've certainly seen glaciers before, but I never get tired of seeing them. It's a great feeling seeing the ever-changing blue of the glaciers... together with the tons of tourists. The park ranger was having small-talk with a tour-leader, and I couldn't help hearing part of their conversation......

"..yeah, yesterday, the icecave collapsed, and there were a couple of people inside. Yeah, they came out ok, but shaken. I would be too you know...." the park ranger went on...

I froze, and something in my chest collapsed too. I was not being unsympathetic, but the only thing that resounded in my head was "...the icecave collapsed..."

I stood stunned for a while, still grasping with what I heard.

"...the icecave collapsed.." continued to reveberate around my mind.

I went back to the visitor center and casually asked about the icecave from another park official.

"Oh yes, yesterday, part of the icecave collapsed. You know, the icecaves are unpredictable, and sometimes new caves formed. The guys are badly shaken up, that's why we always warn people who wants to go there...."

The voice slowly faded away, like a closing music piece on the radio....

The weather that day was great, as forecasted. I hiked a couple of beautiful trails. The glacier glowed blue.

But I was depressed. Am I destined not to be in an icecave under a glacier?

Beautiful hiking trail within the Mendenhall visitor center area.
Old forest and streams in the East Glacier Trail

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