Ice Cave Vanished! Mendenhall Glacier

Ice Cave in Mendenhall Glacier vanished, a casualty of climate change
CLICK IMAGE Video as I explore a Fabulous Blue Ice Cave. Feel the satin of ice, strangely warm to touch.

Click image for video: This fabulous blue ice cave that I explored in 2017 has vanished. Feel the satin of ice, strangely warm to touch. Look through 1.2 meters (4 ft.) of clear ice. Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau, Alaska.

I mountain biked across frozen Mendenhall Lake in February 2017 to visit this ice cave.

Completely alone in the cave, I had time to sit quietly with the sound of flowing water, surrounded by shimmering blue walls. Eventually, I narrated this short reflection on a place that would disappear forever.

I visited the cave several more times in February, finding crystal boulders of ice that had fallen from the roof.

The cave has completely vanished as the glacier melts and retreats, melted into water that fed Mendenhall Lake and river last summer, an ephemeral creation and ghost of changing climate and rapid glacial retreat.

Over the next couple of Alaska Billy Blog posts, I’ll continue with more photos and thoughts about this cave and the Mendenhall Glacier.

For additional photos and stories, please visit me on Instagram. I post one photo and story each day.

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Western Hemlock tree broken by wind

Western Hemlock is the most abundant tree species in Southeast Alaska.
Western Hemlock is the most abundant tree species in Southeast Alaska.

Western Hemlock is the most abundant tree species in Southeast Alaska. It can reach an age of over 1,200 years, a height greater than 70 m (230 feet), and a diameter over 2.7 m (9 feet).

Wind is the primary cause of disturbance in the Pacific Coastal Temperate Rainforest of Southeast Alaska. Wildfires are infrequent and generally small due to the high rainfall, which ranges from 127 cm (50 inches) to over 508 cm (200 inches) per year.

Windthrown Old-growth Hemlock
Windthrown Old-growth Hemlock


Storms can windthrow large patches of timber, but in old-growth forest (generally over 300 years old), most openings are very small, averaging less than 0.8 hectares (2 acres). With small openings, the pattern of trees in mature forest is a mixture of sizes and ages.

The Western Hemlock tree in the photo has been broken by wind. Because bedrock is close to the surface resulting in thin soils and shallow roots, trees often are uprooted by the wind. Since this tree broke, we know its roots were strong.

It’s easy to focus only on the beautiful green forest of living trees when we walk in the woods. But both standing dead trees and logs on the ground are extremely important ecological parts of the forest.

Many wildlife species depend on dead wood for food, shelter, nesting, perching, and escape from predators. As you hike through the forest, take time to observe the many forms of dead wood. Look for the evidence of use by wildlife.
Like so many of the features of the forest, the values of dead wood also create high quality fish habitat.