Exploring Ice Caves in Juneau, Alaska

“Brice, what is one thing you would want to do in Alaska?” Me: “Crawl in an ice cave”. Now this wasn’t an ‘ice tunnel’ but it was pretty great adventure out at Mendenhall Glacier.

Hiking through Time

Working 40/5 on the road has been challenging, but we had a great first day-off in Juneau as Sadie and I went up to the Mendenhall Glacier to see if we could find some ice caves. Starting at an “Ice Extent 1910” sign, it was one easy wide hike on West Glacier Trail, followed by split onto the unmaintained Rock Peninsula Trail through low trees and thick brush that frequently caught our ice axes.

The trail rounded by the Mendenhall lake, which flooded the trail due to higher water levels and eventually emerged onto solid sediment rock that became more and more sparkly as we approached the glacier. 

We were hit with a heavy wind cresting the last rocky hill right before the glacier access and… tourism. Three bunches of helmet coordinated groups ahead of us were being guided on a 15 minutes glacier romps. 

The Mendenhall Glacier

The only other times I’ve been around glaciers this big were in places like Patagonia or Peru where access is difficult and I didn’t have as much ability to drive to a trailhead and hike my way to a headwall. So it was cool we got to spend as much time as we wanted by the glacier, without regulations or restrictions, for as long as we wanted.

Despite a guide saying there were no caves accessible. We wandered around the side and found several decently sized holes we could walk or crouch into.

The sides of the glacier were raining into waterfalls and underneath it you would could often observe a brown silty river flowing strongly as far as 50 feet back. If any of the brown silk draining into this river dripped on you it would become like a dense paste. The fine particles impossible to rub off your skin or pack. It would just smear.

View looking down under one specific cave section

Eventually we reached a high point. Scrambling alongside the glacier on smoothed rock we had two choices: start walking on the heavily crevassed glacier or first ascend, free solo a crumbly steep class five rock wall.

Panorama of the Glacier from our high point

Even though we brought our crampons and ice axe, without true glacier protection I was a bit nervous to travel across the ice. Even with all the snow bridges melted to make crevasses clear. So we turned back the 2.5 miles returning towards the “glacial ice extent of 1910”. The marker a true testament to changing climate.

One last look over the glacier before turning back