As far as unusual tourism goes, few things are as beautiful, surreal, dangerous and temporary as the Mendenhall Ice Caves.
Located in Juneau, Alaska, Mendenhall Glacier (also known as Sitaantaagu) is a 13 mile long block of ice and snow. If you’ve ever seen Ice Age, this cave is pretty much the same as the one our main characters find themselves in just before the popular ice-slide scene.
The glacier is one of 38 glaciers in the same area, but perhaps the most popular because of its location and surreal blue caves.
As beautiful as they are, the caves are not easy to get to. First, you have to take a kayak ride to the edge of the icy glacier. Next, you must hike up the jagged and unsteady ice. It is considered a very strenuous hike, taking about 8 hours to complete. Once at the top, you can carefully descend into the electric beauty.
The caves are so stunningly blue due to trapped air being squeezed from the original ice and snow. The ice absorbs every color except for blue. As more ice and snow melts and water runs through the glacier, new caves are formed and old ones are destroyed. Even standing inside the caves you will hear the roar of water and droplets falling all around you. The caves are constantly changing and evolving, as is the case with any glacier. Because of this, the size, height and length of the caves are never the same.
Unfortunately, Mendenhall Glacier is melting and retreating at an alarming rate. From about 1500- the 1950s, the glacier retreated 0.5 miles. From the 1950s- today, it has retreated more than 2 miles. Global warming due to climate change is responsible. Interestingly, the cave’s existence is believed to be due to this rapid melting of the snow and ice.
Tourists and locals visit these caves year round, however only those in good physical shape and used to climbing and hiking are recommended to make the trip. A guided tour is highly recommended for safety.
Climate change is affecting beautiful places all around the planet. If we do not combat climate change now, these caves, glaciers, and much more will be erased from the Earth forever. To learn more about climate change and how you can help, click here.