How to

1 June 2016

Five of the Most Amazing Ice Caves in the World

Glaciers are incredible things to behold, in and of themselves, but sometimes they house breathtaking secrets within, for those intrepid enough to probe deeply enough. Any naturally formed cave which contains ice can be characterised as an ice cave, often they are either cut into shape by lava (known as a lava tube) or by limestone erosion.

In either case, they are marvels of nature, characterised by their ghostly blue hue and the harmless but unnerving cracking sounds which echo around the heads of anyone who dares to venture inside. These are five of the most amazing ones.


Mendenhall Glacier

Huffington Post
Located in Alaska, just east of St Terese, the Mendenhall Glacier is about 22km long, and it's been retreating at an increasing rate for the past 500 years or so. Nestled beneath, for those able to kayak to the base, are the ice caves, caused by the gradual recession of the glacier. The glacier has been there for about 3,000 years, but the further it draws back, the more this icy rift widens, revealing the ancient natural history previously frozen beneath. 

Forests which have been encased in ice for centuries have slowly been revealed, as more and more passes of warped crystal gradually open up. The Mendenhall caves will eventually melt away, but for the moment, they're offering one of the most astounding experiences in all of Alaska, and that's saying something.


Dobšinská

terraincognita.sk
This amazing work of natural sculpture can be found near a mining town in the Slovak Paradise mountain range. For the past 16 years it has enjoyed pride of place on the UNESCO World Heritage List, and for good reason. Some of the ice walls coating the cave can be as thick as 26.5 metres, and it forms into all manner of weird and wonderful shapes.

Of all the caves on this list, Dobšinská is perhaps the most tourist friendly, having been fitted with stairs, allowing people to easily access almost all of it. It was, in fact, the first electrically lit cave in all of Europe, having been lit only 16 years after it was initially opened to the public in 1871. It maintains a comfortable average temperature of 0 °C, as the shape of the entrace allows it to cool rapidly in the winter and remain cool in the summer.


Booming Ice Chasm

Amusing Planet
This Canadian marvel is so named because of the acoustic phenomenon that takes effect once you get inside. As rocks are dislodged and come tumbling down the 140 metre ice slide to the base, their crashing descent booms back up to the top. Even speaking will trigger the same effect, which while impressive, makes communication a bit tricky. It's a tricky cave in general, as the smooth sheets of ice are incredibly slippery and fall from either end would be fatal. 

It's a cold trap cave, so named because cold air blows in, but can't get out, which is why the ice is so smooth and clear. It wasn't even discovered until 2005, and although explorers have been scuttling around it for the past 8 years, there are still many passages yet unaccounted for. 


Kamchatka

Amusing Planet
This huge Russian cave, named for the Kamchatka Peninsula where it can be found, was formed by a hot spring flowing beneath the glacial field which crawls across the edge of the Mutnovsky Volcano. This odd combination of cold and hot has created a gaping tunnel of ice almost a kilometer in length. What's really striking about it though is the way the glacier has been melting away, thinning the roof and allowing sunlight to break through, illuminating the cave in various shades, depending on the time of day and season.

In some parts the roof has broken away into a shelf, forming a kind of skylight. The peninsula itself was off limits to foreigners until about 20 years ago, which has kept it almost untouched by humans. Now though, it's fairly popular, and tours to the cave take place between July and September. 


Myrdalsjokull


While Kamchatka is located on the side of an active volcano, Myrdalsjokull is actually on top of one, and as terrifying a notion as that might be, the result is like nothing else on Earth. This Icelandic wonder features gaping icy chasms, hollows and ceilings which once again changes in colour depending on the time of day and strength of the sun.

The cave has been closely monitored by scientists, especially in the wake of the recent eruption of its close neighbour, Eyjafjallajokull. If you want to visit a place that seems truly otherworldly, this is the one for you. The clarity of the ice, the shapes it makes and the eerie quietness all come together to create something familiar, yet distant. 



Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop.