Mendenhall Ice Cave, Juneau, Alaska

As we hiked up from the beach of Mendenhall Lake, Mendenhall Glacier came into view

After we beached our canoes near the Lake Mendenhall tidewater entrance of the Mendenhall Glacier, we put on hard hats and packed up our ice spikes and headed out across the glacial moraine toward the retreating ice edge of the glacier. Our first surprise from our guides, following our viewing of the glacier from below, was the fact that we would be able to enter and walk through a glacier ice cave that had been carved out by a heavily flowing stream that flowed down the surrounding mountain. This unexpected adventure revealed some stunning vistas once we entered the cave. The ice glowed in various shades of blue as we transited the cave, walking uphill through the rapidly flowing streambed. The Mendenhall ice caves have been described as “otherworldly” and “surreal,” but it is important to note that they are “melting” and “fleeting.”  Exiting the cave, we came face to face with the glacier and were immediately struck with its massive size. Of course, we were only looking at the terminus – the ice field from which the Mendenhall Glacier flows was over 13 miles (20.9 kilometers) away, uphill.

The entrance to the Mendenhall ice cave (under Mendenhall Glacier) was not intuitively obvious to the casual observer; from the outside things look pretty “black and white”


Once inside the entrance of the Mendenhall ice cave (under Mendenhall Glacier), the vistas became “otherworldly” and “surreal”

What are “ice caves” or “glacier ice caves”? From an Alaska tour company website: “The term “ice cave,” it turns out, is sometimes used by geologists to describe a regular bedrock cave that features year-round ice, but as it’s usually meant when discussing Alaska, ice caves refer, well, to caves within a body of ice, namely a glacier.  (“Glacier cave” is probably a better term, technically speaking). –

Our path through the Mendenhall ice cave (under Mendenhall Glacier) was upstream and uphill with the water flowing rapidly and, in some places, deeply – our trekking poles were as important as our hardhats


The colors and shapes of the ice ceiling and walls in the Mendenhall ice cave (under Mendenhall Glacier) reminded us of some of the Chihuly glass sculptures we had seen a month ago in Seattle


As we exited the ice cave, we got our first look straight up the Mendenhall Glacier and realized its enormity

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