Swiss Ice Caves – Times Are Changing

Ice caves are a natural marvel and their ephemerality offers a visual reminder of our environments ecological fragility.


Disclaimer

Although this post is published in December, the images contained in this story were not taken this year. Indeed, the information in this post cannot be taken as any guidelines how to proceed, because the environment changes quickly. I wrote this post to the best of my knowledge. Yet, I cannot guarantee its correctness. ExpediTom cannot be held responsible for accidents/deaths happening when undertaking a similar trip, because this is only a description of a past undertaking. There was a fatal incident only days after my friends and I had visited this ice cave.

Morning views before visiting ice caves
Morning views before visiting ice caves

Swiss Ice Caves

Back in 2018, I visited these ice caves for the first time and was blown away by their beauty. There is a separate post about this undertaking here. Yet, my adventurous spirit was craving for more. Hence, I put a crew together and visited the ice caves again. Given that I described the approach detailed in the previous post, I focus on expectations, realities and what we learn from them.

Expectations

Four participants have already been to the ice cave the year before. Hence, there were certain expectations about what we were going to encounter. Last years’ trip had raised the bar high. The cave was huge, and its manifold hues of blue were mind-boggling. Subsequently, I interviewed those people about their thoughts. Many expressed concerns that it will look different. However, in terms of how much it will differ was up for debate. All of them were excited to see this place again and none of them doubted it would be a spectacle anew.

Ice cave from the previous trip
Ice cold Love -Ice cave from the previous trip

Expectations are hard to suppress when having had a glimpse at such a jewel before. Yet, expectations are like a point of reference, which can be met above or below the baseline. So, there is the risk of rather being underwhelmed by the experience. Although, it might still be fantastic for the first time. Therefore, I was hesitant to be too excited and tried my best to take it at face value.

Realities

We were not alone. There was another group of seven people, leaving the accommodation shortly before us. Moreover, the hotel owners informed us that another group was guided by the mountaineering school. We increased our pace, in order to enjoy the caves for some time without too many people. The path was the same as last year’s, apart from the fact that we continued over the frozen lake over its entire length. The crackling noise of ice below our feet made us increase the distance between each person. It was this noise which had convinced the previous group to leave the lake and opt for its avalanche prone banks.

After the safe passage over the lake, we gained altitude along a well-trodden path. We met with the other group at the first remnants of a cave. Nothing looked even close to what we had seen before. Both the fallen ice bridge and the tiny entrance had completely disappeared.

After a brief break taking pictures, we headed further up the slopes. There were rumours about another entrance into the glacier. Two ski touring men ploughed the path that we followed. Eventually, we reached a gaping mouth in the glacier, which invited to enter the other world. Descending the steep snow drift, we had to wait for our eyes to adapt to the low light conditions.

Heading up the steep slopes
Heading up the steep slopes

Our gaze met this natural marvel.

A New Swiss Ice Cave

This ice cave was massive and even larger than the one from the previous year: It measured approximately one hundred meters in length and was about 20 to 30 meters wide. The ice tubes extended even further into the glacier but demanded serious ice climbing. Moreover, huge ice pieces at the back of the cave indicated its ephemerality. Ghostly shapes loomed in every corner. The further you proceeded into the cave, the farther you felt from reality. At the core of this icy citadel was a crack in the roof, which allowed a sunbeam to enter. At times, snow drifts were blown through the hole that sparkled on the way down into the cave. It was a surreal experience.

Massive ice caves in Switzerland
Massive ice caves in Switzerland
The crack in the roof of the ice cave, which allowed a sunbeam to enter.
The crack in the roof of the ice cave, which allowed a sunbeam to enter (Shot by Harry VR, edited by me).

The walls of the ice cave captured my attention by their recurring geometrical shape. Built by nature’s forces of wind, water, and temperature, they formed unreal structures. A thousand circular dents neatly interwoven was the predominant pattern. Yet, together with the translucent quality of the ice, it appeared more like waves being frozen in time. Touching the ice felt peculiar: It had a rather plasticky hard sensation to it and was rock solid, which diametrically opposed its soft glitter.

Swiss Ice Cave with unreal structures
Swiss Ice Cave with unreal structures [Shot by Mike K.]

 

What We Can Learn From Ice Caves

On the way to the ice caves
On the way to the ice caves

As one participant succinctly concluded: “[The glacier’s face] has drastically changed.” There wasn’t anything of the glacier resembling last year’s appearance. No piece of ice has been left unturned – or rather “unmelted”. In Switzerland, where the Alps are warming faster than the global average, most of the country’s glaciers have retreated every year since 2001. Many are expected to vanish by 2090.

Both structures we visited were totally new. Admittingly, the time span of one year is long, though it emphasises how much it changes. I shared the participant amazement by how different everything looked. At the same time, I am still in awe of this icy citadel.

Only five days after our visit, an ice avalanche buried the cave. Tragically, a man who attempted to sleep in the cave demised. This is a deplorable reminder of the dangers that such a trip poses.

2 Responses

  1. Rob Mellors

    Looks like a gorgeous but unforgiving environment Tom. And fast disappearing the world over, of course.

    • Tom

      Hi Rob
      thanks for your comment and good to hear from you. Indeed it is quite unforgiving, but the experience was very rewarding. I hope your and Jane are well and I hope you are able to travel again soon!
      Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!
      Cheers
      Tom

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