From Siberia to Switzerland and all the way down to South America, ice caves are scattered all across the globe. Some are hidden behind mighty mountain fortresses, while some are veiled under sheets of glacier ice. Still others are found right on the shores of frozen lakes. Regardless of location, each one carries with it a unique beauty. Strap on your crampons, grab an ice pick and let's get to exploring.
Vatnajökull Glacier, Iceland
The Land of Fire and Ice is on full display in spectacular fashion at Vatnajökull Glacier. The frozen mass, which is the largest icecap outside the polar region, sits atop several active volcano vents, many of which have erupted in recent years. The volatile environment doesn't exactly welcome visitors with open arms, but ambitious travelers still frequent the area, eager for a winter expedition into the glacier's icy cathedral. Glassy concave ripples flow across its hulking underbelly and as the glacier melts and moves across the rugged landscape, the caves' interiors also shift and change.
Gorner Glacier, Switzerland
Melting icecaps and receding glaciers aren’t exactly a new topic of conversation, and the exploration of Gorner Glacier is just one of many worldwide efforts to help stem the proverbial tide of global warming. Situated on the eastern side of Zermatt, Gorner was mapped, photographed and surveyed for the first time in 2012 to help researchers gain a better understanding of glaciers and their melting rates. The team of researchers had to abseil down 20 meter vertical shafts to access the cave system, but the difficult journey was well-documented by acclaimed British photographer Robbie Shone.
Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska
One might think these ice caves just a few miles outside Alaska's capital would be fairly accessible, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Juneau itself can only be reached by plane or boat (there are no roads connecting the city to the mainland) and reaching the glacier takes similar effort. Ambitious explorers paddle across the waters of Lake Mendenhall before spending hours trekking across ice and snow to the caves’ entrance. A full day of physical effort is required to get there and back, but there are plenty of outdoor enthusiasts who take on the challenge knowing that deep blue ice and rushing glacial streams await their presence.
Booming Chasm, Canada
Booming Ice Chasm was discovered in 2005 by a spelunker and has been explored by only a few skilled ice climbers since. One of the most dangerous ice caves known to man, the climb starts with a sheer ice wall that plunges 200 meters down into a labyrinth of passageways, many of which are still unmapped and unexplored. The acoustics inside the chamber cause echoes so intense that climbers must either whisper or pause after each syllable to be understood. Tumbling rocks make the most spectacular thundering noise, adding more drama to the already precarious icy environment.
“The world of the ice giants” is the most fitting of names for this limestone behemoth outside Salzburg. Billed as the world’s largest accessible ice cave, Eisrisenwelt’s network stretches for almost 30 miles. The cave was officially discovered in 1879 and has had regular visitors since 1920. Each year about 200,000 travelers go on the twisting and turning headlamp tour, which includes a cable car ride up the mountain.
Lake Baikal, Russia
Siberia in the dead of winter can be a most unpleasant place, but that doesn't stop photographers from arriving at Lake Baikal's frozen shores for a shot at capturing some truly spectacular photos. Baikal is the world’s deepest and largest freshwater lake, but during the winter, the water freezes up to more than a meter thick in places. Olkhon island, which sits in the middle, is small in comparison but its caves and grottos sprout forests of frozen stalactites which point jaggedly down to the ice floor. A tour with Baikal Adventure Travel Company is one way to see the incredible wonder.