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USFS: Ice caves 'will soon collapse'

Posted: July 18, 2014 - 8:49am

The U.S. Forest Service has issued a warning for people to stay away from the Mendenhall Glacier ice caves because the entrance “appears to be thinning dramatically and will soon collapse.”

The deterioration was noticed during a recent aerial observation of the popular Juneau attraction, and the danger posed to those who enter “has likely increased considerably,” the Forest Service stated in a news release. The cause is presumed to be heavy rainfall paired with “typical summer melting.”

Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center director John Neary flew over the ice cave on Wednesday en route to view the condition of Suicide Basin.

“Although ice caves are inherently dangerous because they occur under a melting glacier, this one seems particularly ready to collapse,” Neary said.

At least one commercial tour company agreed.

“(Our) guides evaluate the condition of the cave on every one of their trips and on July 3, 2014, as a company they decided that the large cave along the glacier’s margin was unsafe to enter with clients,” Above and Beyond Alaska co-owner Becky Janes said in a prepared statement.

Above and Beyond Alaska is one of two companies with Forest Service commercial guiding permits for the west side of Mendenhall Glacier.

The Forest Service said a collapse of the ice cave entrance could be fatal or cause serious injuries if falling ice or rock debris drops onto people or pets.

“Officials caution hikers and kayakers to be prepared for rugged conditions if they try to access the ice cave and glacier,” the release states. “The Forest Service advises wearing sturdy hiking boots and good outdoor clothing and quality rain gear. Have a communication plan so a friend knows where you are traveling and your anticipated time of return. Carry dry clothing, food and water for survival in case of an unplanned overnight stay.”

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