The Ice Cave
October 20, 2008
MCMURDO STATION, ANTARCTICA– After our full day of sea ice training, we headed back to McMurdo Station, with a steaming Mt. Erebus looming above us amid a picturesque swirling wispy sky. Yet what was in store was the highlight of the day. We found out that our next destination was an ice cave.
I knew this was going to be amazing as soon as I jumped out of the Hagglund and saw the ice cave entrance in the distance.
As we approached, the scene quickly became other-worldly, like nothing I had ever laid eyes on before. We were at the very edge of the Erebus Glacier Tongue, and about to walk into the glacier. This is where the Erebus Glacier, spilling off from the Mt. Erebus, goes out to sea. And here, at this location, the sea ice afforded an ideal location to walk right up to it. The icescape became an uplifted, gnarled jumble, very different than the relative flatness of the sea ice we had spent the day out on.
As I slid through the narrow entrance to the ice cave and down the slippery corridor drawing me deeper in, I began to wonder if I was still on Planet Earth.
Wow! Am I really seeing this? Am I really here? Is this really real? Stalactite spikes of ice were hanging from the ceiling of the corridor leading to the inner cave chambers. The light became not like the bright sun-splashed scene out where we had just been. It was starting to become a greenish-blue as light was filtered through the overhanging snow and ice. The corridor was steep and slick, but I had to go further inside this natural wonder.
Inside the cave, away from the influence of unfiltered sunlight, a crystal palace started taking shape, draped in an ethereal blue light that only deepened as I went in further. The ice took on new shapes and character, and I was astonished as I ventured further into the main chamber.
The ceiling, walls, and internal structures of the ice cave were formed from the glacial ice tongue. If melted, you could drink the fresh water. The floor is sea ice, which is salty from the frozen ocean water. The main chamber was the most magnificent of the whole with a large twisting spine leading up to a recessed area capped by skylights to the outside world, a world I felt a million miles away from at the moment.
Further along, moving deeper within the ice cave, a rear chamber could be seen. The ice bridge over the entrance seemed to bar the way, but a peek back revealed a narrow chasm lit from above with ice crystals of various shapes and dimension all around.
I turned and walked back the way I came, feeling energized and exhilarated by this adventure. Gazing out the entrance I was reminded of where I was. I was floating over McMurdo Sound on a vast and dynamic layer of ice; from one other-worldly place to another. What a wonderful treat. What a special place.
We decided to have a little fun while waiting for others to fully enjoy their own experience in the ice cave. Yup, that’s me, hanging from an ice axe over Mt. Erebus!
Reality soon set in hard, bringing all of us back for our time in the ice cave. As we gathered the group back into the Hagglund to drive back to McMurdo Station, not long into our ride, we ran out of gas.
A little bit of patience, and reserve fuel, we were on our way, and back in time for dinner.