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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.

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.

The view surrounding the ice cave entrance.

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.

Entering the ice cave.

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.

Easing down the corridor, going deeper into the ice cave.

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.

Ethereal blue light in the crystal palace.

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.

The main chamber.

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.

Looking toward the back chamber.

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.

Gazing out the ice cave entrance to the vast sea ice.

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!

Dangling from an ice axe above 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.

The Hagglund out of gas.

A little bit of patience, and reserve fuel, we were on our way, and back in time for dinner.

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14 Responses »

  1. Howie,
    Your pictures of the ice cave are awesome. I can only imagine. Thanks for relaying your thoughts and sharing your experiences.

    Patty Williams

  2. Great photos, Howie!!


  3. That’s Brian in the last photo helping to refill the Hagglund with fuel!

  4. WOW!!! those ice caves were so cool. We have been listening to Mrs.Williams letter her son writes to her, i think it’s awesome that you guys get to explore and do funn stuff!!!!!!!!!!!!

    well i got to get back to class, see ya, and have funn

  5. Cool Pictures!

  6. those ice caves are so cool. have you seen any polar bears? Can anything live in the caves? i bet that was really awesome looking and being inside the caves. see ya. madison

  7. WOW! that is awesome. Antarctica is definitely on my list of places to explore!!

  8. Hey Howie,

    Great pictures man. they were very interesting. I liked the picture of the ice axe the best.

    Connor Lancaster

  9. Hi Mr. Koss
    I was wondering if anyone from your research expedition has ever gotten trapped in one of those caves? If anyone has gotten trapped down there how did hey get out? Has anyone died in one of those caves? Have you ever had to leave someone trapped in a cave? If you try to save them you will put yourself in danger. Please answer these questions for I am very curious.

  10. awsome caves i wish i could go and see them but i get cold easily lol !!
    i am at work right now and your pistures are passing my time thanks and great job out their in the artic ….
    save the world please and thank you !! 8) …..
    but i no u cant really save it but try for us canadians …8)


  12. Awesome! I am fascinated by the variety of research. This site is such fun…I feel like family sharing the photos, the thoughts, the excitement! Keep up the great job….my grandkids are inspired, heck, I’m inspired, by your activities and the ingenuity and concern you all exude.

  13. WOW……………..Simply AMAZING…………..

    My God how could u do that adventure……………………..???Great….Safely reached back….

    All the best for lall your adventures for this new year-2010.

  14. These pictures made me to refresh the memories of clips of vertical limit.