On our one day off sandwiched in the middle of 6 busy days at the hospital, we decided to seek mental respite in the nearby Chugach mountains. Though Anne had previously hiked towards Byron Glacier with her friends Lauren and Ellie, snow pack now made the trail safe to hike past the boulder field and into the Byron Glacier ice caves. As with most things in Alaska, the caves were stunningly beautiful.
A quote from a detailed account of the Byron Glacier caves by Doug O’Harra, editor of Far North Science:
Glacier caves form for two reasons. As a glacier moves, the ice can be blocked by a knob of rock, causing a channel to form on the leeward side of the blockage. These “obstruction caves” are thought to be rare.
Far more often, glacier caves form when melting water carves a passage through the ice. Warm air then flows into the passage and eats away at the walls. The process is called ablation. Essentially the same process creates limestone caves. But in a glacier, cave formation occurs a thousand times faster than in limestone. If limestone caves live and die over millennia, then glacier caves might rise, expand and collapse in a few seasons… “You see the same thing in a glacier in two to three years as you would in a limestone cave in 5,000 to 10,000 years.”
Of course, global warming has these glaciers melting more rapidly than before. Jared Leto narrates this CBS video about glacier melting in Alaska, featuring the Byron Glacier Ice Caves.