Over the past few years I’ve seen some amazing photos of ice-caves, and most of them came from either Alaska or Iceland. When Willie asked if I wanted to explore the Mendenhall ice-caves in Juneau, Alaska I said “YES” immediately. Prior to our trip to Juneau I had read that the “main cave” had collapsed — or at least that its entrance had collapsed. I assumed that a cave that big wouldn’t disappear in just a few months. Who would think that a cave 30 feet high with streams running down it and amazing views at every turn could just disappear? (perhaps this was a stupid thought, considering the height of the cave meant that the ice-above it was thinning).
Willie, Andy and I arrived and hiked 3 miles through a rainforest to get to the glacier. We went straight for the main cave. And we couldn’t find it. We searched up and down the area we assumed it was. And we came to a giant hole … where the cave had been just a few months prior. The cave, which everyone had photographed so beautifully, is completely gone. Not wanting to give up so we explored and searched for new caves, since such is the cycle of life on a glacier.
As we wandered we turned a corner and stumbled upon a massive wall of radiating blue. Although separated by a pool of ice-cold water, a small (but tall) ice-cave awaited! After finding a small path into the cave we settled in to see if it was photographable. This thin fin of ice stuck out and I knew, with the curving ice below it, and the water dripping down from the ceiling, that I wanted to use this in my photo. When I returned two days later, the fin had completely melted away.
Sapphire Cave, as we started calling it, is so blue that our cameras had a hard time picking up any contrast in the scene. In fact, I spent quite a while trying to figure out how to process this so that it just wasn’t a giant wall of blue mush. Even the river was colored blue from so much blue light radiating out of the cave. That’s when Lightroom’s new “De-Haze” function saved the day — it was able to pull contrast and detail out of the cave wall and save the photo. It’s not what we envisioned when we set out for our Alaska trip but boy was it neat to explore ice-caves and hunt around under an absolutely gorgeous glacier.
Nikon D800 w/Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8:
14mm, f/10, 1/4 sec, ISO 100