I swore that I wouldn’t come here— this crowded ice cave that pierces the side of Mendenhall Glacier. But— our long stretch of clear cold weather is about to end. When it returns, a warm, wet storm could soften the lake ice that now provides an easy walkway to the glacier’s face. Even if we took the alternative route, with its scree scrambles, in overcast we wouldn’t see this strong winter sun shining through crevasses that have opened in the cave’s roof. If I didn’t go today, I might never see the glow. So this morning we joined the stream of dogs, toddlers, ancients, the over weight, the stooped, the fit, the ill prepared— all walking over groaning lake ice to our Disneyland. To eyes use to seeing vacant trails, the pilgrims appeared as thick as cars on a motorway. In reality, I never counted more than thirty or forty at one time.
A 100 meters from shore, we began to hear the submarine booms of settling ice. It didn’t stop until we reach the glacier. I wondered if a guy pushing his child in a high tech pram could hear the booms over the babble. When we passed those returning from the cave, they showed us blank faces. I turned to ask one if he had been transfixed by the experience and was almost blinded by the sun. They wore not the look of the transformed but of those that forgot to wear dark glasses.
We climbed onto glacier ice and followed a boot pounded trail to the cave, listening to the squeal of grade schoolers rising from a communicating crevasse. The cave spreads out from a narrow tail recessed in glacier ice to a wide, almost oval opening like a cornucopia. Sunlight pours through broken crevasses in the roof like water will during the thaw. The cave’s multifaceted aquamarine walls glow dimly as if we are inside a gem stone. In spite of the excited children, barking dogs, and camera flashes, it feels like a holy place—one that inspires awe in the cynical and in the unwashed.