For the past three winter seasons I’ve had the good fortune of being able to take my photography tour groups into ice caves. I’ve been going into caves with a qualified mountain guide and ice cave expert. At the beginning of winter he searches for and discovers a number of caves in different locations on the south side of Vatnajökull glacier. Some of them are spectacular while others are less so but become quite special in the right light and conditions. Winter is the season to go into ice caves, from November throughout March. In some years though it’s been getting too warm at the end of March and they’ve had to shut down operations a week before the end of the month.
Glaciers are in their nature a very unstable phenomenon, they are advancing and melting, but in winter both their forward movement and melting slows down and rivers of melt water, that are beneath some of the caves, become small enough to be crossed in boots and sometimes they completely dry up. The caves are very dynamic and change from season to season. Both their location, size and shape.
There are no words to describe the experience of dwelling for hours to photograph inside a crystal blue ice cave. The ice above you is centuries old and as there are no damaging ultra violet rays from the sun to transform the ice to white, it is of the most intense blue color. As the glacier winds its way downward, the air bubbles that are trapped inside the ice are squeezed out and the size of the ice crystals increases. This is what makes the ice so clear and blue.
In spring the caves become unstable and dangerous and should not be entered until winter returns. Two areas famous for ice caves are Hrafntinnusker in the Fjallabak region of the southern highlands, and Kverkfjöll at the northern side of Vatnajökull. Unfortunately tourists have been killed in both locations in summer when they entered ice caves that collapsed on them. I’ve gone into a small cave at Hrafntinnusker in summer and spent a few minutes photographing inside, while listening to cracks and squeaks with a heart racing from increased adrenaline. I made it out intact but would never do that again. It’s a decade ago and with the increased wisdom of age, or the acquired realization that I’m not immortal, I would now only consider going into an ice cave if the conditions were safe for such a venture.
I will be leading three winter tours early 2015 and hope to be able to take all groups into ice caves. The caves are an endless source of subject matter. My preference is to focus on the smaller aspects of shape, light and texture but I’ve also made some good images showing the scale of a cave by asking our guide to pose for us. If you would like to experience the wonderful world of ice caves for yourself then check out the details for next season’s winter tours.