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Forest Service Requests Public Comments on Future of Ice Caves

Posted by Francakes at Jul 27, 2015 06:05 PM |

Following the recent collapse at the Big Four Ice Caves that left one dead and five injured, officials are asking for public comments to help prevent future tragedies.

In early July, the ice caves at the end of the Big Four Ice Caves trail collapsed, leaving one hiker dead, and five injured. Washington Trails Association is deeply saddened by this incident. Unfortunately, this is not the first time a cave collapse at Big Four has taken a life. Our hearts and thoughts are with those impacted by this accident.

A view of the Big Four Ice Caves behind a memorial for Grace Tam, an 11-year-old who died in a cave collapse in 2010. Photo by GeezerHiker.

Following the recent collapse at the Big Four Ice Caves, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest officials are asking for public comments to help prevent future tragedies. For now, the trail to the seasonal caves is closed indefinitely.

It is always tragic when lives are lost in pursuit of outdoor recreation, and WTA is committed to continuing to work with the Forest Service to educate hikers on how to enjoy our great outdoors sustainably and safely.

Help the Forest Service determine the trail's future

The Forest Service is specifically looking to address how access can be provided to sites of natural beauty such as the ice caves and have fewer people ignore the dangers and warning signs.

If you would like to submit ideas for the future of the Big Four Ice Caves trail, you can do so on the Forest Service contact page.

Big Four trail should reopen, but hikers must take precautions, embrace stewardship

As the climate changes and the glaciers recede, the Big Four Ice Caves are one of the few remaining sites where people can easily see these kinds of natural wonders. This trail offers a unique experience and connects us to the way in which water and ice have shaped our region.

Washington Trails Association hopes to see the trail reopened. In a comment letter, WTA provided the following recommendations to the Forest Service:

  • Rename the trail "Big Four Ice Caves Viewpoint Trail" to emphasize that the views, not the caves, are the destination.
  • Develop interpretive signage along the trail to help educate hikers who might be unfamiliar with the changing nature of ice caves. Some options include adding signs that describe how the caves are formed and why they are unstable. Additionally, signs could talk about the role of hikers as stewards of our public lands.
  • Consider adding additional signage at the terminus of the trail noting that the caves are dangerous, such as “Warning: Caves can collapse at any time.”

WTA encourages hikers to use their best judgement and head warnings from land managers. Hiking safely is a tenant of good stewardship. By staying on designated trails, hikers can preserve sensitive habitats and respect the unpredictability of nature in order to preserve high-quality outdoor experiences for the next generation.


Ice caves

good ideas

Posted by:

Muledeer on Jul 28, 2015 08:34 PM

Keep the ice caves open!

I would like to suggest that "crowd control" barriers be put up around the entrance to the cave(s). At each end of the barrier, there could be large WARNING signs indicating the danger of crossing the barrier. People need to respect nature, and the mistakes of others should not ruin this experience for everyone else.

Posted by:

Beckybekbex on Jul 30, 2015 01:56 PM

Family tragedy

I am the sister-in-law of AnnaLisa Santana, a lot of the family would like the caves to still be opened, however they have said that they would like to have a ranger or somebody that would be able to watch it and maybe put a logged fence around the front entrance? I think the placques that you have of the victim from 2010 would be nice for all the victims that passed up there.

Posted by:

nwhitehead on Jul 30, 2015 02:58 PM

What ever happened to common sense?

There is a very easy way to ensure that no one else is killed in the cave: STAY OUT OF THE CAVE! I am very sorry to hear that someone else has gotten killed in the cave. But I am also sorry to hear that the cave is being held responsible! It's fully publicized that people have gotten killed in the cave in the past and that you're not supposed to go in. So the people who went in, or their parents!, are the only ones who should be held accountable. Why is the trail closed now? Because of one or a few people who did not have the common sense to obey the precautions.

Posted by:

Wordmason on Jul 30, 2015 05:28 PM

Keep them Open

Yes keep them open!! I didn't even get to go visit the caves! I totally agree that people need to use common sense and we shouldn't be punished for others mistakes!! Everywhere you go can be dangerous if your not careful!!

Posted by:

Liz84 on Jul 31, 2015 08:21 AM

GoatGirl on Forest Service Requests Public Comments on Future of Ice Caves

Regarding the above recommendations: 1) Renaming the trail likely will not make a significant difference. 2) I like the idea for interpretive signage. One of the difficulties with this trail is that it is short enough and easy enough to attract "tourist hikers" who are not experienced or educated in the outdoors. 3) If the existing signs are not deterring people from the caves, adding more likely will have no effect. Also, the signs need to be more than just a "warning" - the message needs to be a clear directive, "DO NOT approach or enter the caves." A warning lets people know the danger, but does not clearly prohibit action that puts them in danger.

Posted by:

GoatGirl on Jul 31, 2015 11:47 AM

MapleLeaf on Forest Service Requests Public Comments on Future of Ice Caves

When people say "keep them open," I assume they mean keep the trail open not the caves themselves. It would be asinine to go in them at this point or any point as it's not safe and probably will never be safe -too many accidents have happened. Keep the trail open but block entrance into the caves as clearly people don't pay attention to the warning signs which were posted
along the trail.

Posted by:

MapleLeaf on Jul 31, 2015 01:54 PM

What if...

Here's another idea: make the trail accessible by permit only (like some backcountry areas). Have people submit an application, including number of people, age and wilderness experience level for each hiker. Have them sign a statement acknowledging that they understand the caves are dangerous and not to enter them, and include a checklist of essential gear (like first aid) and directions for what to do in an emergency. The permit would need to be displayed with their Forest Pass. As an additional thought, why not create an online hiking tutorial with a quiz people need to pass before they can purchase a Forest Pass?

As I said before, the problem with Big Four is that it's easily accessible to everyone - including people who are clueless about being outdoors. And Big Four is not the only "easy" trail to claim the lives of unprepared hikers: wasn't it Rattlesnake where someone fell to their death a few years ago? Tragic, but not surprising since I've seen people on that trail wearing flip-flops!

Posted by:

GoatGirl on Jul 31, 2015 01:54 PM

MapleLeaf on Forest Service Requests Public Comments on Future of Ice Caves

Nice suggestions GoatGirl. Regarding my earlier comment, because of limited resources (our parks are severely stretched for funding), I imagine they can't always have rangers available to educate/monitor people year round. Closing off the entrance to the caves would require serious resources. However, some kind of barrier and signage preventing/telling people not to proceed past a certain point would be helpful--if requiring people to apply for a permit, sign a waiver, etc isn't possible.

Posted by:

MapleLeaf on Jul 31, 2015 02:04 PM

Rename it from Ice Caves to Ice Formation

Caves sounds like something you should be able to enter. An Ice Formation, makes it sound less like a cave and something you should look at. ASIDE from correct scientific terms, this is a PR issue we're dealing with. Instead of just re-educating them, rename it so that people unfamiliar with correct terms will know that it's not a 'cave' to enter and play around in. There's signage already up there AND a memorial to that little girl that died a few years ago, and I've watched people ignore them and approach the caves, because well, they are known as 'caves' and not an ice structure that looks like caves.

Posted by:

noobalicious on Aug 01, 2015 08:03 PM

Keep it open, but understand that people will put themselves at risk

I don't believe that any amount of signage will deter people from getting too close, because too many people believe themselves to be special - that a) rules do not apply to them and b) they are invincible and won't be the "unlucky" one that an accident happens to.

Seriously - there is already a large number of warnings there about the dangers posed by the area by avalanche, rockfall and icefall. There's a great big memorial to the little girl who died and multiple signs warning to not go any further. Putting up more signs won't deter people who display the magical thinking that it can't possibly happen to them…. The only way to keep people away from the ice caves would be to take down the bridge (closing it is futile… people just step around the barriers- evidenced by trip reports filed even here during a closure, I think, last year) - few people would be willing to ford or swim the river to get over there.

Do I think this should happen… no, you can't protect everyone from themselves. The warnings are there. The same thinking would see the Grand Canyon closed and fenced off… people die there falling off every year. It would close just about every natural area.

Posted by:

ehiker on Aug 02, 2015 12:00 PM

Jonny-anderthal on Forest Service Requests Public Comments on Future of Ice Caves

I hate to restrict the wilderness seekers or impede on the wilderness environment any further. But as something MUST be done to prevent further harm...

I like the warning sign posting in clear sight, which is likely to soon be vandalized.

Possibly including memorials for each person that suffered their demise under the collapsing caves:
"This interpretive information placard placed in memory of [insert name]...
Ice shaped the mountain slopes during [this epoch]...These melting caves are delicate structures waiting to collapse as we continue to ignore our increasing carbon use..."

Of course less political. Just trying to stress the information of danger and history.
I certainly would not like the open area limited, so long as my boots are not trampling living bushes. But this is probably just my point of view.

Posted by: on Aug 05, 2015 04:47 PM

sign in for access to the ice caves

Prominent sign-in point before the rock field (not at the end of the official track, by which point many people have gone off-trail) where people sign in to actually access the interior of the ice caves. At the top of the sign-in, names and photos of the people killed in the caves. Prominent place to write in the names of your nearest and dearest for notification in the case of your death. Alternately: space for the name of the group leader with spaces for the names and relationships of all the people they are taking in with them. For posterity.

Better yet, take out the bridge and create a trail from which much of the snowfield area might be viewed from far away. Leave memorials up by the snowfield, and maintain safety patrols, but don't encourage casual access.

Posted by:

aphyde on Aug 11, 2015 08:09 PM