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Is Entering an Ice Cave Safe?

Posted by Susan Elderkin at Mar 08, 2010 04:10 PM |

No. It is never safe to enter an ice cave. 

Why do we mention this? Because every year on the first sunny day of spring, throngs of hikers make a pilgrimage to Big Four Ice Caves on the Mountain Loop Highway.

This weekend, as it approached 60 degrees, even more people than usual showed up. And with the Mountain Loop Highway open and the caves snowfree weeks earlier than usual, entering them was quite a temptation.

On Saturday night, one hiker posted a Trip Report on the WTA website that said in part, "It IS safe to venture into the cave as far as you want since the snow is very hard and compact." Apparently, that remark prompted several folks to enter the caves the next day and to tell the rangers that WTA said it was okay.

For the record, WTA did not say it's okay to enter ice caves, nor would we. We removed the post first thing on Monday morning, because we don't want to perpetrate misinformation or unsafe behavior. And we added text to our Big Four Ice Caves Hiking Guide entry warning folks of the dangers. 

The thing is, Trip Reports are user-generated, and while they are extremely helpful and appreciated, they should not be taken unilaterally or at face value. People must do their own research and use common sense.

Personally, I would never enter Big Four Ice Caves. I recall the chilling story of a woman who died there in 1998, and I know of other instances of injury and of people becoming trapped inside by ice and avalanche.

We mention all of this, first and foremost, because we want everyone to come home from their hikes safely. There are dangers inherent to hiking - and sometimes things that look really fun and safe can turn ugly quickly.

Second, if you read a Trip Report post that is incorrect, please take a moment to comment on it, and then shoot me an email at susan@wta.org so I can take a look.

Finally, if you have any questions about accuracy, liability or monitoring of user-generated content like Trip Reports on our website, please refer to our Terms of Service.

Happy Safe Hiking!

Comments

thanks

Thanks, Susan for being a point person for an effort at monitoring trip reports. I've often seen comments on WTA trip reports that made me cringe.

Posted by:


Kim Brown on Mar 08, 2010 05:19 PM

you're welcome

Something seem not right? Please comment and email me. There are definitely people behind this website, but not enough of us that we can read every single trip report. And, by the way, 99% of these trip reports are great and such a helpful tool for the hiking community. Keep on posting!

Posted by:


Susan Elderkin on Mar 08, 2010 07:37 PM

My trip report

I think it was very uncalled for to delete my trip report. The trip reports are, as you said, user generated. You should respect our opinions and let them be. In my opinion, I thought they were very safe and stable at the moment. No one has died there in 12 years. People die on all sorts of hikes hikes. Accidents happen. That's life. That is one of the risks that us hikers must take. That is what separates the die hard, adventurous, hardcore hikers and climbers from all of the "tourist" hikers. If the caves were unstable, they would've probably been blocked off. Some hikers are different than others. Some are more brave and adventurous, and sometimes take greater risks. I am one of those people. And I posted my trip report from that point of view. So you should respect that and not intervene with my opinions. The official hike descriptions are where you can write what you want. But please respect what others have to say in their trip reports since the reports are not official with the WTA.

Posted by:


Pribbs on Mar 08, 2010 08:48 PM

the snow

The snow is very stable at the moment around the caves. It is very hard and compact with little avalanche danger. I made sure of that before I entered the caves. Also, i was not the first one into the caves, for tow others already were in there. I am pretty sure the ratio of total hikers to injuries in the caves is very, very small.

Posted by:


Pribbs on Mar 08, 2010 08:52 PM

the snow

Avalanche danger and caves caving in aren't the same thing.

Besides all this, the Forest Service has placed really big, obnoxiously bright yellow signs along the trail warning against entering the caves. If people continue to enter the caves, perhaps hikers will someday be prohibited against entering the caves, subject to a fine. If that doesn't work, perhaps the area will be sealed off altogether.

To walk by a bright yellow offical sign on your way to the innards of the Ice Caves is blatant disrespect for the Forest Service and for Nature - if everyone entered the caves, the temperature of the caves will rise due to body heat, and they'll be gone. Nature can be fragile. I guess that will solve the problem of entering the Caves, though.

Posted by:


Kim Brown on Mar 09, 2010 09:59 AM

another point

pribby states that if the caves were unstable, they would "probably be blocked off."

This is not the case. The Forest Service DOES NOT monitor the caves - or any other feature, including avalanche chutes - for safety and block them off.

The warning signs placed at Big 4 are an unusual act for the Forest Service, and in my opinion a preliminary to further action (as I noted above) if the signs don't seem to work.

Posted by:


Kim Brown on Mar 09, 2010 11:48 AM

judgement

But overall, it is pretty much up to the hiker that should use their better judgement. Like in my case, it was still morning so everything was still pretty frosty and frozen. Also, the snow that was surrounding the caves seemed pretty stable. However, these conditions don't apply for everyday. As the season goes on and the weather warms up even more, the snow might soften and become more loose, increasing the dangers. I wouldn't have gone in if I hadn't tested the condition of the snow outside of the cave first.

Posted by:


Pribbs on Mar 09, 2010 03:08 PM

judgement

I don't believe the issue at hand is whether or not it was safe for YOU to enter the ice caves because, as you have pointed out, that really is for each individual to decide. The issue, rather, is whether or not it was appropriate for you to post a trip report on the WTA site stating that it is safe to enter the caves despite the fact that there is an abundance of official information that states otherwise. The issue also is whether or not it was appropriate for the WTA to pull your posting which they viewed as negligent and having the potential ability to cause harm. I wonder how you would feel if a couple of young teens chose to enter the ice caves based on your report and ended up trapped by an avalanche. Perhaps, as you say, that's life. Well, actually, no. That's death.

Posted by:


Ranger Gwen on Mar 09, 2010 11:38 PM

judgement

Trip reports are based off the opinions of the people that post them. The official hiking descriptions in the hike guide is where the "official" WTA stuff can be said. Trip reports should be left alone unless something in the report is very incorrect (for example, saying that a hike is 5 miles when it is actually 15 miles). When a hiker reads a report, they should know that what might be considered safe or easy by one person might be hard and dangerous for someone else.

Posted by:


Pribbs on Mar 10, 2010 12:00 PM

Is Entering an Ice Cave Safe?

The Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie NF asks the public not to enter the Ice Caves because they are extremely dangerous and unstable. These caves are continually melting, especially this time of the year, and can collapse at any moment. They have collapsed in the past, trapping people inside under tons of ice, causing serious injuries and fatalities.

Posted by:


Smokey Bear on Mar 10, 2010 04:41 PM