Castner Ice Cave

Person in a glacier cave kneeling down to look at ice crystals
Cat inspects a columnar ice crystal that had fallen from the ceiling

Yesterday, in an effort to avoid people amidst a growing outbreak of COVID-19 cases in Fairbanks, Cat and I drove down to Castner Creek. There were quite a few more cars in the parking lot than normal, apparently, we weren’t the only ones with the idea. It wasn’t too difficult to practice our social distancing on the one-mile trail, we just had to step aside into the waist-deep snow every once in a while. We got there a bit later in the day, and most people were leaving. It wasn’t long before we were the only ones here.

Hiker walking out to the Castner Glacier

We brought snowshoes in case the trail wasn’t well-packed, but we never needed to put them on. It was mostly cloudy and windy. Luckily, we still had a great view of the mountains, especially Black Cap and White Princess, both towering over the Castner valley. The temperature was above freezing, a nice change from our long, cold winter.

Short video walk-through of the glacier cave

Approaching the toe of the glacier we see nothing but a white wall of snow and some skiers practicing turns on the terminus. Suddenly there are people appearing at the bottom as we get nearer. Turning in at the edge of the toe, we look down into a giant blue hole in the side of the glacier.

Large entrance to the Castner Glacier ice cave
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A line of hoarfrost lined the ceiling. The further back we got, the bigger the ice crystals became. The little feathers of frost turned into large columnar (c-axis) crystals. Near the furthest extent that these crystal were growing inside the cave were some of the largest frost spikes I’ve ever seen, approximately 2 ft long.

hoarfrost on the ceiling of a glacier cave under the castner glacier
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A hiker looking up in a glacier cave in the Alaska Range
Long ice crystals on the ceiling of an ice cave
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A hiker with a headlamp looking at ice crystals in an glacier cave
ice crystals and hoarfrost on the ceiling of the castner glacier ice cave
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large c-axis ice spikes and hoar frost on the ceiling of a glacier cave
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We spent a little over an hour-and-a-half exploring the cave and ice formations. It was absolutely incredible getting to experience such awesome ice crystals, especially while being under a glacier. I don’t have much more to say, except I hope everyone is staying safe and healthy, and not going too stir-crazy. We are definitely on the precipice of some tough times. I’ll try my best to keep sharing some pretty things every day. Hopefully, we’ll all be back out exploring soon!

Check out the full photo gallery here.

Layers of sediment in glacier ice
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Bright light through frost toward the entrance of a glacier cave
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Frost on the ceiling of a blue glacier cave
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