‘Pretty foolhardy’ to try crossing Mendenhall Lake’s slushy ice now

Hikers crossing frozen Mendenhall Lake
Hundreds of hikers cross a frozen Mendenhall Lake to reach glacier ice caves on Feb. 14, 2021. The Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center is visible on the far end of the lake. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

If you want to cross the lake to visit the ice caves in the Mendenhall Glacier, do so at your own risk, says Barb Miranda, director of the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area.

“The temperatures have warmed considerably in Juneau since last weekend, and the lake is looking pretty slushy outside my office window,” Miranda said. “And, I think people would be pretty foolhardy to try to get across it at this time.”

She said Friday morning that the ice is thin in areas, and there are icebergs in the middle of the lake.

“And the ice is always thin around those icebergs as well. And they can flip over at any time,” Miranda said. “So, we never will say that the ice is safe. We don’t monitor the ice for safety. And we definitely tell people that they go on to the ice at their own risk.”

It’s at least a mile and a half from the visitor center to the other side of the lake where the ice caves are located. If someone falls through the lake ice, then it could take a long time for rescuers to arrive on the scene.

Miranda says a safer route to the ice caves is along the West Glacier Trail. It’s a challenging hike that can last all day, and she suggests hikers use microspikes on their boots.

“The ice caves are very dynamic,” Miranda said. “They could collapse at any time. They are beautiful.”

A hiker makes their way out of one of the ice caves at Mendenhall Glacier on Feb. 14, 2021.
A hiker makes their way out of one of the ice caves at Mendenhall Glacier on Feb. 14, 2021. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Miranda said there are plenty of other things to do around the lake that don’t involve getting on the lake ice. They just plowed the Nugget Falls and Photopoint Trails for hikers and cross country skiers. And the Juneau Nordic Ski Club has been grooming ski trails at the Mendenhall Campground.

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