We descend into a dark hole which looks like it could reach the bowels of the earth. As we slip and slide downwards I look up to see we are surrounded by an icy tomb. My thoughts turn to our six year old son ahead of me. He has already reached the bottom judging by the squeals of excitement echoing in the depths below. Today we are exploring an ice cave in British Columbia.
We have just stepped into Elsa’s fairytale world. A magnificent kingdom unfolds before us displaying swirling caverns of ice and enchanting natural ice sculptures.
Razor sharp icicles dangle precariously from above.
Others form ominous barriers stretching out from floor to ceiling. All this makes us feel like miniature visitors in a giant’s abode. Rarely seen by humans, we realise how special this place really is. We are exploring an ice cave formed by the southernmost ice field of British Columbia’s Coastal Mountain Range. The Pemberton Ice Cap is a huge expanse of glaciers connected together through the surrounding mountain valleys and ridges. However, these glaciers cover several hundred square miles and form the cave we are in. Melting glacial waters are responsible for carving channels deep in the ice. This has happened year after year over millennia.
A thrilling 20 minute helicopter ride from Whistler brings us close to the mouth of the cave. As we are soaring above the expansive ice cap, our helicopter ride offers spectacular views for miles across the treeless expanse. Moose, mountain goats, wolverine, grizzly bears, cougars and black bears all claim the ice cap as their territory. We are hoping to be lucky enough to see one of these magnificent creatures. It is incredibly difficult to tear our eyes away from the jaw dropping views unfolding in front of us. As we make our way to a remote part of British Columbia, we focus on the gripping helicopter ride. Our son is thrilled to be watching the pilot as he skilfully manoeuvres between the towering peaks. The pilot focuses on pointing out the notable craggy mountains and vast snow covered glaciers.
Back inside the glacier we clamber through the tunnels. It is like entering a time machine that journeys through the ice ages. Our expert guide explains how the ice cave was formed and the timing that was required to make the dozens of layers visible in the ice. Our eagle-eyed son spots some air bubbles, grains of sand and even some foliage trapped in ice that is thousands of years old, frozen in time.
“But what about the worms?” my son asks. Surely nothing can live in the frozen world of ice?
“Yet on this stern and Spartan fare
so rapidly they grow. That some attain six inches
by the melting of the snow.”
– The Ballad of the Ice-Worm Cocktail by Robert Service
As illogical or improbable as it sounds, ice worms do exist and we are told they are very active in the glacial ice surrounding us. We can thank English poet Robert Service who lived in Canada at the turn of the 20th century and who was the first to mention these ice worms. In reality, ice worms are tiny thread-like organisms that spend their entire lives on and in glacial ice. Our son now spends the next hour fascinated with hunting for the worms in the ice.
In this evolving world of ice and snow we continue our journey deeper into the frozen labyrinth of chambers. Gently picking our way across slippery rocks scattered over a meandering stream we come across frozen waterfalls frozen in time. Meanwhile I begin to feel little droplets of water and tiny particles of ice on my face.
The thought of all that ice compacted above our heads
continuously melting and shifting makes me slightly nervous.
Our guide is quick to alleviate any concerns. While exploring an ice cave in British Columbia may be fun, the reality is that this cave is visited on a daily basis by guides. It is continuously monitored for safety by numerous glaciologists researching the changing nature of the ice cap.
The Show Stopper
Our expedition culminates in a real show stopper. A faint glow of luminous aqua blue in the distance draws us closer. Surely there can’t be electricity this deep inside a glacier? Our answer lies in nature as we emerge into a cavernous opening called a moulin. Our guides explains this is a skylight in the tunnel through which the sun streams in.
A kaleidoscope comprising a hundred shades of blue dances in the ice.
On a clear sunny day the exterior light filters through the layers and it is almost as if the ice has come to life. We stand there motionless, awestruck by this wondrous natural phenomenon.
Completely bedazzled, we gingerly make our way our of the cave. There is a charming makeshift picnic table set up for us with an artisan mountain-style lunch to feed the appetite we have just worked up. Sitting on top of the Pemberton Ice Cap we feel exhilarated and humbled as we contemplate the art that Mother Nature has just displayed before us. Meanwhile I point out to my son how easy it is to appreciate the difficulties and extreme weather conditions polar explorers face on their expeditions.
I consider how much we have learned on this expedition while our son searches for the mysterious Yeti amongst the snowdrifts in the distance. To sum up, we just experienced the most memorable crash course on geology and glaciology far exceeding anything a book or a classroom can offer. Most importantly we have also just journeyed through the ice ages. Exploring an ice cave in British Columbia and examining layer upon layer of ice containing thousands of years of history is an experience that will stay with our son throughout his life. I am torn from my thoughts as I hear my son shouting “I think I found a worm!” I begin to wonder whether this will top his list of best experiences.
For another incredible adventure
check out our Helicopter Glacier Experience In Whistler.
The combination helicopter and ice cave expedition we experienced lasts about four and a half hours and is offered through Head-Line Mountain Holidays. All ages and abilities are welcome and they take every effort to ensure personal comfort and safety. Most importantly they were particularly caring of our size year old son and ensured he was safe at all time. The focus was on teaching him about the geology and the area’s history through the ice ages. Moreover all gear was provided through HeadLine Mountain Holidays. However, they requested we dress for skiing and instructed us to bring our own camera and tripod along with personal items such as hats, sunscreen and sunglasses but most importantly a sense of adventure.
You might like our Family Travel Guide To Whistler!