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Ice caves in Vatnajökull outlet glaciers: Safety announcement

4.4.2017

This winter, ice caves have become a popular tourist attraction. And no wonder, since they are quite an attractive phenomenon with their blue colour and intriguing light. The winter is also the best time to visit an ice cave in terms of safety and accessibility. However, it is always a risk to enter an ice cave and that risk increases late in the winter. 

Ice caves are usually formed by water or geothermal heat and can shift and alter with the movement of the glacier. They are not a constant phenomenon but melt away and disappear. Increased air temperature also weakens the walls and ceilings of the ice caves, and they can collapse without notice, either partly or entirely. In the last decade, at least two fatal accidents have occurred in Iceland due to collapsing ice. 

No one should enter an ice cave without minimum safety equipment, which is a crash helmet. Conditions can also be different between caves and further safety equipment might be required, such as crampons and ice axes. In some cases it may be necessary to cross a part of a hard ice glacier to get to an ice cave. When doing so it is essential to know how to select a route on a glacier. Far too often groups have been seen taking a route above a crevasse or a moulin (glacier mill), where the slightest slip is almost certain to result in a serious accident. When it is necessary to cross such a section of a glacier, it is essential that everyone in the group is appropriately secured with a security line connected to a harness.

Safety is one of the key components of sustainable tourism. Therefore it is to the benefit of all that everyone involved in the tourism business takes every precaution necessary. This concerns glacier and ice cave visits as much as anything else. It is therefore important that travellers and their guides put the emphasis on the safety of others and their own when visiting an ice cave or a glacier.