Overnight Exploring in Sandy Glacier Caves
Finding beauty in the accelerated decay of Mt. Hood's western glacier
*words and photography by Victor Garcia
East of Portland an hour or so lies Mt. Hood, an 11,250’ volcano of the likes a child would draw. And on the mountain’s west side is a relatively new cave system, only officially discovered in 2011. Consisting of three formal cave entrances and formed by melted glacial water and warm winds on what many describe as a “dying glacier,” the Sandy Glacier Caves are expansive, beautiful, and actually quite dangerous, thanks to multiple unnaturally warm winters in a row that have destabilized the centuries old ice and snowpack.
This photo set was gathered over the course of two different trips up to the Sandy Glacier Caves. The first trip was with my pal, Adam. He’d been before, and did a great job of guiding the way up on an early spring morning. At that point there was still a lot of snow up there, so the caves were in pristine condition. The second trip was with some talented young cinematographers who I collaborated with to create an abstract, multi-media format treatment to honor the caves and exhibit their fleeting nature. (Though the final cut has yet to be released, I know it’s incredible.)
On the second trip we slept for a night in the entrance of Pure Imagination, the lowest of the three caves. I’ve probably never been more afraid in my life—ice and rock boulders could’ve crushed us without a moment’s notice, no problem—but high winds had left us with no choice but to seek some sort of additional shelter. I’d do that night over again tomorrow, though. I’ll never forget making dinner and sitting outside of the tent watching the city lights of Portland flicker in the distance, and turning around to see a massive black hole of hollow ice behind us. You could hear spooky high pitched gusts of wind howling through the cave all night. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. That kind of stuff leaves a lasting impression on you.