Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • So how many of you

  • have ever been in a cave before?

  • Okay, a few of you.

  • When you think of a cave,

  • most of you think of a tunnel

  • going through solid rock.

  • In fact, that's how most caves are.

  • Around this half of the country,

  • most of your caves are made of limestone.

  • Back where I'm from,

  • most of our caves are made from lava rock

  • because we have a lot of volcanoes out there.

  • But the caves I want to share with you today

  • are made completely of ice,

  • specifically glacier ice

  • as formed in the side of the tallest mountain

  • in the state of Oregon

  • called Mount Hood.

  • Now, Mount Hood's only one hour's drive

  • from Portland,

  • the largest city in Oregon

  • where over two million people live.

  • Now, the most exciting thing

  • for a cave explorer

  • is to find a new cave

  • and be the first human to ever go into it.

  • The second most exciting thing

  • for a cave explorer

  • is to be the first one to make a map of a cave.

  • Now, these days,

  • with so many people hiking around,

  • it's pretty hard to find a new cave,

  • so you can imagine how excited

  • we were to find three new caves

  • within sight of Oregon's largest city

  • and realize that they have never been explored

  • or mapped before.

  • It was kind of like being an astronaut

  • because we were getting to see things

  • and go places

  • that no one had ever seen or gone before.

  • So, what is a glacier?

  • Well, those of you that have ever seen

  • or touched snow,

  • you know that it's really light

  • because it's just a bunch of tiny ice crystals

  • clumped together

  • and it's mostly air.

  • If you squish a handful of snow

  • to make a snowball,

  • it gets really small, hard, and dense.

  • Well, in a mountain like Hood

  • where it snows over twenty feet a year,

  • it crushes the air out of it

  • and gradually forms it into hard, blue ice.

  • Now, each year more and more ice

  • stacks up on top of it

  • and eventually gets so heavy

  • that it starts to slide down the mountain

  • under its own weight,

  • forming a slow-moving river of ice.

  • When an ice pack like that starts to move,

  • we call it a glacier

  • and we give it a name.

  • The name of the glacier these caves were formed

  • is the Sandy Glacier.

  • Now, each year as new snow lands on the glacier,

  • it melts in the summer sun,

  • and it forms little rivers of water

  • on the flow along the ice

  • and they start to melt

  • and bore their way down through the glacier,

  • forming big networks of caves,

  • sometimes going all the way down

  • to the underlying bedrock.

  • Now, the crazy thing about glacier caves

  • is that each year new tunnels form,

  • different waterfalls pop up

  • or move around from place to place

  • inside the cave.

  • Warm water from the top of the ice

  • is boring its way down,

  • and warm air from below the mountain

  • actually rises up,

  • gets into the cave,

  • and melts the ceilings back taller and taller.

  • But the weirdest thing about glacier caves

  • is that the entire cave is moving

  • because it's formed inside a block of ice

  • the size of a small city

  • that's slowly sliding down the mountain.

  • Now, this is Brent McGregor,

  • my cave exploration partner.

  • He and I have both been exploring caves a long time

  • and we've been climbing mountains a long time,

  • but neither of us have ever really explored

  • a glacier cave before.

  • Back in 2011, Brent saw a YouTube video

  • of a couple of hikers

  • that stumbled across the entrance

  • to one of these caves.

  • There were no GPS coordinates for it,

  • and all we knew was that it was somewhere

  • out on the Sandy Glacier.

  • So, in July of that year,

  • we went out on the glacier,

  • and we found a big crack in the ice.

  • We had to build snow and ice anchors,

  • so we could tie off ropes

  • and repel down into the hole.

  • This is me looking into the entrance crevasse.

  • At the end of this hole,

  • we found a huge tunnel

  • going right up the mountain

  • underneath thousands of tons of glacier ice.

  • We followed this cave back

  • for about a half mile until it came to an end.

  • And then with the help of our survey tools,

  • we made a three-dimensional map of the cave

  • on our way back out.

  • So, how do you map a cave?

  • Well, cave maps aren't like trail maps or road maps

  • because they have pits and holes

  • going to overlapping levels.

  • To make a cave map,

  • you have to set up survey stations

  • every few feet inside the cave,

  • and you use a laser to measure the distance

  • between those stations.

  • And you use a compass and an inclinometer

  • to measure the direction the cave is headed

  • and measure the slope of the floor and the ceilings.

  • Now, those of you taking trigonometry,

  • that particular type of math

  • is very useful for making maps like this

  • because it allows you to measure

  • heights and distances

  • without actually having to go there.

  • In fact, the more I mapped and studied caves,

  • the more useful I found all that math

  • that I originally hated in school to be.

  • So, when you're done surveying,

  • you take all this data,

  • you punch it into the computer,

  • and you find someone

  • that can draw really well,

  • and you have them draft up a map

  • that looks something like this.

  • And it will show you both

  • a bird's eye view of the passage

  • as well as a profile view of the passage,

  • kind of like an ant farm view.

  • We named this cave Snow Dragon Cave

  • because it was like a big dragon

  • sleeping under the snow.

  • Now, later this summer

  • as more snow melted off the glacier,

  • we found more caves,

  • and we realized they were all connected.

  • Not long after we mapped Snow Dragon,

  • Brent discovered this new cave

  • not very far away.

  • The inside of it was coated with ice

  • so we had to wear big spikes

  • in our feet called crampons,

  • so we could walk around without slipping.

  • This cave was amazing!

  • The ice in the ceiling was glowing blue and green

  • because the sunlight from far above

  • was shining through the ice

  • and lighting it all up.

  • Now, we couldn't understand why this cave

  • was so much colder than Snow Dragon

  • until we got to the end,

  • and we found out why.

  • There was a huge pit or shaft called a moulin

  • going a 130 feet straight up

  • to the surface of the glacier.

  • Cold air from the top of the mountain

  • was flowing down this hole,

  • blasting through the cave,

  • freezing everything inside of it.

  • And we were so excited about finding this new pit,

  • we actually came back in January the following year

  • so we could be the first ones to explore it.

  • It was so cold outside,

  • we actually had to sleep inside the cave.

  • Here's our camp on the left side

  • of this entrance room.

  • The next morning we climbed out of the cave

  • and hiked all the way

  • to the top of the glacier

  • where we finally rigged and repelled this pit

  • for the very first time.

  • Brent named this cave Pure Imagination, I think,

  • because the beautiful sights we saw in there

  • were beyond what we could have ever imagined.

  • So, besides really cool ice,

  • what else is inside these caves?

  • Well, not too much lives in them

  • because they're so cold,

  • and the entrance is actually covered up with snow

  • for about eight months of the year,

  • but there are some really cool things in there.

  • There's weird bacteria living in the water

  • that actually eat and digest rocks

  • to make their own food

  • to live under this ice.

  • In fact, this past summer

  • scientists collected samples of water and ice

  • specifically to see if things called extremophiles,

  • tiny lifeforms that have evolved

  • to live in a completely hostile conditions,

  • might be living under the ice,

  • kind of like what they hope to find

  • in the polar ice caps of Mars some day.

  • Another really cool thing

  • is that as seeds and birds land

  • on the surface of the glacier and die,

  • they get buried in the snow

  • and gradually become part of the glacier,

  • sinking deeper and deeper into the ice.

  • As these caves form

  • and melt their way up into the ice,

  • they make these artifacts rain down from the ceiling

  • and fall into the cave floor

  • where we end up finding them.

  • For example, this is a nodal first seed we found.

  • It's been frozen in ice for over a hundred years,

  • and it's just now starting to sprout.

  • This mallard duck feather was found over 1800 feet

  • in the back of Snow Dragon Cave.

  • This duck died on the surface

  • of the glacier long, long ago,

  • and its feathers have finally made it down

  • through over a hundred feet of ice

  • before falling inside the cave.

  • And this beautiful quartz crystal

  • was also found in the back of Snow Dragon.

  • Even now Brent and I find it hard to believe

  • that all these discoveries

  • were essentially in our own backyard,

  • hidden away just waiting to be found.

  • Like I said earlier,

  • the idea of discovery

  • in this busy world we live in

  • kind of seems like something

  • you can only do with space travel now,

  • but that's not true.

  • Every year new caves get discovered

  • that no one has ever been in before.

  • So, it's actually not too late

  • for one of you to become a discoverer yourself.

  • You just have to be willing to look

  • and go where people don't often go

  • and focus your eyes and your mind

  • to recognize the discovery when you see it

  • because it might be in your own backyard.

  • Thank you very much.

So how many of you