You do not need to go to Iceland to see ice caves.

Introduction to Ice Caves in Switzerland

Thinking of ice caves, many photographers automatically have Iceland in mind. Although Ice caves are far more numerous in Iceland, they also exist in Switzerland. This post was previously published on ExpediTom and adapted for ShutterTom. There is an additional section covering information regarding photography at the end of this post.


Once upon a time, I came across an image of an ice cave in Switzerland, which led me to do some research. I found several places where there are ice caves. However, due to climate change they rapidly alter their size and shape. Sometimes they are only accessible for one season or even a few days. Therefore, first hand knowledge is key to success.

Entering through the tiny crack between snow and ice, we immersed ourselves into an otherworldy experience.

ShutterTom 2018


Ice Cave in Switzerland Field Diary

The Crew

Given that I am neither an alpinist, nor do I have any experience with avalanche prone areas, I put together a group of fellow explorers and hired a guide from the local mountaineering school. Among the members of this expedition were Michael Baumann, who you may remember from this guest article and fellow fly angler Jonas on the Fly. Moreover, Philippe with whom I spent 4 weeks in Chile and Argentina was on tour with me.

From left to right: Michael, Michelle, Larissa, Claudia, Harry, Philippe, Jonas, ShutterTom.

The entire crew had high spirits and the mood was up straight from the beginning. Possibly, this had to do with the fact that one participant just finished a ‘reproduction week’, which turned into a running gag.

Perhaps I should mention that she is a veterinarian.

The Plan

From Friday to Saturday we stayed in the closest hotel to the starting point of our tour. Given its remote place, it offered superb conditions for astrophotography. Hence, even tough we arrived at 11 pm photography addicts Jonas on the Raw (here’s his website), HarryVR and myself could not wait to see the milky way.

Minutes later, we found ourselves outdoors, but the moon was still up and would not descend until 1:30 am. Therefore, we went to bed as the others had done, but Jonas and I set an alarm clock to 3 am – the darkest hour.

It paid off.

The night sky was magnificent and the core of the milky way rose above the mountains. The stunning views almost let me forget that it was brass monkey weather. To be precise, it was -15° Celsius (5 Fahrenheit). After two hours posing in the deep snow, photographing and mostly standing still, we called it a night at 5am to sleep 2 more hours before dawn.

After a superb breakfast buffet, we met our guide outside of the hotel. While Hans, the mountain guide, waited for us to get ready, he left his backpack outside for some minutes. The abundant squirrels seized the opportunity and not only stole his food inside a zip pocket, but also his head lamp.

Bugger.

Snowshoeing to the ice caves in Switzerland

We then hiked with snowshoes to the ice caves in perfect weather. The way led across a frozen lake and along avalanche prone mountain slopes. This alpine hike is doable for people with a decent amount of stamina and alpine experience. (Disclaimer: ShutterTom cannot be held responsible for any accidents. The Swiss Alps can be dangerous at any time and injuries or even death can occur due to – but not exclusively – avalanches, rockfalls and ice. All information is provided to the best of our knowledge, but no guarantee can be given that it will be accurate or complete at any time.)

We arrived at the first cave – or rather what was left of it – in about 3 hours. Due to climate change this cave has melted quite quickly and only a bridge out of ice remained. Furthermore, it has a huge crack in it and our guide estimated it will not last until summer before it breaks. He advised us not to stay for too long under the unstable looking ice bridge.

Jonas on the Raw shooting the first ice cave – or rather ice bridge

Are there any ice caves in Switzerland?

We continued our hike with a dull feeling. Had climate change progressed faster than anticipated? Were there any noteworthy ice caves left?

At this point we saw another small black gap in the snow further uphill. Whereas the first ice cave looked larger the closer we got, this one remained tiny even when standing in front of it. We readied ourselves with warmer jackets. Additionally, those who still had headlamps took them out of the backpack. Luckily, I brought 2 in case someone forgot his or hers – or got robbed by some squirrels.

Entering through the tiny crack between snow and ice, we immersed ourselves into an otherworldy experience.

I cannot put into words the feeling that overcame me, when standing under ice several thousand years old.

Just mind-blowing.

My photography buddies Jonas on the Beef and HarryVR photography as well as other people from the crew with an affinity for photography, could not eat due to their excitement about the ice cave in Switzerland. In contrast, I forced myself to first eat lunch and take in the surrounding with my bare eyes. Few minutes later, I found myself  posing and photographing the ice caves with the crew.

It was amazing.

The two people in this shot are both in a relationship, but not with each other. Only seconds after they posed for this shot, the girlfriend of the guy called and we laughed pretty hard due to this coincidence. After 2 hours under the thousand years old ice, we left the ice cave. Stepping outside, Jonas was left “hard blind” as he concisely put it.

The crew went back to the first ice bridge and then we walked to our origin. There, we enjoyed a fantastic dessert buffet before heading back to warmer climes.

Thanks to all who joined this amazing trip and keep in mind to not leave your backpack unattended whenever professional criminals are in town.

Technical Aspects for Ice Cave Photography

As amazingly beautiful ice caves are, it is far from easy to achieve a good photograph. Apart from the issues posed by low-light and freezing temperatures, it is most of all difficult to find a suitable composition. Notably, doing justice to the grandeur and capture at the same time the emotion of wonder. Whereas the sheer size of the cave is shown better with wide-angle shots, emotions clearly emerge from narrower focal lengths. This trade-off led us to some experimentation.

Bringing some elements to create interest in the composition and use the stunning formation to frame proved very useful. To give a point of reference to the size of the cave, the human element added a lot. Thinking about compositional elements beforehand was extremely helpful, because there is not much helse than ice and snow.

Regarding gear, I shot mainly with the Sony A6500 with the Sigma 16mm f/1.4. This is my go to lens in low-light conditions and proved wide enough to capture most of the cave. I used this setup as well on my recent trip to capture the Geminid meteor shower. Additionally, the ultra-wide Sony 10-18mm was not very suitable with its f/4. Jonas used the same camera with the Zeiss 12mm f/2.8. Harry used the full-frame Sony A7 RII with the Sony 16-70mm f/4. It seemed that even though sensor size should not have any influence on aperture, his images at f/4 were far superior to the one produced with the Sony 10-18mm f/4 on the Sony A6500 (APSC sensor).

Do you have any questions regarding ice caves in Switzerland? Have you ever been to one?

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