Discovering the Zinal glacier
An adventurous trip into the perpetual ice
Michi Bösiger, our Swiss colleague, descended into the underworld. Deep into the Zinal glacier, which, thanks to unusual weather conditions, revealed a magical tunnel.
Giant, crystal-clear ice cubes. They are scattered around messily on the floor – reminding me of a scene straight out of a sci-fi film taking place on a foreign ice planet. The ice walls sparkle in the rays of our head torches. A crystal-clear stream runs by our side and forms a line into the ice. We listen to the sounds of falling water drops. Icicles are everywhere on the ceiling. It crinkles, creaks and, every now and again, it cracks.
Charming village of Maiensäss
The photographer Caroline Micaela Hauger and I heard about a very unusual event during our skiing holidays in Riederalp near Art Furrer. Due to particular weather conditions an entrance into a giant cave had appeared deep inside the Zinal glacier which itself emerged out of a merging of three glaciers. Completely fascinated by this phenomenon we hit the trail.
Starting point of this tour is the little mountain village of Zinal in the Val d’Anniviers, in Valais.
This is where we meet Daniel, a mountain guide and discoverer of the glacier grotto. Before we reach the entrance, we have to hike for 3 hours on our snowshoes, carrying our equipment in our backpacks, all the way towards the SAC Tracuit hut uphill with a view to the Weisshorn. When we reach the imposing, vertical ice wall in the middle of the glacier, we store everything we won’t be needing in the cave – and have some hot tea and lunch.
Abracadabra – Open glacier!
A narrow gap leads us into a gigantic hall of ice. We move carefully and slowly through this rawness. One wrong step would be fatal. We can spot several further gaps everywhere. Daniel marks our trail with little stone men for orientation and to make sure we will find the exit later. This is how unbelievably huge this ice world is. Further ahead we look for a passage through the many blocks of ice, climb steeply upward and crawl through a narrow gap into the next dome. Even Daniel hasn’t been this far inside the cave before. Everything glows and reverberates in the rays of our head torches. We just can’t get enough. The perpetual ice reveals past times. Had we spotted a frozen sabre-tooth tiger, we wouldn’t have been surprised! We can intuitively feel the pressure of the massive weight of the glacier above us. We keep checking whether the ceiling is still withstanding this pressure. Once again we realise that the glacier is constantly moving.
The sun lures us back outside
The light of our head torches starts getting weaker, our cameras’ batteries are almost empty. It’s time to leave this fairy world. The stream moves coarse gravel outside, showing a distinctly higher water level.
On our way back we are tired and feel our bones and muscles ache from climbing through the glacier. Deep down inside we know: This was a once in a lifetime adventure. There’s no way to tell how long this ice cave will still be safe to access.
Equipment for this adventurous tour
- 30 to 40 litre-volume backpack, ideally e.g. Cima di Basso 35 by Tatonka
- Head torch and spare torch (for emergencies), spare batteries
- Several layers of warm and waterproof clothes
- Approx. 1 litre of a warm drink per person, ideally in e.g. Hot&Cold Stuff by Tatonka
- Snowshoes, poles
- Barryvox, avalanche probe, shovel
- Mobile phone in case of emergency
- Practical First-Aid kit, e.g. First Aid Compact
- Stamina; for the ascent and descent to the entrance alone you will need approx. 5 hours
- Willingness and thrist for adventures
- This tour can only be done during winter and during certain timeslots (dependent on the weather!)
- Prepare a schedule (it gets dark quickly during winter)
- Only go on this tour with a mountain guide or a trained local expert
- Wallis tourism; www.wallis.ch
Narrative, film © Michi Bösiger
Photos © Caroline Micaela Hauger, www.peakart.ch