by
activity
 
by
region
 
by
map
 
by
name

Mount Hood, Sandy Glacier Ice Caves

Mount Hood, Sandy Glacier Ice Caves, OR

Outdoor Project is a member-based community that comes with many benefits. Get started today for FREE.

About Outdoor Project MembershipLog In

Additional Member Features:

Sign Up For Free

Become an Outdoor Project Pro Member to get the features and resources you need to find your next adventure.

About Outdoor Project MembershipLog In

Pro Member Features:

Become An

Pro Member

Published in collaboration with:

Directions

Maps

Print

Comment

Slideshow

Adventure Print-outs
+ Maps


In order to maintain hi-quality printing, PDF file sizes are relatively large (roughly 10-20MB).

Depending on your internet connection, downloading may take several minutes.

Please be patient while your PDF downloads.

+
Backcountry CampsitesBig Vistas (Viewpoints)Old-growth ForestSheltersCaveMountaineering (Difficult)
Region: 
Mt. Hood + Clackamas River Area
Total distance: 
8.80 miles
Trailhead elev.: 
4,000 ft
Net elev. gain: 
2,500 ft
Trail type: 
There-and-back
Most technical pitch: 
Class I
Recommended Equipment:
Ice Ax, Crampons, Other
Congestion: 
Low
Preferable Season(s):
Winter, Fall
Dogs allowed: 
No
Road condition: 
Gravel
Day-Use/Parking Pass Required:
NW Forest Pass
Next Slide
Next Slide
expand
Tyson Gillard | 01.04.14
Old-growth forest of noble fir and western hemlock.

Trip Report

Pros: 
Largest known glacier cave system in lower 48 states.
Cons: 
Technical traverse across McNeil Point Ridge.

Only fully discovered and documented in 2011, Mount Hood's Sandy Glacier is home to the largest and most extensive glacier cave system in the contiguous United States.

The caves begin a mile uphill from McNeil Point, where erosion from the rapidly-retreating glacier on Mount Hood's western face has created a combined 7,000 linear feet of caverns, caves and narrow passages. Known today as the Sandy Glacier Caves, this extensive network is comprised of three main caves: Snow Dragon, Pure Imagination and Frozen Minotaur.

Though initial cave sightings were reported as early as 2000, their existence was only officially confirmed via a YouTube video by Gregory Fowler in 2010. Based on the video, mountaineers, cavers, and close friends Eddy Cartaya and Brent McGregor enlisted help from friends and several local mountain rescue teams and embarked on a series of painstaking expeditions to fully map and document the cave...one that they would later name Snow Dragon. While on the expedition in 2011, they further discovered Pure Imagination and Frozen Minotaur.

The Science

Scientists have documented the recent and widespread retreat of glaciers due to climate change for a number of years. Using surface-scanning technologies such as lidar, scientists can fairly easily track the changing volume of glaciers. Tracking this change from inside the glacier is a new approach, however, and teams like Cartaya and McGregor's and photographers like Eric Guth hope to better understand this interior deterioration and to share this information with the world.

Glaciologists have found that large glacial caves such as these only occur in thin, dying glaciers, whereas caves that form in larger and thicker glaciers quickly collapse under their own weight. Because the peaks of the Cascade Range lie in relatively warm climates (as opposed to Alaska, for instance), surface friction alone is often enough to introduce some melting. Once a channel of water is formed, its size will only increase over time as more water passes through. Additionally, the caves allow warm air to enter deep into the glacier, ensuring an even quicker melting process.

The process is not without precedent: The Paradise Glacier Caves on Mount Rainier's south side were once a major attraction to the national park. By the 1970s, however, the ceiling began to collapse. Today, the caves are long gone, and the lower portion of the glacier no longer exists.

Safety + Getting There

From the McNeil Point Shelter, it is a long and exposed off-trail traverse to the cave entrances at roughly 6,500 feet. In late summer, the field of steep talus is only intermittently held together by ground juniper, pink mountain heather, and the occasional mountain hemlock or whitebark pine. The spring and summer seasons are also when the majority of melting occurs and when the caves pose the greatest danger, as large boulders constantly drop from the ceiling and sheets of ice break away from the entrances. SPRING AND SUMMER TRAVEL IS NOT ADVISED.

Relatively speaking, winter is the safest time to be inside the caves, although falling debris is still common. The off-trail traverse from the McNeil Point Shelter is steep and requires crampons and ice axes at the minimum. Adventurers should give themselves at least 7 hours to reach the caves from the Top Spur Trailhead. NF-1828, which leads to the Top Spur Trailhead, is not maintained during the winter months, however. If you are unable to reach the Top Spur Trailhead due to snowpack, you may have to park 7.8 miles further down the road at at Muddy Fork Road.

Related Videos

Oregon Field Guide | 01.04.14
Glacier Caves: Behind the Scenes
Oregon Field Guide | 11.14.13
Ice Crawlers

Adventure Featured In...

11.18.14
Experience a visual and narrative odyssey of the largest glacier cave system in the lower 48 states from Uncage the Soul.
Maps

Nearby Lodging

View More

Nearby Camping

View More

Other Nearby Adventures

View More

Comments + Trip Reports

Member

Wow, incredible pics and report. Loved the OPB special on these, and this is a great addition. Thanks for sharing.

View More
Contributor
6
6
01.04.14(Trip Date)

A few more photos of the gang: Rachel Eaton, Tyson + Emily Gillard.

View More
 

Add a Comment / Trip Report

Log In or Sign Up to submit a comment / trip report.

Oregon Field Guide

Oregon Field Guide is OPB's long-running local weekly TV series. The program covers natural resources, ecological issues, outdoor recreation and travel destinations across the Northwest region. This award-winning show is one of the most-watched local productions in the public broadcasting system.

Oregon Field Guide also extends the work it does in the field for the television series across radio and the Web, providing a greater degree of coverage.

Oregon Field Guide airs Thursday evenings at 8:30 p.m. and repeats Sundays at 1:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. In the Mountain Time zone of Eastern Oregon, the program airs at 9:30 p.m. Thursdays, and at 7:30 p.m. Sundays.

More from Oregon Field Guide:

Adventure Contributors