By J. Travis Smith
on 3.28.14

Growing south from Alaska along the western border of British Columbia, the Tongass National Forest is the largest national forest in the United States. Bounded by the Coast Mountains to the west and the Gulf of Alaska to the east, the dense rainforest is cut haphazardly into islands by intersecting inlets and blanketed by snow and ice at high elevations. In its center is Juneau, the capital of Alaska (accessible only by air or sea). A few miles north of Juneau is the the Mendenhall Glacier, a 12-mile long tongue of ice snaking down from Juneau Icefield.

Due to warming climates, the glacier has retreated by more than a mile during the past few decades. As it slides along the uneven valley floor, its underside buckles into caves and irregular ice patterns. Wind and flowing water continually carve and enlarge the caves, making them a dynamic but remote tourist attraction. About half a million people visit the Mendenhall Glacier each year, kayaking across the lake at its base and ice-climbing along its surface. Recently, a Los Angeles based film crew visited the glacier and, by attaching a GoPro camera to a flyable droid, recorded the carving force of the glacial meltwater as it winds through Mendenhall’s underside. By dropping into the caves from above and flying high over the landscape, producer Christopher Carson captured the changing faces of the massive glacier. But for visitors to the Alaskan Panhandle, these views might one day be gone.

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