Travel

Photos: Exploring majestic hidden glacier caves in the Canadian Rockies

Formed in varying shapes and sizes, these glacier caves create the “perfect playground for photographers”

  • Dec 14, 2022
  • 859 words
  • 4 minutes
Photo: Stanley Aryanto/The Wicked Hunt Photography
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The Canadian Rockies are one of the most visited places in the country, but few people have had the chance to witness the otherworldly beauty of their hidden glacier caves. Remote and often treacherous to access, these majestic caverns are not easy to navigate safely. But for travel and landscape photographer Stanley Aryanto of The Wicked Hunt, a passion for exploring the unknown has resulted in a series of stunning images that uncover a concealed world of glacial grandeur.

Born in a tropical metropolis in Indonesia and raised in sunny Western Australia, Aryanto had no experience photographing cold environments, let alone ice caves, when he first moved to Canada in 2018. 

Inspired by the work of renowned landscape photographer and adventurer Paul Zizka, Aryanto embarked on a mission to improve his mountain safety skills.

Photo: Stanley Aryanto/The Wicked Hunt Photography
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“I initially thought you needed a special skill – something that you’d need to dedicate your whole life to learning — but I quickly realized that those skills were within reach,” says Aryanto.

After completing avalanche safety training to learn how to safely negotiate the risks of exploring avalanche terrain, Aryanto embarked on his first adventure to locate a glacier cave with fellow photographer and mountaineer Ludovic Labbé-Doucet. On an early morning in October 2019, the pair set out at first light and hiked to a remote part of Banff National Park, where they discovered the crumbling entrance to a cave.

“Identifying an opening can be challenging because you’re having to scan the mouth of the glacier, which can often be a huge area,” says Aryanto. “But once you spot it, the thrill of discovery really gets the blood pumping.”

Acutely aware of the risks of entry — avalanche and structural collapse, to name a couple – the pair entered one at a time, on the off-chance something went wrong.

Once inside, Aryanto says he was “in total awe … It’s like entering a fairy tale and leaving reality behind. The atmosphere is surreal and cannot be experienced anywhere else in the world; only inside the body of a glacier. I thought I’d never get to experience this in my life.”

Over the following two winters, Aryanto explored three more glacier caves in the Rockies by foot or split board. He was always accompanied by another adventurer and never saw another soul. The caves varied in shape and size, and each visit was unique.

Photo: Stanley Aryanto/The Wicked Hunt Photography
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“When you enter a glacier cave, it’s still and quiet; it’s like you’re in a soundproof room. And it’s a lot warmer than outside because you’re protected from the elements, and the heat is trapped,” he says.

Walls of ice approximately eight to 10 storeys high towered over Aryanto and Labbé-Doucet inside a second cave, which, like the first cave, had a very small entrance. “The ceiling was like a reverse bubble, faceted but smooth.”

Aryanto describes the third cave as the perfect setting for a panorama.

“From the outside, it looked tiny, but it was actually huge. My favourite image from this cave is easily the perspective shot of Ludo with the light from outside contrasting the cool blue ice. If he had been wearing a cape, he would have looked like he was straight out of a superhero movie.”

A fourth glacier cave had the biggest opening, and the pair could walk straight in.

What surprised Ayranto most about the caves was their size and colour. “I always think they’re going to be small, but the fourth cave we explored was as big as a ballroom. You could fit a few average-sized houses in there.” 

Aryanto describes glacier caves as a playground for photographers.

“The thing about photographing ice is the incredible colour and texture. You can find some really interesting shapes and features and we even found methane bubbles on one occasion.”

Photo: Stanley Aryanto/The Wicked Hunt Photography
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Photo: Stanley Aryanto/The Wicked Hunt Photography
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What makes Aryanto’s images particularly special is that there is no guarantee they could be replicated, as the glaciers are constantly moving and ever-changing. With above-zero temperatures, ice melt causes these natural caves to break down. As a result, they continuously evolve and can change significantly in as little as a week.

Straddling the provincial border between B.C. and Alta., the Canadian Rockies encompass about 170,000 square kilometres, and it is estimated that less than 22 per cent of that area is glaciated.

“Glaciers have been slowly receding for decades and aren’t going to be around and accessible to future generations, so I am very grateful for these experiences,” says Aryanto.

Aryanto’s exploration has taught him to appreciate the beauty around him and push the camera’s limit to add flavour and character to his images.

“For me, it is not about capturing the perfect photo; The Wicked Hunt is about chasing and capturing moments, and the photo is simply the trophy that you earn for your hard work and dedication.”

With more than 100 awards to his name and copious images published in renowned magazines, Aryanto’s focus has shifted to the mentorship portion of his business. He is currently offering mentorship in astrophotography and hopes to inspire others to develop their same love and appreciation for photography.

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