Photos: explore ice caves in Switzerland

Photographer Robbie Shone joins an exploratory mission deep underneath Alpine glaciers.
By Robbie Shone

Photographer Robbie Shone had the unique opportunity to photograph glacial ice caves in Switzerland. “Today, while cable cars and a mountain railway transport hordes of tourists to the more accessible areas, pioneering exploration continues,” says Shone. “Not on the surface, but far out of sight in the icy depths of the second-largest glacier system in the Alps.”

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Ice tunnel
Caving in Switzerland
Ice tunnel Moulins are well-like shafts through which meltwater drains from the surface of the glacier. © Robbie Shone
Incredible entrance
Caving in Switzerland
Incredible entrance Seeing how vast and extensive the glacier’s moulins and ice-cave systems can be gives an indication of how much water flows through them during the summer, itself an indicator of the rate at which the Alps’ majestic rivers of ice are shrinking. © Robbie Shone
Canvassing for caves
Caving in Switzerland
Canvassing for caves On the eastern side of the tourist town of Zermatt, two big glaciers fall on either side of Monte Rosa, the highest mountain in Switzerland and the second-highest in both the Alps and western Europe. One, the 14-kilometre-long Gorner Glacier, is home to a massive 'moulin' ice cave system. © Robbie Shone
Cold camping
Caving in Switzerland
Cold camping The crew arrived on the glacier heavily laden with equipment and enough food for a week’s stay. © Robbie Shone
Big caves
Caving in Switzerland
Big caves Says Shone: “We discovered, surveyed and photographed three giant ice caves that ran for almost 150m through the glacier. The largest of which had a ceiling height of 20m in some places.” © Robbie Shone
Blue hole
Caving in Switzerland
Blue hole Evening light bounces in, giving the ice cave an eery, other-worldly blue glow. © Robbie Shone
Liquid levitation
Caving in Switzerland
Liquid levitation The cavers use climbing equipment to stay suspended over a pool of (frigid) glacial snowmelt. © Robbie Shone
Slim picking
Caving in Switzerland
Slim picking “Many more moulins had opened up since last year’s expedition, and the team split into two and began abseiling down into those that looked the most encouraging,” says Shone. © Robbie Shone
Dropping down
Caving in Switzerland
Dropping down After a storm meant a rough start for the expedition, the weather eventually cleared and the cavers had two great days exploring the spectacular world beneath the glacier’s surface. © Robbie Shone
Glacial retreat
Caving in Switzerland
Glacial retreat Although the Gorner Glacier has a total area of more than 50 square kilometres, making it the second largest glacial system in the Alps, it has receded every year since 1892 – since then it has shrunk by almost 2.5km, including a staggering 290m over the summer of 2007. © Robbie Shone
Cracking up
Caving in Switzerland
Cracking up “I flitted between both parties, desperately trying to capture as many images of this wonderful environment as possible,” says photographer Robbie Shone. © Robbie Shone
Wavy walls
Caving in Switzerland
Wavy walls “The dramatically sculpted ice walls reminded me of shapes I’ve seen before in cylindrical caves formed in limestone,” says Shone. © Robbie Shone