NEWS
02/07/2020 12:25 EST

Please Stop Taking Selfies With Dangerous Newfoundland Ice Wall: Mayor

It's a mass of ice hanging off a cliff. Come on people.

Alex Bihlo/THE CANADIAN PRESS
An ice wall is shown at Middle Cove Beach near St. John's, N.L. in this 2014 handout photo.

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — A Newfoundland mayor is warning people to keep their distance from a stunning but potentially deadly cliffside ice formation that’s become an Instagram sensation.

Water running down a cliff at Middle Cove Beach freezes into a “magnificent-looking structure” each winter, according to Mayor Bert Hickey, drawing spectators from the town and nearby St. John’s.

“It’s just a big mass of ice, just hanging off the cliff,” Hickey said in a telephone interview. “People love to come down and see it, then some of them get very adventurous, get over underneath the ice and get their picture taken. What they don’t realize is they’re putting themselves in extreme danger by doing so.”

Hickey, who is mayor of Logy Bay-Middle Cove-Outer Cove, attributed the structure’s growing popularity to social media. He said users have shared images of themselves standing directly in front of the mass of icicles or under it.

Hickey said the attraction draws thrill-seeking photographers by the dozens each weekend, and some people have even brought equipment to scale the ice wall.

For years, the town has posted signage warning people of the risks, but their efforts haven’t deterred curious visitors.

This week, Hickey has been warning people against getting too close, following a series of near-misses and one serious injury last year.

He said a seven-year-old boy was hospitalized with serious brain injuries last year after being struck by falling ice. The incident, he said, concerned town council that its message wasn’t being heard.

“If that collapsed and you had people underneath it, they’re just going to be squashed,” he said. 

Photographer Alex Bihlo stumbled across the Middle Cove ice wall in 2014 after a colleague recommended he visit the picturesque beach.

Bihlo used a wide-angle lens to capture a “stark image” of jagged, turquoise icicles, creating a visual he compared to an “ice fortress.”

 Watch: Instagram famous lake is actually Siberian power plant dump. Story continues below.

“I personally find it intriguing how different the wall is every year and how much structure there is to the ice,” Bihlo wrote in an email. “It changes quite a bit within one season as well.”

Bihlo said, however, that when he stood in front of it, he sensed the danger.

“It sure is unstable, as all the ice blocks on the ground are testament of, and I would neither walk up too close (as some tourists) nor linger there for long,” he said.

It’s not the first potentially dangerous photo destination put on the map by social media.

Last year, scientists warned photo-seekers against touching the water at a popular, bright blue lake in Siberia nicknamed the “Siberian Maldives.” They said its colourful hue came from a nearby power station’s toxic waste and contact with it could cause chemical burns.

Getty Images
Fjaðrárgljúfur gorge in Iceland where Justin Bieber shot a music video last summer.

Additionally, an Icelandic canyon was closed to visitors for much of last summer, when officials became worried about the environmental impact to the site. An unprecedented number of visitors travelled to the area after seeing a music video featuring Justin Bieber dangling his feet over the cliff and running across vegetation.

Mayor Hickey said he isn’t discouraging people from viewing the natural phenomenon in his eastern Newfoundland town, but stressed that they should admire it from afar.

“You’ve got to keep well back,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 6, 2020.