Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Ice Caves at Apostle Island

A couple of weeks back we heard from a friend of ours about an interesting place which can be wrapped in a one day trip from Minneapolis –Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. A lakeshore consisting of over 20 little islands in the southern bay of Lake Superior, we were there to visit the ice caves along the mainland and not in any of the islands. During winter when the lake has frozen, the place opens up to a different kind of adventure to be experienced –not on kayak or canoe but on foot over more than 12 inches of ice. The National Park authorities make sure that ice formed on Lake Superior is strong enough to bear the weight of people walking on them.
It’s for a short time [maybe a few weeks or less] when walking on ice is safe and hence we were expecting a lot of visitors like us from far and wide. We were also informed that since there isn’t enough parking spots available [for the # of visitors that come] it’s a good idea to arrive and park as close so that we save time on reaching the starting point of our trail. 

Apart from that, walking on ice is not something we do regularly and so adequate precaution had to be observed. Purchasing ice cleats was another such last minute activity which if we had done earlier would have saved us from some last minute hara-kiri. We bought ours from REI which were perfect for this little trail on ice. Some important things to note were available at the National Park Service website.
We started close to 6:30 AM taking the route via Duluth. With a couple of stops on our way we were able to reach this place by 11:00 AM. Along the way from Duluth all that we could see of Lake Superior was a huge mass of white, completely frozen. As we came closer the first thing that hit us were the number of cars that were parked along Highway 13 from where Meyers Road opened up towards the beach. After having parked, we quickly dressed up for the trail –snow pants, layers of jackets, gloves etc. It took us maybe another 15 minutes to a point where we found a few benches and more than half a dozen makeshift dump toilets. A temporary office was setup too where we were to pay $ 5.00 per person. These benches were placed so that we could comfortably put on the ice cleats or maybe just take some rest. A small staircase lead us from there to the frozen Lake Superior.  It was surprising for me that we were quite far away from the Apostle Island visitor center; in fact we had no need to visit the visitor center at all. I even do not remember seeing a drinking water point here.
As we started, we found powered snow on top of the solid glasslike ice sheet, maybe due to some recent heavy snowfall. And it was good because it offered us some kind of traction to walk on. At some places while walking on the lake there were little patches where snow was blown away and we could see little formations inside the ice floor. These were like little needles facing up and were poker straight. I wish I could have taken a photo of the same.

For me this was the first time [walking on ice] and I was truly excited. Further away we could see strange ice formations –which we were to visit. After a few minutes we reached the edge of the lake where I could see these distinct formations of ice and the fact that they are all different makes visiting this place all the more worthwhile. Think about it –each year you will find a different ice formation. Further down we found icicles which would have formed when the snow melted and but froze again. 

All along the side there were small openings where people were sliding and crawling in. These are the ice caves. Dark inside due to the ice cover there was beauty to be seen there too. This place was complete shielded from the sun and had a different ice formation. The point I am trying to make is that each ice cave was different than the other and maybe different each year too. The farthest we went was a little beyond a very distinct structure as shown in the first picture. It took us about a couple of hours to reach this place and we were getting tired. I realized later that I should have got some kind of energy drink with myself. The further we were the lesser were the people and beautiful where the ice structures.

I was glad that we made this trip because just two days later the temperature shot up to the upper 40F when a few of these ice structures started falling and the National Park officials called for a closure of the caves for this year. If you happen to be staying not too far and are looking for a one day trip during the winters, do watch out for the ice caves, they are truly worth it.

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