Sunday, February 23, 2014

Day 287 - The Apostle Island Ice Caves

I have never seen the Apostle Island Ice Caves. The formation of these ice laden coastal caves on Lake Superior occurs only infrequently as a result of the massive and unstable waters of the world’s largest fresh water lake. In fact, the last time the frozen lake was stable enough to make passage to the caves was more than five years ago, which makes the event exceedingly rare during the course of my lifetime. As a result, experiencing the ice caves firsthand became an event I wanted to tackle when I recently became aware the caves were accessible this winter. The occurrence falling during the course of my “I have never...” year was simply too good to pass up, and if I’ve gained anything during the course of the past nine months it is a heightened sense of adventure. As a result, I began talking about the idea with friends, hoping I would be able to have some company on my trek north to take in the Apostle Island Ice Caves.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to search for accompaniment long. After Rachael declined going due to weather and other obligations, I floated the idea to my friends Amanda and Megan, who immediately latched onto the idea. As a result, we started making plans that would work for the trip, which eventually resulted in us landing on this weekend as the perfect time for all of us to head to Lake Superior. The result was some coordination with Amanda’s mother that led us to their family cabin in Land O’ Lakes on Friday night, hopeful the winter weather wouldn’t spoil our plans to experience the ice caves firsthand.

Arriving at the shoreline

Following the closure of the ice caves yesterday morning, we caught word the ice caves had reopened in the afternoon during our time at the Frozen Tozen festival. As a result, we rose early this morning to make the nearly two hour trip to the shores of Lake Superior and the Apostle Island Ice Caves. Although we were a little worn out from the previous day’s events, the anticipation of the experience made the trip seem relatively short. In turn, we found ourselves at the Apostle Island shoreline late this morning with a little more than a mile hike standing between us as and the start of caves we had traveled to see.

Lake Superior... Frozen and blanketed in snow

Trekking the heaves

After taking time to prepare ourselves for the -10 degree wind chill battering the lake today, the four of us promptly began our trek onto the ice. Looking out over the frozen sheet covering Lake Superior, I was stunned by the endless expanse of snow and ice that carried into the horizon. Although there were people making the journey to the ice caves with us, away from the shore rested a desolate and hostile landscape brought to life by the arctic winter. It was brilliant and empty, beautiful and intense. It was unlike anything I had ever seen in my life, and the bitter cold could nothing to take away the joy that sight brought me.

Approaching the caves

As we pressed on over the snow and ice, our path eventually led to the base of towering red cliffs worn smooth from the crashing of waves over thousands of years. The obvious signs of the water forming the shape of the stone made the stillness of those first moments before the ice caves eerie in a way, but the sense of wonder that came from seeing the massive ice formations clinging to the face of the rock overwhelmed any other feeling. The ice caves were amazing to the point I find them hard to describe, and so I’ll simply let the photographs from today’s experience speak on my behalf.

One of our first encounters


These icicles were as tall or taller than a grown man

Looking up at the cave ceiling

Blue ice

Deeper into the trek

Senior photo shoot

Inside one of the caves

What's in here?

Almost through...

Amanda and I under a ceiling of ice

After spending several hours among the ice caves, Amanda, Megan, Kathy, and I pressed further along the cliffs and through the caves we encountered in our path. Although we likely could have continued our trek well into the evening, it was clear our nearly six hour drive home required us to leave well before the sun crept beneath the western horizon. As a result, we decided to bring our experience to a close as the afternoon gave way to the first signs of evening.

As we made the two mile walk back toward the shore to start our drive home, I looked over the caves once more wishing I could spend more time among them. I know in our time at the location we only scratched the surface of what Lake Superior had to offer, and a big part of me wanted to see what was out in the unknown expanse of the ice sheet we had traversed throughout the day. With the distant, icebound Apostle Islands beckoning, I had to settle on the idea of returning at another time to find what parts of frozen Lake Superior I had yet to discover.

One more for fun on the way back to shore...

I took one last look over the wind swept blanket of ice covering the surface of the lake before turning back toward the shore. There I joined Amanda and Megan on our walk back to the car. Once there we removed layers of our winter gear as we chatted about the experience and the forthcoming journey home. With plenty of miles between us and our destination, we were all eager to hit the road, but a part of me wished I had the ability to stay.

Although my first experience at the Apostle Island Ice Caves was full and complete, the draw of the unknown had gripped me and spurred a sense of wanderlust I hadn’t felt before. Perhaps it was my acknowledgment of the ephemeral aspects of the experience, or perhaps it was something more. Whatever the reason, my feeling leaving those ice caves reinforced a conclusion I have reached during the course of this year. I am meant to wander. I am meant to explore and discover. In each new place I find out more of who I am, and I discover more of the unending beauty that occupies this world. That’s enough to know I am on to something good with this pursuit. All I have to do is keep it going.


  1. It was great to meet you Caleb and share in two days of new experiences. The Frozen Tozen was a blast and the Ice Caves were just spectacular.

    1. Likewise, Kathy! Thanks again for everything. This past weekend was one of the best I've had this year. It wouldn't have been possible without your hospitality and ethusiastic attitude. You were a real trooper for putting in all that driving!

      I really can't thank you enough. Please, keep in touch, and let me know if you have any other ideas for new experiences I might be able to tackle!

      Oh, and I'll let my Dad know you said "hi." :)