2015 Apostle Islands Ice Cave Trip

Living in Duluth has its perks. One of them is being within day-trip distance of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Last year was the first time since 2009 that Lake Superior froze safely enough to allow visitors to the ice formations that take over the sandstone cliffs. We were among the first visitors last year, and we made sure to go “opening day” this year too.

The caves were only open for about two weeks this year so we feel pretty lucky that we got a chance to go. We saw some new things and some old things; it’s crazy how ice can form in almost exactly the same way as it did the year before, and yet it’s just as crazy how it can form completely differently in exactly the same spot year after year.

Smooth ice and sandstone cliffs

Last year there was so much snow that we never once set our boots on actual ice. It was just a packed-down snow trail. This year, however, we’ve had almost no snow so the ice was clear and smooth. In some areas it was so clear you could see straight to the bottom of the Lake.

Clear as ice
Air bubbles got trapped on their way to the surface and froze in place, creating these mystical patterns in much of the ice

If it wasn’t glare ice, it was a mashup of ice plates that had been pushed up and on top of one another, making it very tricky to walk around. The plates shifted with every footfall and at one point there was so much of it the trail became impassable; we couldn’t go any further.

While safely frozen underneath, these plates of ice had been pushed up by the moving Lake and jut sharply upward
While safely frozen underneath, these plates of ice had been pushed up by the moving Lake and jut sharply upward
Husband walks through a field of ice plates
Husband walks through a field of ice plates

Last year there was enough moisture in the air that many of the cave ceilings were covered in feather-like ice formations. This year was mostly very smooth icicles, but there were still some feathery formations.

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Some formations were the same as they were last year, like this one:

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The base is already cracking off, but it’s still frozen to the “floor”

It’s hard to understand just how huge some of these formations are just from pictures, but I had Husband stand in front of some to show of the scale of these magnificent natural sculptures.

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Enjoying a nice hot beverage tucked away in a quiet little cavern
Enjoying a nice hot beverage tucked away in a quiet little cavern

Most of the time it’s pretty clear that the ice is freezing as water is moving downward from the top of the cliffs. But sometimes, it appears as though the ice is gradually climbing it’s way up the sandstone.

One of my favorite things about this picture is that the ice looks positively alive at the bottom, pushing its way up the face of the cliff
One of my favorite things about this picture is that the ice looks positively alive at the bottom, pushing its way up the face of the cliff

And, finally, a long day of walking on ice is rewarded with a sunset that produces some absolutely spectacular colors

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