Last Look at the Apostle Islands Ice Caves

Moods were lifted and everyone I encountered today had a smile on their face — amazing what a little sunshine and warmer temperatures can do to the collective spirit of a community!  The snow and ice are likely to be part of our landscape in the weeks to come … what was created over several months’ time is unlikely to disappear overnight.  So, I do not think it unseasonal to post one more set of photos from our frigid hike last Saturday at the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

Apostle Islands ice caves

Viewing winter visitors next to the rocky bluffs allowed one to appreciate the massive scope of this natural beauty.  But, the details were just as spectacular.

(Click on any photo in the galleries below for a full-screen view.)

Icy openings provided stunning views and memorable seating.

The ice and snow were not the only features of interest.  The rock formations along the shore created layered contrast and diverse textures for Winter’s artistry.

Probably the most awe-inspiring features were the massive hanging curtains of icicles and suspended waterfalls. 

For more photos and links to visitors’ information for the ice caves, check out my earlier posts:

And if you are unfamiliar with the region, here is a Google Maps for context:  Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is located in the State of Wisconsin on the “South Shore” of Lake Superior, while the City of Duluth, Minnesota is located at the beginning of the “North Shore.”

Beautiful regions to explore, any season of the year.  I hope to share signs of Spring with you in the upcoming weeks, but in the meantime, perhaps the blog will revisit some classic summer road trip destinations and dining favorites.

Ciao! ~ Kat

Lake Superior’s Frozen Wonder: The Apostle Islands Ice Caves, Part II

The media outlets are still featuring Lake Superior’s ice caves, with temperatures forecasted to reach 30°F (-1°C) this coming weekend, likely to result in large crowds trying to catch a last glimpse of these fleeting wonders.  The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore’s Facebook page posted this update yesterday, reminding all that the ice caves are not a permanent feature (and thankfully, that sub-zero temps are not, either, as many of us were beginning to wonder):

As the weather warms up, the walk to the ice caves will be more pleasant – but that also means that icicles will start melting and falling and there will be more slush on the ice – make sure not to stand under ice formations and wear waterproof boots – with ice cleats!

The Apostle Islands’ Facebook post provided a nice segue to another group of photos from our ice caves visit last Saturday.  Sub-zero temps meant no threat to the icicles during our visit!

Apostle Islands ice caves ~ 3/1/14

Apostle Islands ice caves ~ 3/1/14

Everyone needs the obligatory “look up at the icicles” shot.

Apostle Islands ice caves, icicles ~ 3/1/14

No two caves were alike.

Color, pattern, shape … each hollow held a unique, amazing scene.

The minerals from the rocks and soil, the speed and temperature of freezing, the sunlight or lack thereof … all created fascinating variations in color.

Apostle Islands ice caves ~ 3/1/14

Apostle Islands ice caves ~ 3/1/14

Apostle Islands ice caves ~ 3/1/14

Icicles like these are sure to be the first to go as Winter finally starts to release its frigid hold.

Apostle Islands ice caves ~ 3/1/14

Apostle Islands ice caves ~ 3/1/14

Check back tomorrow for a departing look at the Apostle Islands ice caves.

Ciao! ~ Kat

Related post:  It’s Not Too Late for the Party: Day-Tripping to the Apostle Islands Ice Caves

For information on visiting the ice caves:  National Park Service, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore or Apostle Islands Facebook Page

It’s Not Too Late for the Party: Day-Tripping to the Apostle Islands Ice Caves

Winter Sunrise on Lake Sperior ~ Duluth, Minnesota

Getting up at the crack of dawn on a Saturday morning just about killed this night owl, but I was determined to view the ice caves at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore before it was too late.  Lake Superior is a moody, unpredictable body of water, and the ice is unlikely to remain stable for foot traffic for much longer, as we optimistically hope that signs of Spring start to appear in the month ahead.

Meyers Beach Road ~ Parking at Apostle Islands Ice Caves  Meyers Beach Road ~ Parking at Apostle Islands Ice Caves

It has been an amazing year for the ice caves, with an estimated 78,000 people visiting a natural wonder that has not been accessible for winter foot traffic since 2009.  The parking lot at the entrance to the ice caves quickly fills, and the .4 mile length of Meyers Beach Road connecting the parking lot to Highway 13 incrementally adds walk distance and time to your trip.  Given the weekend crowds, we wanted our time at the ice caves to be spent actually on the Lake’s surface viewing the caves, not walking 3 miles round trip on the highway before even setting foot on the ice.

The sunrise departure was rewarded by a parking space on Meyers Beach Road.  As we parked just a few minutes after 8:00 a.m., the line of parked cars almost reached the Highway 13 intersection, and stretched out for well over a mile along the highway’s shoulder when we left at noon.  Need I say, if you’re visiting on one of the busy weekend days, get there early (despite sacrificing the beautiful afternoon light for photos).  The National Park Service’s website and FAQ’s handout are full of helpful tips for your visit, so be sure to review here.

Trekking to the ice caves from the parking lot

Hugging the shore of Lake Superior, you can easily forget that you are walking on the largest freshwater lake in the world (in terms of surface area).  When you glance toward the center of the Lake, you are reminded of its vast size, which makes even more amazing the fact that Lake Superior was 95% iced over as the end of February approached.  The temperature on Saturday morning as we hit the ice at 8:30 a.m. was approximately -10°F (-23°C) and it warmed up to 0°F (-18°C) as we departed at 12 o’clock noon.  No concerns with ice melt as we hiked several miles along the ice!

National Park Service snowmobiles heading across the ice

TIME magazine has a very interesting satellite photo series slideshow, showing the progression of the ice cover on Lake Superior this winter.   As you look at the satellite photos, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is on the South Shore in Wisconsin (while Duluth, Minnesota is located on the North Shore).  But, enough with the geography lesson — on to the ice caves!

Ice-covered shore at Apostle Islands ice caves

That’s my husband modeling this season’s ever-present trends … warm hat with ear cover, buff revealing only eyes, multiple layers top and bottom, and just for the ice caves hike, a pair of ice cleats over the winter boots.

Kat B. at the ice caves

Rather than ice cleats, I chose Yaktrax for my winter boot overwear, in addition to SmartWool long underwear, thermal running tights and Craft ski pants for the bottom layers, and similar layering on top.  And, of course, the HotHands hand warmers in my mittens, toe warmers in my boots, and a body warmer pack in the inner pocket of my winter jacket, with their welcome warming glow when we stopped to explore.

Apostle Islands Ice Caves ~ 3/1/14

Pretty sure I could hear March roaring in like a lion as we wandered through the nooks and crannies of Lake Superior’s winter wonder.

Apostle Islands Ice Caves ~ 3/1/14      apostle 27c 3_1_14

Apostle Islands Ice Caves ~ 3/1/14

Occasionally, the ice beneath our feet would crack or groan, and in some spots you could still hear water gurgling and moving beneath the solid surface.

Lake Superior ice floor

While typically a photographer may hope to capture a landscape view without the presence of human life, the magnificent expanse of the walls and curtains of ice were best appreciated when compared to visitors standing in awe.

Curtains of ice at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Curtains of ice at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

As we walked a couple of miles out from the parking lot to a classic arched structure of the Apostle Islands, so often featured on kayaking adventure brochures and websites, we could feel the wind picking up with intensity at our backs, and decided it was time to head back.

Apostle Islands ice caves ~ 3/1/14

Apostle Islands Ice Caves ~ 3/1/14

Apostle Islands Ice Caves ~ 3/1/14

Apostle Islands Ice Caves ~ 3/1/14

While the light was warming the colors on the bluffs and brightening the whites of the ice, tempting me to stay with my camera in hand, the increasing crowds and line of people trekking to visit the caves for the afternoon made me appreciate our early morning departure.

Apostle Islands NPS Rangers  Crowds of visitors to the Apostle Islands ice caves on 3/1/14

After over 3 hours of winter hiking along the frozen shore, my husband’s icy eyelashes said it all.

Ice eyelashes after Apostle Islands ice caves hike

More photos from the ice caves and Lake Superior’s winter wonder coming soon … but there’s still time for you to make your own trek to the ice caves.  Be sure to share your photos and adventures when you do!

Ciao! ~ Kat

Put On Your Big Girl Mukluks and Enjoy Winter’s Beauty

Even with one moosehide mukluk topped off with black duct tape since my dear four-legged companion found it to be a delicious, albeit expensive, chew toy (leaving the entire boot liner and bottom 2/3 of the lovely chestnut exterior intact), I have been “enjoying” our never ending stretch of sub-zero temps this winter (day 64 and counting …).  As an aside, isn’t that a testament to the wonder of the Steger mukluk? Unrivaled winter footwear after 20 years of living up north, keeping my toes toasty warm, enhanced by stick-on toe warmers only in the most brutal of temps (which, I admit, we’ve had a lot of this winter – did I mention, this is Duluth’s 64th day with a recorded sub-zero temp this winter?!?).

But I digress … as I shared with you in this week’s Photo Challenge response, the frigid temperatures have produced some amazing photo ops on the frozen expanse of Lake Superior.  Last weekend, the sunny skies produced a stunning blue reflection in the ice piles, created by the powerful force of Lake Superior’s shifting waters.  The ice cover on the Lake is the largest in decades, so one must be mindful that these scenes may be decades in coming again.

Lake Superior ~ Duluth, MN

Drawing closer to the large pile of broken ice shards, the bluish hue became more intense, waxing and waning with the sun as the clouds drifted across the sky.

Lake Superior ~ Duluth, MN

The depth and breadth of this particular ice upheaval is hard to capture in a photo.

Lake Superior ~ Duluth, MN

Upon close inspection, the pile appeared to be manmade, as if a snowplow had come along and pushed a long band of broken ice together to clear the flat expanse of the Lake beyond.

Lake Superior ~ Duluth, MN

The blues were amazing …

Lake Superior ~ Duluth, MN

Lake Superior ~ Duluth, MN

One could be lulled into a false sense of security, seeing the shoreline so close, the apparent stagnant pile of ice melded together, and the thick ice cover below.  Mother Nature reminded me that even on a beautiful, blue-sky day, the wind can whip up the powdery blanket, and cause the water and ice to creak and groan like an awakening giant.

Wind-whipped Lake Superior ~ Duluth, MN

Walking back to shore, the ice pile receded from view, and I was more cognizant of the living mass beneath my feet.  Signs of life were evident, from a large, winding fissure that had opened and closed over time …

Ice Fissures on Lake Superior ~ Duluth, MN

… to a fresh hairline crack in the snow with gurgling water fighting deep underneath the frozen surface to try and break free …

Ice Fissures on Lake Superior ~ Duluth, MN

… Lake Superior was sending a reminder that Spring may be a long way off, but she won’t be frozen forever.

Ice Fissures on Lake Superior ~ Duluth, MN

With the winds and periodically “warming” temperatures (I think we hit 20°F (-6°C) once in the last week or so), the large plates of ice shift, and open water appears here and there even as the temperatures battle to reach double digits in recent days.  The day after taking the photos above, I headed up to the Hawk Ridge overlook and saw the hint of open water (or at least more tenuous ice cover) in the distance.

Winter view from Hawk Ridge ~ Duluth, MN

Has it been a long winter?  Certainly, but with warmer temps these ice-covered postcard scenes will melt from view.  So, in the meantime, put on your big girl mukluks; get out and enjoy Nature’s wonder.

Ciao! ~ Kat