Walk Through Frozen Midwestern Sea Caves

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For the first time in five years, the National Park Service has declared that lucky Midwesterners can safely experience one of about three reasons to allow winter to still exist (the others are daily soup and warm thick socks): the magical sea caves of the Apostle Islands, off the northern tip of Wisconsin in Lake Superior.

In the summertime, people can kayak out there and paddle through the cave system of a few of the 22 Apostle Islands, which sounds, you know, pretty cool. But in the winter, if it’s cold enough, everything freezes, and that’s when the Apostles get really cool:

By February, an ice bridge might connect Sand Island [one of the Apostles] to the mainland. The lake surface is usually a frozen white expanse. Lakeshore cliffs form a crimson red border to this arctic landscape. Pillars of ice extend to the cliff tops where waterfalls have hardened in place. Frozen lakewater encrusts the base of the cliffs. Inside the caves awaits a fairyland of needlelike icicles. The formations change from chamber to chamber and from day to day.

There are two-story icicles in these caves.

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The National Park Service has to monitor the caves’ winter-readiness carefully; there are a series of things that need to have happened (or not happened) in order for the NPS to declare the caves “safe, we think, mostly.” Like, the ice has to be at least eight inches thick (if it’s “high quality ice”), and nobody is allowed to have fallen through the ice in the past week. That’s a real no-no. (This is called a “through-ice event” in Wisconsinese.)

But now it’s cold enough! So you can head northeast from the town of La Pointe and walk about two miles on top of a frozen lake to get there. The NPS recommends you bring a ski pole or walking stick. Some other warnings:

“Take ice-picks and know how to use them.”

“The ice formations at the sea caves are beautiful, but they are very large chunks of heavy ice. They can fall at anytime so try not to spend much time underneath them.”

Haha okay! More amazing photos here.

Photos by Rich Hoeg