Apostle Islands Ice Caves

Along the Apostle Islands Seashore near Bayfield, there are miles of ice formations and caves
Brigadoon.  That was the word the warden used to describe Bayfield's amazing rise to stardom and overnight swelling of the population from 400 to 10,000 in a weekend.  It had become a phenomenon due to a few posts in social media like Facebook and twitter showing gorgeous ice on the sea caves that line the Apostle Islands National Seashore.  Hotels were completely sold out.  The few restaurants that were open for winter had wait times of at least two hours to get a table.  People were willing to park more than 2 miles from the ice caves and walk for hours on the frozen lake in subzero temperatures just to get a glimpse of what everyone was talking about.  This was the first time Lake Superior had completely frozen since 2009.  Back then, the locals talked about it, but most weren't tweeting or posting pictures anywhere to be shared all over the world.  Now there were photographers and families traveling from distant places like China, Japan, and Australia to see what the fuss was all about.  It was a goldmine for the locals, and although they were working long hours to take care of all the visitors, the income was welcome.  Estimates for the economic boost were in the millions of dollars, if it would last for just one month.

I saw the photos too, and wanted to see it in person.  We drove more than 6 hours to get there and arrived Saturday evening, feeling very lucky to have a room.  We saw carfuls of weary travelers turned away.  They were told there were no available rooms for at least an hour drive from Bayfield.  There had been record numbers of visitors that day- just over 9000!  Our plan was to get up early and beat the traffic.  It would mean walking in darkness over ice for about a mile, and gearing up for extreme cold.

Meyers Beach, near Cornucopia, WI,  is the parking lot closest to the ice caves.  If you kayak in summer at the Apostle Islands, the journey begins at the same spot.  It's a small parking lot with a fee of $3.  You find the drop box and leave an envelope with the cash inside.  We got lucky and were there with about 15 other cars when we arrived at 6:30 AM Sunday morning.  If we had been there any later, we'd have to option to take a bus from a nearby field, or park on highway 13 and walk at least an additional mile.
Kayaking the summer sea caves is quite different than experiencing them in winter

Crystals form of many varieties and colors
We were dressed in layers of merino wool and nylon.  The temperature was -5 and about -15 with the windchill.  My husband even wore 2 pairs of mittens with hand warmers inside.  He brought poles and snow shoes, but the snow was packed pretty well after all that foot traffic, so he found them unnecessary.  I put on yaktrax, a spring loaded addition to boots or shoes that give you a little extra traction on snow or ice.  By the time we were all dressed out, the only skin visible was around the eyes.  Armed with a few water bottles and granola bars, we set off on our mini expedition, anxious about what we might find.  It was a good mile before we even got to the first cave.  By then day was breaking, and the surroundings started to look a bit less blue.  You can't actually see the sunrise, as the bluffs are in the way.
The first caves are quite small, and you had to crawl on your belly to get inside, though it's hard to tell size from the photos, unless you see a person.  As we walked further, they became larger and more magnificent.  Ice formations clung to the bluffs with icicles more than 20 feet high.  It was a spectacular sight.  In spite of the cold, we pushed on and finally spent 4 hours exploring.  We were lucky to have some of the caves to ourselves by coming so early in the day.  As we left, busloads of adventurers were dropped off, including dogs and kids.  I was certain that by the end of the day, many of those kids would be carried off on shoulders, and felt happy we had left our child at home.
There were a couple of small problems, cold induced.  The key fob to our car apparently shuts down in cold weather, and we had to warm it up before we could enter the car again.  Being stuck outside for an extra 20 minutes was a bit unnerving, as we wondered if it would ever work again.  The iPhones also shut down almost as soon as they were taken out of a pocket.  People thinking they could use them for photographs were very disappointed.  I looked at my camera as we drove away and realized I had taken more than 500 photos!  It's easy to do when you see so much beauty in one place.  This is a place and time I will always remember.
A view to the outside of this cave revealed a snowshoer walking back to the beach

An enormous ice formation with a hiker nearby to show perspective

Icicles cling to the roof of the caves


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