Hike Four Out Of Fifty Two – Apostle Island Ice Caves

Why yes, observant reader, I have not written up hike two or three of fifty two yet.  Today I am writing about hike four because it occurred this weekend and my new theory is I will write about it the day after or never.  (Although I do plan to write up hike two or three. You know, when I get some free time.)

First off, let me say that I enjoyed this “hike” immensely.  It was worth the car trip.  I’m glad we went and I hope we go again.  I feel the need to preface this post because there were a lot of annoying things we did not anticipate about the day.  Some things we could have planned better, some things would have been nicer/easier to deal with had we just known what to expect.

The ice caves are in the news a lot these days because it is the first time in five years that Lake Superior has frozen over to the point the caves are accessible and open to the public.  Bayfield, WI is about a three hour drive from us. Annoying issue #1 for me was that if you map our address to “Bayfield, WI” you are actually still a 1/2 hour away from the access point to the caves.  Tom had done better research and knew where we were going but we didn’t realize we had different information until way into the trip.

In general, I am not a fan of driving to events that will not last longer than the drive time.  The walk onto the ice is described as a 1.1 mile walk, meaning even in the worst conditions ever it might take us 2 hours.  But what I haven’t seen described anywhere is that once you reach the sea cave location, there is another 3/4 miles+ of caves.  This was a nice surprise for many reasons.  Not only did it elongate the trip, but it meant that Annoying issue #2 – The Horde Of People – wasn’t a huge deal when you got out there because there was enough room to keep walking and find a quieter area.

Yeah, Annoying issue #2 – the ice caves haven’t been open for five years and Wisconsin has had some bitterly cold days resulting in cabin fever galore.  The day we went, it had warmed to a welcome 15 degrees above freezing with only a slight wind.  I would guess they exceeded their 1,000 person estimate in the park that day.

We hit traffic and the line of cars parked on the road about 2 miles from the actual Meyers Rd entrance. We decided to drive forward, hoping for a closer spot.  I have been having ankle support issues with my winter boots.  Tom wears his actual hiking shoes on these treks because they are made with Gortex.  But mine aren’t (in nicer weather, my feet sweat too much for Gortex) and I’ve been trying to get by without making another shoe purchase.
We ended up with about a mile walk to the entrance.  Road walking is never fun.  Road walking along a row of vehicles with other vehicles and people trying to also the road?  Blech.  But again, if it weren’t for my ankle, this addition added mileage/time to the trip which in my mind is a win for the amount of time we spent driving.  I just wish we had understood/anticipated the crowd and parking situation. (We also came at a weird time and if we had driving patience we would have found many empty spots closer to the entrance.  I would highly recommend to someone to just keep driving until a closer spot opens up.  You will want to stay out and play in the caves as long as possible and therefore be pretty tired coming back.)

Now, everyone in The Horde of People was nice and pleasant and very much into their own thing.  It was fun to see all the little kids bundled up.  And the dogs!  The park allows dogs and many people brought their dogs.  It was very fun.

The bad thing about The Horde of People being families is that the walk to the actual ice caves is a pretty narrow strip of packed ice/snow.  If you have snow shoes, skis, or heartier ankles, you can venture further out on unpacked snow.  But as it is, walking with The Horde of People means 1) getting stuck behind families taking up the whole trail 2) or feeling pushy as you try to pass them.

And the extra bonus of 3) feeling pushy as you try to pass them then promptly putting your BAD ANKLE foot in a hole in the soft snow because you yourself are trying to not take up the whole trail and falling forward onto your face.  NOT THAT THAT HAPPENED.  Also: Ow.

(My ankle actually felt fine most of the day, the swelling compressed by thick socks and the boots.  And some anti-inflammatories, rest, and compression pretty much fixed it.)

(I still opted for #2 Feeling Pushy  because fifteen degrees on the open lake is still COLD and moving makes you warm.  As does indignation that PEOPLE WILL NOT GET OUT OF MY WAY.  You should totally take me to a major amusement park or concert venue.  I am fun.)

There are suggestions to bring snow shoes or skis or crampons or ski poles to help you walk on the lake.  We brought our Microspikes (a type of..diminutive crampon?) and put them on about 3/4 of the way out to the caves. I would recommend them.  From seeing what other people did, I would also recommend snow shoes.  The people wearing them seemed to enjoy them and were able to get around easier (most modern snow shoes have some sort of crampon/spike on the bottom to help when you get on pure ice).  The skis looked too awkward once you were there and navigating the cliff.  And the ski poles were 1) just another thing to keep in your hands and 2) a hazard in the tight Horde.
A guy in front of me went from using his (which he was swinging way back and up), to carrying his and his wife’s and kept switching the hand they were in.  Which meant as soon as I figured out the “safe” side to walk on it became the “pokey” side.

I really do try and be patient of people not paying attention to their surroundings because I tell myself we are ALL that person at some point or another.  But DUDE.  You are swinging pointed sticks at my stomach!

But, here we are finally.  At the caves.  And….Awesome.
What I realized after would have been more awesome was if I wore snow pants.  Because while the caves and crevasses you could walk into were great, there were several ice rabbit holes which people would slip into, exclaiming on their exit that the tunnel opened up to inner caves complete with ice stalagmites and stalactites and triceratops.  (One of those things was to see if you are still reading.  And I reward you with more parentheses!)
However, I did not feel cheated by the fact that I wasn’t layered appropriately to go sliding myself across ice tunnels.  The cliffs and accessible caves themselves were awesome.

If you need to pee, follow the last faint foot prints out onto the lake.  When you reach a yellow spot, you’re there.  (Ladies, THIS is why you need a pStyle.)

On our way back to the car, I sent Tom ahead so that I could hopefully minimize the stress on my ankle.  Only one car stopped and offered me a ride (which was close enough to our parking spot that I worried I’d cross Tom’s path).  We tried to offer a ride to several people after he picked me up and were turned down 100%.  Wisconsin?  Is not a hitch hiking friendly state.

But that’s another post.



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2 Responses to Hike Four Out Of Fifty Two – Apostle Island Ice Caves

  1. sheri uppgard says:

    We too ventured out to see the sea caves. After an hour and a half road trip we knew we were close to our destination. We slowed for a police car with its lights flashing, we thought an accident possibly. But no, it was parking for the caves miles from the entrance. we continued driving until we passed the park entrance and the parked cars continued in the other direction. Needless to say we ended up in Bayfield for a nice day of sight seeing and a drive across the lake to Madeline island. The sea cave will have to wait and we will enjoy the pics all are posting. Until another day…………………

    • Jessica In Progress says:

      We have heard that they now have a bus that goes up and down the main road where cars park and for two dollars they will take you to the start of the trail.