Ice Caves

Article and photos by Al Perry

icy sunset on Lake Superior

Sunset on Lake Superior from inside ice cave

Sometimes it pays to act on impulse. In February of this year I was anxious to get back to nature photography after three weeks photographing three granddaughters under two years of age. With good timing, my wife called me in to view an NBC News clip about ice caves on Lake Superior. Little did she know I was about to go on another winter photo trip. Antarctica doesn’t count because that was December of last year.

NBC stated the ice caves are accessible every 10 to 15 years when Lake Superior freezes. After searching the internet, I decided to drive up and attempt to photograph these seldom seen ice formations as I don’t have many 10 to 15 year cycles remaining. With an approaching snow storm, I needed to get on my way and hopefully miss most of the bad driving weather. Within two hours I had my small RV with Jeep in tow loaded with camera gear, food and clothing. Without going into details, driving an RV pulling a Jeep in freezing rain and snow is not ideal. After passing overturned trucks that passed me earlier, I finally arrived at the southern shore of Lake Superior just as the sun broke out from the clouds. For the next day and a half, the weather conditions were sunny and calm for photographing the caves.

Rock and ice cave

Rock and ice cave

Sandstone cliffs with undercut caverns are formed by wave action on the southern shore of Lake Superior, part of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Northern Wisconsin. If the lake freezes, people can walk on the frozen lake and enter the caves with ice formations on the sides of the cliffs and inside the caverns. Some of the caves are mostly ice and other caves are mostly rock. The ice may be clear, blue, red or yellow along with small and large crystals.

Young girl entering ice cave

Young girl entering ice cave

People at the ice caves helped provide scale for the large ice structures along the four-mile one-way shoreline. I was surprised by the number of families, particularly from Wisconsin, that make a day of it with their young children on sleds to visit the caves. With one bad knee carrying camera equipment, I got to meet lots of new people as they passed me on the trail leading to the ice caves.

Another snow storm arrived in time for my return trip to Southern Indiana so I appreciated the good fortune to photograph the ice caves under ideal conditions even if the trip up and back was adventuresome. Oftentimes, acting on impulse does not pay off, except this time it did.