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February 27, 2014 10:20 PM CST

Apostle Islands Ice Caves

Written by Braid Beards Gang

Author: NL_Admin. 305 Reads
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Apostle Islands National Lakeshore


By Christopher Rehfeldt (Braid Beard)




Geocaching has never seen a winter this cold.  Wisconsin is currently experiencing its coldest winter since 1982.  The weather provides many challenges, but also provides many opportunities.  The frozen lakes, rivers, swamps, and marshes make those high terrain caches a bit more accessible. The weather also gives the opportunity to visit earthcaches that are easier to find then a cache buried in snow and ice.  It is educational and fun to visit some of Wisconsin’s geological wonders in winter conditions, waterfalls become frozen columns and sea caves become ice caves.

I took advantage of this arctic winter to log GC1G4QP “Apostle Islands: Mawikwe Sea Caves” GC1G4QP.  This cache requires the exploration of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore near Cornucopia, WI located about 15 miles northwest of Bayfield.  The sea caves along this shoreline of Lake Superior have not been accessible on foot since 2009.  I wanted to be part of the group of geocachers that were able to get into the sandstone formations for the first time in five years, not observe them from above or in boat. 

The lakeshore and 22 island archipelago were declared a National Lakeshore in September of 1970.  This cache will take you to the mainland lakeshore.  It consists of Precambrian sandstone cliffs that have been eroded by the waters of Lake Superior to create many different formations.  Among these are joints, stacks, arches, reentrants, and caves.  According to the National Park Service, this is the largest and most pristine lakeshore of the Great Lakes.

I arrived at Meyer’s Beach, access point, shortly after 8:00 am on February 8.  I was fortuitous to find parking in the parking lot ($3.00).  Other geocachers have noted that parking is more difficult later in the day as the crowds swell.  When I returned to the parking area around 12:30pm, cars were parked as far as 2 ½ miles away from the beach access point to Lake Superior.  I descended the stairs to the lake and started the ¾ mile hike in the – 9 degree air.

The first point of interest I witnessed was a 20 foot column of light brown ice.  The column was a frozen waterfall containing sand.  It is as if someone took a still frame of the erosion process that created these features. I continued east to the earthcache coordinates. Ground zero was a truly magnificent formation, that you will have to visit to enjoy (I am not going to give the answer to the earthcache.)  I spent some time there and continued east on the ice to explore more.


My favorite area was 2 ¼ miles from Meyer’s Beach.  There was a large arch that led into a cove.  Inside the cove, all of the formations could be seen.  I took some time exploring the caves and joints.  The caves reminded me of another geological wonder in Wisconsin, Cave of the Mounds (GC2F365 “Cave of the Mounds Earthcache”).  But, instead of speleotherms created by calcite crystals, the ‘stalagmites’, ‘stalactites’, and ‘columns’ here were ice. In the center of cove there was a small stack that had a few trees growing atop.  Reentrants lined the base of the cliff throughout the area. The cliff walls were frosted with ice of different hues.  The frozen waterfalls, lake spray, and seepage were different shades of tan, brown, light blue, white, and clear.


For me, this four and a half hour, six mile hike and exploration was worth enduring the dip in the “polar vortex” this winter.  If you were to visit, I offer this advice:  1. Try to get there early or on a weekday. The crowds detract from the experience. 2. Keep track of how far you hike. The return trip is equally as long. 3.  Check the conditions.  Call the Ice Line at (715) 779-3397 - extension 3.









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Category: 2014 Spring Newsletter
Tags: Ice Caves Apostle Islands
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