Sea caves opening is looking ‘less likely’

LAKE SUPERIOR -- The popular, ice-coated Apostle Islands sea caves won't be opening anytime in the near future, officials say. "For all those hoping for ice caves, we wish we had better news. It's still possible, but looking less likely," Julie V...

April and Kendra Randrup of Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., are framed by an archway covered by icicles during a visit to the Apostle Island sea caves near Cornucopia Jan. 16, 2015. Officials say the caves are not accessible so far this year. (file / News Tribune)

LAKE SUPERIOR - The popular, ice-coated Apostle Islands sea caves won’t be opening anytime in the near future, officials say.

“For all those hoping for ice caves, we wish we had better news. It’s still possible, but looking less likely,” Julie Van Stappen announced on the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore’s Facebook page.

At this point, “it’s anyone’s guess” if the caves will become accessible yet this winter, said Van Stappen, chief of planning and resource management at the Apostle Islands.

People are encouraged to be patient and avoid walking on the ice near the caves, she said Wednesday. The ice conditions are so poor that the park’s “highly trained and highly equipped” ice team hasn’t been able to go out to check on them, she said.

“There is a lot of water out there. During that cold freeze, there was some pancake ice - a chunk of ice that blows in and you get a little bit of water freezing around it - that’s what formed by the caves. It’s moving around a lot and it’s not good ice,” she said.


Ice formations on the caves and cliffs of Lake Superior’s shore east of Cornucopia, created by freezing waves and groundwater seeping from above, drew thousands of visitors in 2014 and 2015.

The sea caves can’t be seen from land and visiting them in winter requires walking for more than a mile on Lake Superior’s frozen surface. A lack of ice on the lake left the caves inaccessible last year. Van Stappen said wind may be a factor in the unfavorable conditions again this year.

“One thing that really prevents the formation of ice, even when it’s really cold, is wind because it keeps that water moving. We’ve had some really cold (conditions), but we haven’t had a lot of really cold and really calm. That was the combination we had in 2014 where we had really cold conditions, really calm conditions and you can get some really good ice formations,” she said.

Visitors to the area can still walk on the Lakeshore Trail along the shoreline above the sea caves. However, Van Stappen cautioned that the trail is slippery and people should wear crampons or Yaktrax.

Ice first begins to form around the inner Apostle Islands, but the ice around those islands is “really spotty” at this point, she said.

To open the ice caves, the ice needs to be “locked in” between the mainland and Bark Point to the west and the north side of Sand Island to the east, she said. It needs to be at least 10 inches of high-quality ice or 20 inches of low-quality ice, she said.

“We’ve found times when it looks really good and it’s been like that, then we wait a couple weeks to make sure that it stays there and then you get a big wind and it blows out,” she said. “We tend to err on the cautious side. We’ve become more cautious since there’s so many people that come out and visit. It’s not like a small number of people, when you have thousands of people every day, then that’s a lot of weight on that ice.”

The most recent updates on the ice conditions can be found by calling the ice line at (715) 779-3397, ext. 3, or by visiting the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Facebook page.



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