Great Lakes Ice Caves, Superman had his Fortress of Solitude, a cave he carved out of ice to have a place to weigh his ontological angst. Since he could fly, access was never an issue. Not so in Wisconsin, where tens of thousands of people have taken advantage of this year’s deep freeze to hike across Lake Superior and visit the dramatic ice caves accessible by foot for the first time in years.
The caves are at the western end of the Mainland Unit of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in far northern Bayfield County. They were carved out of sandstone by the waves from Lake Superior, the largest by volume and surface area of the five Great Lakes. The lake system, linked by a man-made seaway, has about one-fifth of the entire planet’s surface fresh water and this year is more than three-quarters frozen.
In warm times, the caves are reachable by boat, but when the temperature falls to the point where frigid seems like a heat wave, Lake Superior freezes. This winter’s icy grip has made the ice thick and stable enough to allow people to walk across and marvel at the crystalline wonder of stalactites and stalagmites. It has been five years since the caves were so reachable.