The ultra cold and windy winter this year has made we Northern Michiganders privy to a phenomena known as ice caves on the Great Lakes. According to the local media, the ice caves on Lake Michigan this year have reached what many are calling “one in a lifetime” proportions. As we’re not ones to pass up Once in a Lifetime events and being that we are just a short drive from Lake Michigan, we took a field trip to become ice cave spelunkers for the day.
Lake Michigan is a deep and often tumultuous body of water, rife with rip currents. The idea that such waters could be tamed long enough to freeze solid is almost mind boggling.
After ice forms on the surface of the lake, the wind and waves continue to churn the fluid waters underneath, forcing the ice to shift and mound above the surface–upwards of 30 feet or higher in some areas. The constant churning and shifting of the ice creates caverns withing the mounds, resulting in the phenomena of ice caves.
Cool does not even begin to describe the experience! Thousands of curious explorers have ventured to see the caves. Upon arrival, we understood the attraction that called so many tourists to make the trek. We could see miles of frozen–seemingly mountainous landscape–all of which is resting atop Lake Michigan!
Never in my lifetime have I heard of being able to walk more than a few feet from shore on a frozen Great Lake. I certainly never would have believed that I’d one day be able to not only walk for miles across a frozen lake, but also scale icy mountains perched on a frozen lake.
Ice is obviously quite slippery to stand on, making scaling walls of ice about as easy as wrestling a greased, excitable puppy. We fell so often that it was comical, but we were determined to climb the ice. Well, after we dragged the boys past the first 300 yards of frozen tundra. They we’re so enamored with the fact that they were walking on ice that we had a hard time getting them to stop “skating” or rolling around long enough to even get out to the caves.
As we hiked out about a mile from shore, we were awestruck by the majesty of it all. The idea that we were literally standing on what amounted to a small iceberg in the middle of Lake Michigan was so surreal. The surrounding landscape looked more like the Planet Hoth than it did my home state. We joked that a giant Tauntaun was lurking behind the next mountain, ready to sacrifice itself for our survival if we were to somehow become stranded.
And if you understand that nerdy reference, then our friendship has been cemented for life.
We found many ice caves to explore. This particular peep hole was a good 30 feet above my head.
Many of the caves had ledges with which to stand on to get a closer view of the icy stalactites.
Still others had to be admired from the ground, with the help of a telephoto lens.
I’ll be honest–I had to work pretty hard to keep my innate Motherhood Paranoia in check. I couldn’t help but notice that the upper edges of the ice mounds could be pretty precarious, and regularly fell away in sheets when we climbed a little to close to the edge. I had to balance my desire to give the Sons the freedom to explore the caverns with the mom part of me that was itching to scream, “Get out of there right now! The ceiling might cave in! You’ll be buried in ice!!” at any moment.
Of course, once I noticed a rather large fissure running vertically through the peak of one of the caves, Mom Paranoia won out, and I suggested we try a less dangerous type of exploration.
Such as leaping off the top of ice caves? Perhaps “less dangerous” is the wrong term but nonetheless, I felt better seeing their heads above the ice.
If there’s one thing that I’ve learned as a mama of four boys, it’s that if there is ever something that can be climbed on or leaped from, my boys will find it and do just that. I think it’s their way of keeping me on my toes and keeping my heart rate up at the same time. A mother of boys can never fully be at rest.
Thankfully, Son #2’s speed is less jumping from high ground, and more plucking off icicles. Everyone needs a son like Son #2. He brings balance to the family.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Comfortably Domestic Family Outing if we didn’t get a little goofy in the process. Here’s Son #1 reenacting the scene in A Christmas Story where Flick’s tongue is frozen to the flag pole at recess. Yeah…we crack ourselves up!
Alas, the sun began to set sooner than we would have liked, marking the need for us to hike back to shore. Believe me when I say that no one wants to intentionally hike across uneven, icy terrain with only the light of the moon as a guide. Our limbs were bruised enough from climbing over ice in broad daylight!
Although, I admit that as we trudged our way back to land, we found it difficult not to explore just one more ice cave before heading back.
Exploring the Lake Michigan Ice Caves was such an amazing experience. I couldn’t help but be humbled at the reminder of how powerful the force of nature is–God is so big, and I’m such a small part of the grand scheme of it all.
I’m just a wife and mother, appreciating a natural wonder at sunset, and reveling in the peace that it brings.