The Lake Superior Ice Caves and the Trail of Tears

OK, so last weekend, I went up north to Bayfield, WI with my wife and son, to visit my stepson.  Since we were right there, it was suggested that we go check out the Lake Superior ice caves.  Before I went, I checked it out on the web to find out exactly how to get there, how much it would cost, etc., just so I knew what to expect.

It turns out, experience takes a minimum of three hours, outside, in sub-freezing temperatures.  My wife isn’t a big fan of the cold, and my stepson was busy at the time, but my son really wanted to go.  I kind of like stuff like this, so he and I, jumped in Dora, (our Ford Explorer) and went to check it out.  It’s a fairly short drive from Bayfield, but believe me, the drive is the easiest part, even if you are coming from Chicago.

You have two choices when it comes to viewing the ice caves, and neither one is very attractive.  You can either park on highway 13, and walk the rest of the way there,  (it took us about an hour, one way), or you can pay for parking (about $3) and take a shuttle (about $4).  If you have been reading the Geese for any amount of time, you know what option I chose. It’s not just that I am cheap, it’s that I was told that you could count on waiting about an hour for the shuttle each way.  Since the the shuttle offered no saving of time, and I would rather walk, than wait in the cold, I figured that we would save the ten bucks, and hoof it.

Well, we get there, and I saw exactly what I expected.  A bunch of Toyota Priuses and other weenie liberal cars parked for what seemed like miles along the highway.  We got out of Dora, and started walking, and walking for what seemed like about a mile, over a rise, and around a bend, and still no ice caves in sight.  We descended a slight grade for about 1/4 mile and we came to a fire road with two cop cars blocking it.  We asked the cops, “Is this the road to the ice caves?”  A cop replied, “It’s one of them.”, so we turned in and started walking.  At first glance, we could see the ice on Lake Superior in the distance, over the top of the trees as the road ahead of us stretched north and down hill, disappearing into the woods. The lake didn’t look too far away.  The fire road was well maintained and plowed free of snow. “This shouldn’t be too much of a problem”, I thought.

Eventually we began to meet people coming the opposite direction, on their return trip from visiting the ice caves.  They seemed to be in good spirits.  “That’s a good sign”, I thought.  After what seemed like a mile the plowed road came to an end.  The woods were thicker now, and the lake was no where in sight.  Just before that, we met a young woman, making her way back, and we asked her what to expect.  “It’s kind of tough going”, she said, “You have to walk down a snow covered path for about a mile.  It’s sort of packed down by foot traffic, but the surface is very irregular.”

We were at what we felt like, was the point of no return, so we continued on.  The returning people we were meeting now, were not in such good spirits.  They were winded, red faced, and exhausted.  They were carrying their coats, and sweating, even though it was only 25 degrees.  A middle aged man was panting heavily, as he walked by, followed by a 30ish woman who looked like she was going to pass out.

I now knew that the reason the people I saw returning on the plowed fire road were in such good spirits was because they knew that they survived the worst part.  We continued on.  Up ahead, we say a couple of children, lying in the snow, on the edge of the trail, collapsed from exhaustion.  We kept moving.  Around the next bend we saw more people on their return trip, wearily trudging along like defeated Soviet soldiers, trying to make their way back to Stalingrad.  One by one, children gave up and fell, their parents bending down, desperately trying any tactic to egg them on, from bribery to threats of punishment.  It was all futile.  These kids had had it.  I never heard so much crying as I did that day.  I truly felt sorry for these kids.  They had come so far, but they still had such a long way to go.

I stopped for a moment, and looked behind me.  The multitude of collapsed children made me think of “Gone With the Wind” wounded scene.

After a mile of stumbling through the snow, we made the final descent to the lake, and made our way to the ice caves.  At this point I noticed that the people who arrived by shuttle may have avoided the experience we had, but they did have to walk an additional half mile once on the lake, in order to see the caves.

We looked at the ice caves, and they were pretty cool, but they were exactly what I expected them to be.  No surprises.  If you want to know what we saw, click on the link above.  

We checked out the ice caves for about an hour, the whole time knowing what awaited for us on our return trip.  Troubling me more, was knowing that the return trip was uphill.  We knew what we were in for, so we had at it.  Both my son and I wanted to get back to the plowed road as quickly as possible, so we passed quite a few people on our way back, as they stopped to rest.  It was damn tempting to stop, but we ventured on.  Once again we saw the little fallen soldiers, crying, wishing they were anywhere, but where they were, and parents not knowing what to do.

I really felt sorry for those kids, especially for the children who were already giving up on their way there.  It was just the beginning of this trail of tears for them, and they had a very, very long way to go.  Some of the parents were yelling at their kids.  I thought to myself, “I bet these parents don’t believe in spanking their children, yet they are willing to put them through this.”

None of this would happened to my siblings and I when I was a child.  First of all, because my parents never took us anywhere, not even to the movies. (OK, I might be exaggerating a little bit there, but honestly, I never saw a movie in the theater from the time I was in third grade until some of my friends had their driver’s licenses.) Secondly my parents would have known better than to subject children who were not even old enough to appreciate what they were going to see, to such conditions.  Finally, we knew better than to try and get away with just laying in the snow and bawling.  We knew we would have something more to cry about, once we got home.

Like is said, I felt sorry for those poor kids, but there were some people I didn’t feel the least bit sorry for.  It is amazing how many people do not understand how to dress properly for being outside in the cold and snow for an extended period of time.  One lady was wearing heels!  On the way back I passed some young man in his late teens or early twenties, wearing some type of athletic shoe, just as he was entering the snowy trail.  I said to him as he was passing by, “Tennis shoe dude, tennis shoe dude, turn back now.”  He just looked at me funny and kept on trucking.  I can’t imagine how the day could have ended for him any other way than the amputation of frostbitten toes.


  1. Dora the explorer? Why didn't I think of that? I have had two of those.
    Neil, you mean to say you hiked all that way in freezing cold and you did not take a camera?
    I live in Arizona and in the summer I have kind of seen the same thing. We have a lot of desert mountain hiking trails out here and I see a lot of tourists who have no idea of how intense the heat here is, it can be deadly if don't respect it and take precautions. I see people taking their young kids on these long hard trails in 115 degree plus heat. It is not uncommon for people to die here in the summer on our trails. I feel bad for the kids they drag along with them. And now I really need to break down and finally see Gone with the wind.
    I will take the heat over the cold any day.

    1. Yeah, I'm just not a camera guy. Never have been. What do I need to take pictures (of anything) for there's plenty of 'em online, taken by better photographers than me. I always meant to take pictures of the many cars I have owned. Before, during, and after the builds. Never did. I just don't ever take pictures. I think it's because I am the youngest of four kids in my family. My parents took plenty of my sisters, and some of my brother, but by the time I came around, I think that they were out of film. Except for my birth certificate and driver's license, there's pretty much no record of my existence.

      I can't help wondering, "What else are these parents, incredibly stupid about?"

      Gone With the Wind is a great movie. I watch it, every time it I see it on TV, even though I have it on video.

      I don't mind the cold. Just put on a coat and the problem is solved. There's nothing I can do about heat. I just suffer. Summer equals buttsweat and chafing. I go through one hell of a lot of Gold Bond powder at work. From June until August it's just about unbearable/