A Sub-Zero Hike

My two travel buddies, Landon and Robert (Bobby), and me decided to take a trip up to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula on Thursday January 31, 2019 for a short weekend expedition.  We wanted to experience what the U.P. was like in the winter at our favorite towns of Munising and Marquette.  It really was a perfect trip full of incredible scenery, tough, but rewarding hikes, and good moments and by the end we started calling ourselves “Asheru Travel Co.”, the name derived from a combination of our middle names.  We experienced a lot of cool things on this trip, but this story will focus on our hike to the remote Eben Ice Caves in the Rock River Canyon Wilderness.

We set out early on the morning of Friday February 1st, 2019, and reached the beginning of the trail to the ice caves sometime a little after 8:00am, the Sun was just breaking above the horizon.  when we got to the trailhead the outside temperature clocked in at -25 degrees Fahrenheit, a toasty 57 degrees below freezing.  It was so cold that when we breathed on the windows of Landon’s jeep the water from our breath instantly froze onto the window, in fact Landon was going to wear his snowshoes, but the plastic was so cold that a piece of one of the straps broke when he went to tighten it.

When we got out of the car a Bald Eagle flew above us, as it headed east and we started getting geared up.  Bobby took a picture of the trail map that was placed at the trail head and we headed off.  Luckily, majority of the 1.2 mile trail had been groomed down by snowmobiles. We soon discovered that interesting things happen when hiking that distance in these conditions, like your breath making your goggles become frozen in ice along with your face cover.  For majority of the hike to the caves we where warm, not too sound cocky, but we were dressed in the proper layers for the hike.  At different points Bobby and me even unzipped our first layer to cool down a bit to prevent sweating.

The trail through a frozen forest slowly began to narrow as we trekked our way deeper into the wilderness, the landscape becoming more scenic as a greater variety of tree species began to come into view around us.  Eventually the snowmobile path became reduced down and the trail became less and less groomed, except for footprints of hikers and snowmobilers who ventured here in the last few days.  Then out of nowhere a break in the trees came to what looked like a snow covered river canyon making its way through the forest and then to our right we viewed a wall of ice…we had reached the caves.

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Our first view of the Ice Caves, appearing out of nowhere from the wilderness.

We made our way quickly up to them and were amazed by their wonder.  They appeared as one frozen waterfall, giant pillars of ice forming walls and columns, freezing water down to the ground from a rock outcrop above.  Spaces between the walls of ice allowed us to make our way into the caves and the view was truly something else.  The path between the ice walls was a small slope of ice that was extremely smooth and slippery and I fell down and slid my way into the caves.  The inside of the caves was true artistry as the morning Sun sent rays of light into the caves.  We could have spent all day at these caves, we were the only ones there and we had them all to ourselves.  They were breathtaking and imaginative, we really couldn’t fully comprehend what we were viewing in the middle of this frozen forest.

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The three of us had to leave sooner then we wanted to for it was getting cold, so we snapped a few more pictures, gazed in wonder at out current surroundings, a section of a forest decorated with snow with a wall of ice that held hidden treasures behind it.  It was truly beautiful, and the fact the hike was tough, cold, and long, made the view that much more incredible for it felt like we deserved it, for a treasure like this should have to be worked for.

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The view of the forest on our way back

We hustled on the way back as our bodies became colder and the parts of our faces that were not covered began to freeze.  We had goggles on but, they became frozen with ice, preventing us from seeing out of them.  Our eyelashes and eyebrows began to freeze, which was a very interesting experience and we made sure that we blinked quickly.  It was strange though, walking through the forest and noticing small icicles and snowballs dangling from our eyelashes.  We made it back to the car though as we broke the tree line and made it to the end of the trail, making sure to enjoy the scenery on the way back with the morning Sun piercing gently through the trees of this remote frozen forest in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

– Dustin

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