Most epic adventures aren’t pinpointed and pre-circled for you on the crumpled pages of an old Gazetteer. If it were that easy – epic probably would be tossed around more frequently. My trick for discovering local hidden treasures is by talking to locals. On this particular outing, we were half-way through a three-day kayaking trip near Baxter Park. A few gentlemen in the town bait shop told us of hidden ice caves on the lake we’d be staying. Chit-chat is helpful! It’s useful to call up sporting stores, Bed & Breakfasts, and wilderness guides to simply seek suggestions for places that are off ‘the beaten path’.
We learn of an area situated deep within the woods where glaciers left a tortured path. Giant slabs of glacial ice once traveled ‘ore this land, carving out blatantly obvious paths. Expansive crevasses are torn into the earth while massive boulders are left unearthed and awkwardly exposed. One purely wild remnant is a millennium’s old ice cave. A rather narrow opening in the surface of the ground leads to an explicable gift of mother nature. Equipped only with a headlamp and enough ballsy courage to drop down into a black hole, there was only one decision we had and that was to enter.
The story goes that early native Americans used this ice cave to store moose, bear and deer meat throughout the heat of summer. Ice and snow remain inside until late September, just in time for the next round of winter temperatures to blow in and refreeze everything. We’re told that locals only recently added steel foot-holds for the climb down in (after several injuries had occurred). The cold air instantaneously shocks the body while lowering ourselves down from the 83 degree surface air. It’s July! The walls of the cave are damp and water droplets fall from the ungodly sized overhead boulders.
The cave stretches 50 yards into the mountainside before forming a 90-degree turn. I turn my headlamp to its brightest setting. With wide eyes and careful steps over patches of ice, we explore onward. Imagining the history of this place and the people who’ve stood here is incredible. It makes you wonder how they happened across this patch of earth so many years ago. Headroom is soon limited. Clad in shorts and light-weight shirts, we both agree to resurface. We dressed for a warm-weather hiking trip not for a trip back in time.