Layer up because it is about to get cold in here! All around the world, ice is glimmering underground, some of it year round. I recently visited the Narusawa Ice Cave in Japan, but before I get to that, here are a few honorable mentions of other feats of ice.
Iceland has a few ice adventures available for tourists and residents. They make it clear that visitors understand the difference between glacier caves and ice caves because the country has both. Ice caves are caverns formed in rocks that maintain a cool enough temperature to contain frozen water either through winter or year round. Glacier caves are caves formed by ice (ground breaking stuff here, I know). This creates a beautiful crystal-like sight that can be white, blue, or even black, a real Winter Wonderland. Pictures have convinced me to add Iceland’s glacier caves to my travel bucket list (but let’s be honest, I don’t need much convincing).
The United States doesn’t have glacier caves, but there are a couple ice caves to visit in Washington and Wisconsin. The Washington ice cave is created when avalanches drop snow and ice down the north face of the Big Four Mountains. The run off of snow and water creates caverns. These are not caverns that you can enter, though. It can been seen between August and October (before the trails are closed) and cave ins are common. There are very serious instructions given: no walking on top of or in the caverns. It’s a see, don’t touch ice cave.
The ice cave on Lake Superior plays hard to get as well. Over the winter of 2013 to 2014 tens of thousands of visitors flocked across the frozen lake to see the Apostle Island Ice Caves. The ice looks beautiful besides the colorful cave walls.
Five years ago it was a sight to see. Unfortunately, since then, the lake conditions have not been safe for travel. The hike is 1.1 miles across the lake and park rangers regularly check the condition of the ice. The ice needs to be 10 to 12 inches thick and spread from land to land, meaning there isn’t a breakage that had since frozen over. Strong wind often breaks the ice, making it too weak for people to cross safely. Even when the lake is safe cross, the hike is difficult. Park rangers recommend visitors to wear good winter boots, bring ice picks (and know how to use them), a first aid kit, and your cell phone so you can call 911 if there is an emergency. You are also not supposed to stand under the ice for too long because the ice will break off and fall (preferably not on top of you). So who’s ready to go to the Apostle Island Ice Caves??
If you are touring the United States, but don’t want to go on a possibly dangerous hike to see some ice, you can always visit the Minus5 Ice Experience in Las Vegas. Not only can you sit on the ice, you can take comfort in knowing that no ice will break off and fall on your head while sipping a chilled cocktail (because it is a bar. Shocker, right?!) Unfortunately, the bar located in the Mandalay Bay shops has a strict no picture policy. I got to see on the ice version of the throne of swords (always happy to make a Game of Thrones reference) , so there were no complaints on my end. The price of the bar was worth the experience! Coats, gloves, and hats are provided because it’s cold!
Luckily, the Narusawa Ice Cave didn’t come with many safety warnings. We were required to wear helmets because the ceiling is low (at one point you had to walk crouched down), but otherwise you could treat the cave like stairs while it’s raining.
The cave is around the base of Mt. Fuji on the edge of the infamous “suicide forest”. It was formed by a volcanic eruption in 864. The molten lava melted caverns in the rock where the temperatures stay around 0 degrees celsius (32 degrees fahrenheit) all year round.
They were used as a natural refrigerator before there were refrigerators in the world. To demonstrate this, the ice is stacked in blocks along the trail.
It’s an easy visit by tour bus, and the location on the edge of the forest is beautiful. You’ll have time to take a hike too, because the cave is small. The whole visit took twenty minutes, tops.