Heavy ice can also protect fish eggs from predators, and it has delighted photographers, ice anglers and daredevil snowmobilers.
At Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin, the rock-solid cover has allowed around 35,000 visitors to trudge miles over Lake Superior to explore caves featuring dazzling ice formations. It’s the first time in five years the lake surface has been firm enough to allow passage.
With no letup in the cold, the ice hasn’t experienced the usual thaw-and-freeze cycle, so nature’s artistry is even more delicate and beautiful, with needle-like hoarfrost crystals sprinkled across sheets that dangle from cave ceilings like giant chandeliers.
“Seeing them like this is almost a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Superintendent Bob Krumenaker said.
There’s even an (apparently) tongue-in-cheek Facebook page inviting people to join a convoy of snowmobiles, cars and other vehicles on a nearly 80-mile trek across Lake Michigan. Never mind that its waters remain partly open and experts warn the ice can be dangerously unstable.
“If it freezes, and you miss this chance, when will it happen again?” the page says. “Feel free to invite more folks!”
For Coast Guard icebreaker teams, it’s all business. They’ve logged four times more hours this season than the average for the same period in recent years, said Kyle Niemi, spokesman for the agency’s Cleveland district headquarters.
The 240-foot Mackinaw began its duties Dec. 16 — several weeks earlier than usual — and worked nonstop until Feb. 8, when traffic slowed enough to allow a break.
“As you can imagine, the crew’s tired,” Cmdr. Michael Davanzo said this week during a tour of the ship in its home port of Cheboygan.
A 35-year Coast Guard veteran who has spent 12 years on the lakes, Davanzo said this winter is the toughest he’s experienced because the ice came so soon and is so thick and widespread, and the weather has been constantly bitter.