Statecation: The Ice Caves 

If you’re looking for a thrill this summer, you can find adventure in plenty of places close to home. In fact, there’s a cool spot to visit about a half-hour north of Millinocket– if you would consider heading below ground. This week we visited the ice caves, close to Baxter State Park. A relatively new trail there managed by The Nature Conservancy lets you experience the highs and lows of the area.On our way to the ice caves, we meet up with Dirk Dewley. A Master Maine Guide, he’s been in and out of these woods since childhood.”This trail was developed two years ago with a grant through the Department of Conservation, the public trails program, and the Nature Conservancy,” he says.Dewley is now the Northern Maine Land Steward for The Nature Conservancy. The group manages 46-thousand acres here for ecological study, called the Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area.”Nature Conservancy lands are open for the public to come in here and hike, fish, hunt, enjoy themselves, camp,” he says.After just a few minutes on this trail, we’re already enjoying huge views of Mount Katahdin. On the mile to the caves, we see big glacial boulders all around– a hint of what’s to come.”Really starting to feel the cool air.”As we approach the entrance, Dewley warns us, it’s still thick with ice this time of year.”Let’s go down and check things out and see what we got.”So we enter with caution.”It’s good to have maybe a little piece of rope with you and a first aid kit, and you’ll want a flashlight,” he tells us.”See the footholds in the ice, put your toe in each one of those.”We’re soon rewarded, with an experience completely unlike what’s above ground. “It’s kind of a unique experience to get down in here and see a place like this in the state of Maine,” Dewley says.We clip on lights and climb deeper. If you’re brave enough, you can explore far into these glittering nooks and crannies.”When the glacier came, it pushed all the boulders this way up into this ridge before Debsconeag Lake and formed all these gaps in the hillside with the rocks,” he says.Dewley tells us historians speculate, at one time, people used the year-round cold down here to store meat and fish on hunts. He says the ice usually stays well into the summertime, but sometimes, lingers all year.”It’s an excellent place to come on a 90 degree August day when you want to cool off. It’s a neat little spot, something different than you’re going to find on your average hike,” he says.As we climb back up and out, we’re hit with a rush, like stepping into a sauna. And, something else – a few bugs.”Well there’s one thing that you won’t find down there, and that’s mosquitoes, even in the summertime.”We squeeze through a few more tight spots before heading to a scenic overlook that makes a nice lunch spot.Dewley points out a few first-come, first-serve campsites dotting First Debsconeag Lake, the shores of which will be our final stop today.”It’s a good fishing lake, very clean, cold and deep. There’s pretty good brook trout, lake trout and salmon fishing in it. A lot of people come in here and stay at the camp sites and fish, and come up to the ice caves as a little side trip for them,” he says.Heading home, we see a moose and hear grouse on the trail…but they were too shy to appear on camera. Dewley says anyway, it’s better to come take a look for yourself.”It’s just great to see places like this that haven’t changed that much. It’s wild back in here, and it’s going to stay that way.”The hike is about a three mile round trip. Directions: From Millinocket, take the State Road toward Baxter Park. Cross onto the Golden Road at Ambajejus Lake, being careful of log trucks. Follow the Golden Road about nine miles to the Abol Bridge crossing of the West Branch of the Penobscot River. Cross the bridge and take a left into a wide gravel lot. Follow the road out the other side about four miles until you see the signs for the ice caves parking area. Dewley recommends you bring along a Gazetteer.Links:Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness AreaResources in Millinocket