As I mentioned in an earlier post , we frequently visit Minnewaska State Park near New Paltz, NY. It features a beautiful network of family-friendly carriage paths, and some more challenging (but still marked) trails that go over, under and through the cliffs and crevices that characterize the area. As we were leaving a recent visit, we met someone who was packing his car with climbing gear. Where had he been? we asked. He said he was at the ice caves that weren’t shown on any map, and that we needed a permit to go there. Huh, we said.

One of the easy paths (Smiley Carriageway)

A little over a week later, Marcy saw that the Appalachian Mountain Club meetup was doing a trip to the ice caves. Experienced hikers only. Bring microspikes, headlamp, talk to the group leader for “vetting”. We made the cut, and so 13 of us set off into the wilder areas of the park.

Start of Shingle Gully

The hike got serious quickly. After a short walk on a carriage path, we turned up a stream bed, and started weaving our way over wet, mossy, slippery boulders. This went on for a while, continually uphill. Eventually, we left the stream and entered a canyon with near-vertical walls. Aside from our group, there was little evidence that people ever came here.

Walls getting closer
Kind of a “Lost World” thing going on

Because the canyon was so deep and vertical, the bottom gets little sunlight and there was snow on the ground on an 80 degree June day. It was much cooler in the canyon, with still colder breezes blowing out of holes that led to deeper crevices.

How do you dress for this?

The first canyon (still Shingle Gully, I think) went on for a while. There was a small “cave”, really a deep crevice that some explored, but we continued on to our lunch spot, which was the Grand Canyon of Minnewaska.

Over-the-top name, but still pretty grand
Looking across
Just before the entrance to the canyon

After lunch, we climbed down into the Grand Canyon. The hike had been challenging up to this point, but it got much harder here. Our entrance was through a four foot wide crevice and there was one spot where we had to hold on to one side and step to straddle it with footing on narrow ledges on either side. Had we fallen, it would have been a short drop, but it was still nerve-wracking.

We spent probably an hour inside the canyon, doing difficult scrambles that weren’t optional. Our guides Al and Sean offered helpful advice (“left foot there”, “grab that rock with your right hand”, “watch your head here”, etc.) and the group made it through. I don’t know what would have happened if someone got this far and then couldn’t continue, or got hurt, but fortunately we never found out.

After the Grand Canyon, we came to the main Ice Cave. Despite the warnings in the meetup, a few people hadn’t brought microspikes and others were just tired. Not everyone went in. The entrance was a very steep slope, icy in places, disconcerting, but made easier by microspikes. It got dark quickly.

Entrance to the Ice Cave

It’s really hard to take good pictures inside an unlit (or headlamp-lit) cave, but here’s one.

Sorry, it’s the best I’ve got.

We went down into the cave as far as we could, then reached a pool of water. Al said that there was another exit that he would have used, but the water made that impossible. We went back up and rejoined the group.

Almost done!, we thought. Nope, one more canyon. This one was Flume Canyon, a straight crack about 10 feet wide and hundreds of yards long. The floor was sometimes easy walking, sometimes bouldery, but it was easier than the Grand Canyon.

Flume Canyon
Flume Canyon, looking up

When we finally reached our cars, everyone was exhausted, exhilarated and really dirty. We thanked and re-thanked Al and Sean, and then went on our separate ways.

I highly recommend this hike if it is offered again, but… DO NOT attempt it without someone who knows his way around the area. Again, permits are required. This is to insure that only prepared hikers visit these areas, and to make sure someone knows where they are. Backcountry should be taken seriously.