top of page

Ivy Falls Ice Cave

A Tale of Two Waterfalls - On The Tells of Local Topography - Requiting Love for Mother Nature- Suggested Ratios for Crucial Rations - A Taste of the Alpine Underground

I awoke to the snapping swallows of my parched mouth. A lethargic and numbed outstretched arm, recently released from the pressing weight of my sleeping body, deployed its fingers to comb the surrounding sands in search of a container of water. Thirst had preempted exhaustion.

On every outdoor excursion you learn something to adjust for the next trip. I had learned that a 1:1.75 ratio of water to whiskey was not enough, of either, for an overnight. I'm sure I've learned this lesson before.

The finished bottle of Fireball from a few hours prior had dried up every inch of my mouth and throat. This was a special kind of purgatory. I lay on the sandy floor of the shallow cave and listened to the trickling meltwater of the frozen curtain of Ivy Falls, St. Paul's better kept secret, a rivaling response to the winter spectacle of Minneapolis' Minnehaha. Encased in water - frozen, untreated, undrinkable. At my feet. With a sticky swallow, I accepted the lesser state of comfort and curled deeper into my sleeping bag for the remainder of the night.

Hundred foot high earthen ramparts run the southern shore of Saint Paul's length of the Mississippi River. We are drawn to heights and we are drawn to water. I'd spent a summer combing the banks of the river between both downtowns, surveying the potential for an unpaved trail between Minneapolis and St. Paul. This bluff line was one of my favorite sections. I considered it The Park. Every outing guaranteed a meeting with a gorgeous herd of whitetail deer and a skittish flock of wild turkey. Used to the presence of people, these creatures would hold a safe distance and allow you an observation when you chose a seat and stopped moving.

On one of these exploratory sessions in Lilydale Park I found myself at the mouth of an inviting draw. An explorer learns to accept the invitation of these particular topographic features. Each one is the result of erosion from a very dedicated stream of water. Sometimes the flow whittles away a gradual descent and you appreciate the simplicity of a babbling brook. Sometimes it meets a dramatic drop, and your prize is a gorgeous waterfall.

The water feature I found myself at the foot of was as impressive as the popular park and the people's own; Minnehaha Falls. Before me, a bubbling pool churned under the crashing weight of a 25 foot curtain, crowned with another five foot upper tier. I was beside myself. Waterfalls are such celebrated structures and I had never heard even a whisper of this one's hidden existence. Later that day, having spent my moment observing the afternoon routine of The Park's illustrious twelve point buck, I ran into a local gentleman. He knew the land. Ivy Falls had been a long kept St. Paul secret.

Some months later, on a frigid night spent indoors I opened my Reddit feed. The top hit was a highly trending photograph on the r/Earthporn sub, from inside the frozen cavern of Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis. It was a beautiful shot, but fairly casual compared to most scapes on the sub. The favorable response was astounding. It brought me back to Ivy Falls. What was the physical state of such a cascade when the temperature drops? Could she be as incredible as Minnehaha? Is she worthy of a similar appreciation? Is she feeling the love? I didn't think so.

The sole opportunity to find out came at the tail end of an angsty, early onset hot flash in March. Lake floes were thawing and the creeks were starting to flush with runoff. Waterfowl were returning from sub-tropical sabbaticals. I recruited a fellow after-hours outdoorist and we set off for an overnight micro adventure. We found a beautiful ice fall holding out in an otherwise thawed out MSP.

She delivered on all of our hopes and expectations. Thankful for the attention, she held fast as we dug deep with our tools and the toes of our crampons. Gaining enough height to set an ice screw, I clipped in the ends of our hammocks and we established our hanging base camp, just behind the drip line of a deteriorating wall of ice, with an eroded sandstone cavern at our backs. As the setting sun played rays in the crystalline features - glowing greens and aquamarine blues - we cracked the caps on our whiskey bottles, fired up the stove and settled in for a spectacular evening outdoors.

It was the perfect blend of mountaineering and caving expedition. Chopping ice to boil while avoiding contact with the crumbling ceiling of a small sandstone space. Respecting the significant drop into a meltwater pool while plucking a footing to a moonlit opening where a buzzed young gent could relieve himself, alongside, and in sync with, the spouting of a late season cataract. Country music from the portable speaker reverberated off the walls of the cavern, distant enough to not bother the residents of the multi-million dollar homes above the draw. We were up to the best kind of no good.

Every ounce of conversation, every refraction of headlamp light, every exciting stumble in the dark, was amplified by the awesome surrounding. And the booze. We continuously called out the beauty of this moment. Like we needed the reassurance? We were living it right. Our own backyard, our own discovery. A new appreciation for our cities.

The coldest hours of the morning found us on the cozier floor of the cave, the hang angle of the hammocks inconducive to comfortable sleep. Here and now was that special kind of purgatory. The suffer was worth it. The sun began to pierce the ice again. The recovery was real. We boiled up a breakfast of hot tea and wondered if the flow rate had increased with the fresh warmth of the sun. It was the start of a new day for us, one amongst the end for the ice falls. With the promise of a seasonal return we packed up and followed the course of the creek back to Pickerel Lake and Lilydale Park for one more little blessing; no ticket at the trailhead. Not making any promises that parking overnight won't earn you a traffic citation but from what I've found, the usual $42 is worth this certain type of luxury.



bottom of page