These Photos Capture The Little-Known Beauty Of Lake Michigan In Winter

In the height of winter, most people would be hesitant to spend the day at the beach. But nature lovers willing to brave the bitter cold and blustery winds might be rewarded with one-of-a-kind sights.

That’s what photographer Ken Scott has found in his constant explorations of Lake Michigan’s shoreline. Though he has been shooting the scenery of Leelanau County in northern Michigan for three decades, he captured some of his most spectacular images during the height of last winter’s polar vortex, published in 2014 in the book Ice Caves of Leelanau.

landscapeCourtesy Ken Scott Photography.

The Great Lakes region was hit with some of the lowest temperatures in history last winter, and Lake Michigan came closer to freezing over entirely than any year on record. But thousands of people flocked to the beach to check out something few had seen: huge hollowed out caves in the ice, worn by the waves.

Scott was one of them. Photographing the caves and other unique forms, he found drama and beauty in the close-up details of icicles or wide panoramas of the sun setting over an icy plain.

“The shoreline in the wintertime is the most dramatic,” Scott told The Huffington Post. “It’s always changing, you never know, it’s always going to be different.”

star iceCourtesy Ken Scott Photography.

Scott’s documentation of the ice caves last year on Facebook drew likes, attention and, eventually, the book deal. In Ice Caves of Leelanau, he shows numerous views of the caves, blue ice, volcano ice, pancake ice, the large sheet of anchor ice along the shore, and the rounded and smoothed chunks of ice known as ice balls. Meteorologist Ernie Ostuno captioned Scott’s photographs for the book, and nature writer Jerry Dennis introduced them:

The caves were the surprising thing. Many of us had seen similar structures during other winters, but never many of them, and never this large. These were big enough to stand in -- for a dozen people to stand in -- and as elaborate as caves in limestone. They were domes and keyholes and grottos. Wave spray and intermittent thawing and freezing had embellished them with columns and pillars. Their surfaces were so smooth they gleamed in sunlight, and from their ceilings dripped hundreds of daggers of clear ice, like crystal stalactites.

ice caveCourtesy Ken Scott Photography.

George Leshkevich, a researcher with the North American Ocean Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, noted that last winter was particularly severe for the Great Lakes, resulting in unique conditions where ice reached peak thickness two separate times in the season.

Different kinds of ice formations occur because of a confluence of reasons, Leshkevich explained, including meteorological conditions, the physical location and wave action, so they’re hard to predict and will vary widely along the shore.

Though the ice caves were not a phenomenon unique to last year, it’s only rarely that anchor ice builds up enough for explorers to venture out to see the caves for themselves (an activity that carries risk, as it's hard to judge the thickness of ice and whether it can hold weight). But Scott also shot ice caves back in 2003, and with 30 years of daily shooting in the same wilderness in northern Michigan, it might seem like he’d eventually find the scenery repetitive. He doesn't.

“My creative eye is always on. It doesn’t get bored,” Scott said. “A lot of people get stuck on seeing things only one way, like the wide view or closeup view … but there’s everything in between. Boredom would come when you’re getting stuck in seeing things only one way. You just have to shift it a little bit and it can open up a whole other world.”

Below, see more photographs from Ice Caves of Leelanau. Books and prints are available on Ken Scott’s website, and his recent work can be found on Facebook, Flickr and YouTube.

blue iceCourtesy Ken Scott Photography.

lake michigan iceCourtesy Ken Scott Photography.

inside ice caveCourtesy Ken Scott Photography.

ice plainCourtesy Ken Scott Photography.

stalactitesCourtesy Ken Scott Photography.

ice sprayCourtesy Ken Scott Photography.

iciclesCourtesy Ken Scott Photography.

ice ballsCourtesy Ken Scott Photography.

ice cave with skyCourtesy Ken Scott Photography.

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