Tossing Snowballs in May: Long Distance Trails Crew Explores the Ellenville Ice Caves

It’s not all work for the Long Distance Trails Crew. Members of this trail-building team recently took a holiday to the ice caves in the Shawangunks. 

By David Booth, member of the Long Distance Trails Crew
Photos by Franz Rucker and Malcolm Frouman

LDTC Ice Caves HikeThe Long Distance Trails Crew laid aside its rock bars and stowed the high line for a day to take a hike to the ice caves in the Shawangunk Mountains near Ellenville, N.Y. Thanks to organization by our own Bob Fuller and superb leadership by New York-New Jersey Trail Conference Treasurer Rick Levine, we got up close and personal with a bit of wilderness that is nothing short of a New York State treasure.  Photographer par excellence Franz Rucker was there to document it all.

We headed away from Berme Road Park and up Smiley Road on a sunny morning that was soon to become an 80 degree day. We felt warmer yet as we scrambled hand over hand, up Shingle Gully’s rock fall.

Nothing about the day’s warmth prepared us for the air conditioned breeze rising from the depths of our first ice cave. More of a canyon than a cave, we could look down from its edge into the frosty air that formed an eerie cloud where it met the warmer air above.

LDTC Ice Caves HikeDown we scrambled. At the bottom, the temperature dropped into the 30s, and vegetation changed from secondary forest to moss, lichen, and fern. The gloves went on. Ascending, of course, was a single file, hands and feet-on-the-rocks challenge. It wouldn’t have been fun any other way.

Our second ice cave came equipped for winter sports—and we took full advantage of the opportunity to throw around some snowballs. Interestingly, other ice caves we might have visited remained too clogged with ice and snow to allow safe entry.

LDTC Ice Caves Hike<a href=""><img class="aligncenter wp-image-1728 size-full" src="" alt="LDTC Ice Caves Hike" width="640" height="853" /></a>We enjoyed lunch at the edge of a cliff with a dramatic view of the fault into which we would descend next. And descend we did, with Rick coaching us on the 3 Points of Contact rule. Linda got an “A” in the course.

Our hike was a 4 or 5-miler with a “feels like 7” quality to it. At any length, this was a wonderful day. The Long Distance Trails Crew is absolutely delighted to add the ice caves to our busman’s holiday catalog.

Many more crew videos and pictures can be found on our crew page.

LDTC Ice Caves HikeIt’s back to work this weekend, June 19, 20, and 21. The Long Distance Trail Crew is relocating an eroded section of the Appalachian Trail in Bear Mountain State Park to a much more interesting piece of terrain. We have planned many more outings throughout the season as well, so please join us. No experience is necessary. We provide on-the-job training and guarantee a fun and rewarding day for volunteers at any skill level. Contact Crew Chief Chris Reyling at 914-953-4900,, or Crew Leader Bob Fuller at 732-952-2162, for more information.

Until then, our crew wishes you happy trails.

About Trail Walker

Since 1920, the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference has partnered with parks to create, protect, and promote a network of more than 2,100 miles of public trails in the New York-New Jersey metropolitan region. The Trail Conference organizes volunteer service projects that keep these trails open, safe, and enjoyable for the public. We publish maps and books that guide public use of these trails. The Trail Conference is a volunteer-driven nonprofit organization with a membership of 10,000 individuals and 100 clubs with a combined membership of 100,000 active, outdoor-loving people.
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