By Bryon Thelen
As winter comes to an end and spring slowly melts the winter freeze. I was fortunate enough to get to experience one of Michigan's greatest wonders “Ice Climbing”.
Michigan's Upper Peninsula is one of the greatest ice climbing meccas in the mid west. During my recent trip to Munising Michigan, I was able to still find some good ice to climb towards the end of winter. This was my first attempt at ice climbing and I can say I will definitely be back next winter. I had never rappelled, ice climbed or winter camped before.
As we headed out at 4:00 am on March 12, 2010 we were excited and anxious to get to Munising, MI. As we got closer we were worried that the ice conditions may have deteriorated due to the extraordinarily warm March weather we have had this year. As we reached our destination at Sand Point we stopped and got our back country camping permits and load our packs with our gear. After a 2 mile trek we reached camp and found a good spot to set up. As we climbed in to our sleeping bags that night our anticipation grew. We thought of the ice formations that we had seen on the way in. Morning couldn't come soon enough.
Finally, Saturday morning was here. We arranged all the gear we would need and set out to find some good ice to climb. We hiked along the top of the Sand Stone cliffs that parallel along Sand Point road. Finally we reached a spot that looked good to climb, but we needed to view it from the base of the cliff. We set up a repel and lowered our self off the 70' cliff to the base. Unfortunately this was a spot known as the amphitheater which had already melted to a point were we didn't feel it was safe to climb (The Amphitheater is formed buy a frozen waterfall). So we continued down the cliffs in search of good ice to climb.
Finally we found a good section of ice to the right of what is known as “The Curtains”. This wasn't as tall as some frozen waterfalls we had found but it was tall enough for our level of ice climbing experience. This was a section about 20-25' tall and we had it all to our selves. After setting up we had a great day of climbing. The ice was a bit soft and we found our Ice Axes would sink in easily and give us a secure anchor. We also discovered that our crampons (that are designed for Mountaineering) worked well for us on vertical ice too. I can hardly wait to head back next year to climb some of the frozen water falls we had seen.
If you think Ice climbing is something you would like to try, then you should head to Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Every February Munising host an event called “Ice Fest”. Here you can rent gear needed to climb and even get some training and tips on proper technique. If ice climbing isn't for you there is plenty of nature’s beauty to see. Getting out may just help ward off the “Cabin Fever” of winter.
If you are not familiar with the 7 summit, they are the tallest points of all seven continents. I started preparing and developing the skills needed to archive this goal last year, and so far, I have completed several summits in the Oregon cascades...but this story was intended to discuss Mountaineering, but to inform others about the "Ice Wonders" we are blessed with here in Michigan.
Note from the editor: Thank you so much for your awesome photos and story Bryon...I especially favor the photo titled "Behind the Curtains"....what a great photo!!!!