How To Ice Climb a Frozen Waterfall in Michigan

In advance of the Michigan Ice Fest in Munising this January 30th – February 1st,  festival organizer and ice climbing enthusiast Bill Thompson lets us in on some of his tips for ice climbing a frozen waterfall in Pure Michigan. 

In casual conversation when it comes up that I enjoy the sport of ice climbing, the usual response is, “there’s ice to climb in Michigan?” followed closely by “you guys must be crazy”.  The fact of the matter is that Michigan has some of the highest concentration of ice climbs in the country, and no we are not crazy!

Ice Climbing in Michigan has changed a great deal over the years.  Back in the “olden days”, only a handful of climbers danced up routes that seldom saw two ascents in a single year.  Now with the popularity of ice climbing it is common to see climbers “up here” every weekend.

Nestled on the shores of Lake Superior, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore offers some of the country’s most outstanding ice climbing.  The area is predominately sandstone which rises magnificently up to 200 feet above the shores of Lake Superior which has been shaped over the decades by wind, ice and pounding waves. These cliffs, colored in shades of brown, tan, and green by the iron, manganese, limenite and copper in the water, give the area its name sake.   During the cold winter months, these sandstone cliffs seep water that forms spectacular ice curtains and pillars which ice climbers are drawn to.  Add dozens of true water falls to the mix and suitable climbing conditions December through April and Munising becomes an ice climber’s paradise!

For me the attraction of ice climbing is part location and part sounds.  Image being on the shores of one of the largest bodies of fresh water in the world, snow lightly falling and not a sole around for miles.  The sound of your ice axe sinks into to the pillar with a confident “THUNK”.  Moving your feet slowly up, crampons biting into the ice, you ascend to a place where few people are privileged to visit.  The sounds, sites and movement are truly addicting.

Now ice climbing isn’t a sport where you run down to your local outdoor store, purchase the gear, and head on out to climb…….now that WOULD be crazy!  The best way to experience the sport to see if you like it is to head on out to the Michigan Ice Fest.  Traditionally held the first weekend in February in Munising Michigan, this grass roots event has been taking place since the early 1990’s, making it one of the oldest Ice Fests in the country.  During Ice Fest there are opportunities to try out the latest climbing gear and clothing, take instructional courses and clinics on a variety of ice climbing-related subjects, as well as interesting and inspiring slide shows from world-class climbers.  If you are an aspiring ice climber- the Michigan Ice Fest should be on your calendar!

With the right training, just about everybody can ice climb.  Many are driven by the challenge, others to the opportunity to experience the unique landscape and beauty of the Upper Peninsula in winter.  Whatever their reasons are, I can assure you that there are thousands of ice climbs in Michigan, a unique opportunity to learn how to do it, and you really don’t need to be crazy to try!

Have you tried ice climbing in Pure Michigan? Tell us about it! 

Bill Thompson is co-author of An Ice Climber’s Guide to Munising, Michigan. For the last 28 years, Bill has lived and climbed in the beautiful Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He is co-owner of Down Wind Sports in Marquette and is also the organizer of the Michigan Ice Festival, which draws 400+ climbers to the region annually. Bill enjoys traveling to different climbing destinations nationally or internationally, but can be just as happy cragging locally with his son, Blake. 

3 Things to Know about Ann Arbor and the 2013 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic

Are you heading to the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic in Ann Arbor on New Year’s Day? Laura Berarducci from Visit Ann Arbor brings us a few know-before-you-go tips for enjoying the event.

Photo courtesy of Visit Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor is no stranger to thousands of sports fans converging at the corner of Stadium and Main Street to cheer as their team battles within The Big House.  However, New Year’s Day will bring a host of different fans — and a sea of red and white will be welcome in Wolverine territory as the Detroit Red Wings face off against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic®.

Many are anticipating that the game will set a new world record for attendance at a hockey game. The previous record was set in 2010 between University of Michigan and Michigan State University at Michigan Stadium. There are also hopes of breaking the Big House attendance record of 115,109 set this year during the night game against Notre Dame.

For those coming to town, here are three key things you may want to know about Ann Arbor and the event to help make your visit as enjoyable as possible.

#1: More than Just Hockey

Coming to town early or staying an extra night? Perhaps you are accompanying a hockey fan to town but aren’t going to the game. Regardless, Ann Arbor has plenty to do leading up to, during, and after the game. A number of businesses are extending their hours and remaining open on New Year’s Day. Check back often as the list is updated weekly. Go to VisitAnnArbor.org for more information about the vibrant, walkable downtown area and a full listing of dining, shopping, and attractions.

#2: New Year’s Eve Ball Drop

The NHL is working closely with the City of Detroit and The Detroit Red Wings to offer an array of events in Detroit to help commemorate the occasion. However, those not heading east for New Year’s Eve should join the “The Puck Drops Here” street party taking place along Main Street in Downtown Ann Arbor from 8 p.m. – 12:30 a.m. Headlining the event is Michelle Chamuel, runner-up on NBC’s ‘The Voice’ last season. The grand finale will be the midnight countdown as we lower a 10-foot puck lit with 6,000 LED lights designed and fabricated by local artists. More information is available at VisitAnnArbor.org.

#3: Game Day Specifics

109,901 fans in a city with a population around 114,000? Even with a majority of the University of Michigan students heading home for the holidays, knowing how to get in and around the city is going to make the experience much smoother. Complete details including an area map, road closures, and fan guide are available at nhl.com/winterclassic.

  • Photo courtesy of the NHL

    Buses and Shuttles: The NHL is coordinating a school bus shuttle system from designated areas to the stadium from 9am-noon and then again after the game. On game day, Winter Classic Shuttle wristbands can be purchased at participating hotels and from attendants at designated parking lots. Click here for a complete list of routes and more information.

  • Parking: Check the Shuttle Routes to take advantage of the Park & Ride lots that will be operating on New Year’s Day. You may also park in any of the Downtown Ann Arbor parking garages for the set special event price of $5. Pioneer High School will be open for anyone tailgating before the game, but the golf courses will be closed. More parking details are available here.
  • The Big House: In order to ensure you make it into the game you must observe the strict no bag policy. This includes all bags, backpacks, purses, camera and binocular cases, etc. Click here for a complete list of prohibited items.

Laura Berarducci is the Director of Marketing for the Ann Arbor Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and has been an Ann Arbor resident for more than 30 years. She attended both record-setting games mentioned above and plans to keep her own record intact by cheering on the Detroit Red Wings at the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. It will be the only time she wears red in the Big House. For more information about Ann Arbor and the New Year’s Events, check out www.VisitAnnArbor.org