Michigan Ice Fest 2007
I had no idea Michigan had waterfall ice climbing until a friend at a party mentioned that Michigan had an ice festival in the Upper Peninsula in February. This was exciting news as I had wanted to get some more ice climbing training and the waterfall ice looked interesting. I signed up for the advanced ice climbing class which was part of the ice festival. It only cost $89 which includes all gear. For anyone thinking of going next year, it is a great value for the person who needs ice tools, boots, and crampons. I had all my gear so it wasn’t an issue. I took off Friday afternoon to make it up to the ice fest Saturday morning. I arrived in the Upper Peninsula to sub-zero temperatures. In fact, the temperature never got above zero the whole time I was up there. The ice fest is in a town on the shores of Lake Superior called Munising. As you drive to it, the town really pops up out of the middle of nowhere.
We met at Sydney’s restaurant, the base of the festival, and had a quick debriefing. Then we were shuttled to the place where we were to climb a waterfall ice column called “the dryer hose.” The column was originally started by a person diverting a stream over this sandstone cliff. When it freezes every year, it becomes this waterfall ice column. While climbing the ice column, I noticed towards the top I could hear running water. When I looked at the ice, I saw the stream that created the column was actively running down through the center of the waterfall ice column! The column had 3 climbable sides. My favorite side was WI 5 and the other 2 sides were WI 4. It was a challenging route and the instructor was quite hard on us for any incorrect form shown while climbing. The route was really challenging, about 80 to 90 degrees slope (almost vertical).
When waterfall ice climbing, there is constantly falling ice. When you swing your ice axe, you are always ducking your head to make sure the ice doesn’t hit you in the face. The goal is for the ice to hit your helmet or miss you completely. We had a guy in our group turning his head to the side instead of ducking his head. He ended up with a bloody lip from being hit in the face with a large chunk of ice. This was a constant challenge all day long, as ice was falling with almost every climb. The weather really became a problem during the course as well. Not because of the snow, which was coming down, but because it was -5 to -10 the entire time. If you weren’t climbing, you were frozen. This is not like ice climbing in Colorado where you may be able to climb in 30-40 temperatures. Ice climbing in the UP is very cold.
I was a little disappointed because I was told we were going to learn and practice lead climbing. (Lead climbing is a climbing technique used to ascend a route when no top rope exists. When lead climbing, the lead climber ties to one end of a rope and is belayed by their partner. The climber then ascends the route, occasionally placing protection for safety in the event of a fall. The protection will consist of ice screws or other devices. Distances between pieces of protection can range from five to forty feet or more. On average the distance will probably be between five and fifteen feet. If the leader falls, they can fall twice the distance to the last ice screw. If a leader is ten feet above the last piece of protection, the fall will be at least twenty feet. However, due to the use of dynamic ropes it will be more like 25 feet.) While we went over this as well as other climbing and protection techniques, we did not practice lead climbing.
Overall, I thought the advanced course was disappointing because they covered only basic to intermediate climbing techniques. I also did not get a chance to personally practice all that we were taught. However, I would still recommend the ice fest for anyone who wants a new experience. For the one who doesn’t want to spend a lot of money on gear to try it out or is interested in ice climbing, this is a great opportunity. The Ice Fest also had a demo clinic for the public who didn’t want to take a class. During the clinic, they supplied gear to anyone who wanted to try ice climbing for free. The one problem was they had hundreds of people. Consequently, there were long lines waiting to climb at the demo. If you want a lot of climbing time, the classes are the way to go.
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