#34 – Go Ice Climbing at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Ice Climbing at Pictured Rocks

Did you know that some of the best ice climbing in the world is right here in the Upper Peninsula?

That’s right, I said ice climbing.  Cool, eh?

Last year when I discovered the Michigan Ice Fest and found out that we have awesome ice climbing along the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, I made it a point to try it out. Ice climbing is something that has been on my “bucket list” for a while.

That was April, though, after last year’s ice fest had already taken place and I wasn’t sure where to start. So I waited until this year, and then reached out to Down Wind Sports.

At the time, I didn’t know Bill Thompson (owner of both Down Wind locations) was the man behind the Michigan Ice Fest. So of course, it turns out that Down Wind Sports not only rents the ice climbing gear, they’ll take you climbing!

My first ice climbing experience went something like this:

I arrived at Down Wind Sports in Marquette, met Bill and his climbing partner John, and picked up my gear, and then it was off to the races. A little over an hour later I was walking along sand point road in Munising, crampons in hand, when Bill and John cut into the woods at a seemingly random point and headed uphill. They clearly knew where they were going. I did not.

Our first stop was an ice formation called “The Dryer Hose.” And from what I understand, it’s called that because at one point, someone used the exhaust hose from a clothes dryer to funnel a little more water that way, helping to build up the ice. In warmer months, there is no water here. No waterfall, and not even a trickle according to Bill. This massive tower of ice is all formed by gradual snow melt.

The Dryer Hose was not climbable that day due to a bout of warm weather, so we made our way over to another are known as “The Curtains.”

And let me just take a moment to stay how stunning the view is from up there. High above Lake Superior with no leaves on the trees, the view is spectacular. I’d hang out up there all day just for the view. Okay, back to climbing…

In stark contrast to the Dyer Hose and most of the other straight up vertical ice formations in Pictured Rocks, the left side of The Curtains ascends at a relatively low angle, which was a great place for me to start. This is also where the kids climbing area is set up during the Michigan Ice Fest.

Bill and John taught me about “hooking” (placing your ice axe where someone else has already chipped out a hold) and showed me how to place my feet in the ice (perpendicular to the ice wall) along with a bunch of other pointers. I made my way up the ice several times without falling, which I didn’t expect, and watched Bill and John traverse some more difficult areas. It was a blast!

As morning became afternoon, we had to pack up and get back to Marquette. But I vowed to return soon when there was more ice to climb. All in all, it was an excellent day of ice climbing in the Upper Peninsula and I got to knock something off of my bucket list.

Though I wasn’t aware of it at the time, Down Wind Sports not only rents ice climbing gear, they also give ice climbing lessons! Bill said that, depending on his schedule, he’s able to accommodate both those who have never climbed as well as experienced climbers. People who haven’t climbed before would get an “intro to ice climbing” sort of experience (much like I had) whereas experienced climbers would have more of a guided climb experience.

I had such a great time, that his definitely wasn’t my last ice climbing excursion. I see ice axes and crampons in my future!

Want to try ice climbing? You can! At the Michigan Ice Festival!

In fact, you can find me (and a few hundred other people) at “Ice Fest” February 2nd through February 5th 2012 in Munising, MI. It’s put on by Down Wind Sports and is one of the top ice climbing events in the country! (Last year they had 511 registered participants.)

Check out the Michigan Ice Fest’s website for all the details.

To view more photos of ice climbing in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, click here to visit my Facebook page and browse to the “Ice Climbing at Pictured Rocks” album. (You’ll need to the “like” the page if you haven’t already)

Bottom line: If you’re a little adventurous, ice climbing in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is easily one of the top things to do in the U.P.!

How to get there? The “how to get there” for this one is a little difficult. Ice forms all along pictured rocks (both uphill from Sand Point Rd. and along Lake Superior… and on Grand Island… and a bunch of other places…) so if you’re an experienced ice climber you probably won’t have to explore long to find climbable ice.

If you’re not experienced, I’d highly recommend planning your trip through Down Wind Sports. Ask for Bill!

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