Michigan Ice Climbing

The weekend road trip is an art that my climbing friends and I have very close to perfected.  Friday evening after work we meet at an agreed upon location, trunks full of whatever gear we need for the trip.  We consolidate into one or two vehicles as quickly as possible, and then we’re off, ready to drive through the night to whichever location (within a seven hour radius) we’re headed for this time.  For this particular trip, we were northbound for Marquette, Michigan, a city on the southern shore of Lake Superior.

Seven hour car rides don’t seem so long when you’re spending them with good friends, and we enjoyed each others’ company until we finally reached our hotel around two a.m.  We fell asleep immediately, eager to rest up for a Saturday of ice climbing in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

The next morning we made a stop at Downwind Sports in Marquette to rent mountaineering boots, crampons, and ice axes.  Then we piled back into our cars and headed east to Munising and Pictured Rocks.  We parked at Sand Point and started hiking towards the climb we were hoping to set a rope on, Dryer Hose.  We trudged uphill through deep snow, passing by a route called The Amphitheater, which was not yet suitable for climbing.

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Just past that was Dryer Hose, which was shockingly available so we quickly started to set up a top rope.  A couple of our group and I went on even further to claim a spot at The Curtains.  This is a shorter climb, but the ice caves in this area are interesting and fun to explore.

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We climbed for a bit at the curtains, and then met back up with the rest of group to try out Dryer Hose.  This is a 60 foot ice fall, which was about 30 feet taller than anything I had ever ice climbed before.  I made it to the top without too much difficulty, but after sending this climb once, my muscles became significantly less cooperative.  I still managed to make it up a second route on the the other side of the fall, but my ascent was not nearly as clean.

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Once the sun started to set, we knew it was time to pack up our gear and vacate the woods before nightfall.  We hiked out and met up for dinner, then retreated to our hotel for a soak in the hot tub, and an early bedtime.  We had to be on the trail early the next day if we were going to return our rental gear to Downwind Sports before they closed.

On Sunday morning we returned to Sand Point and followed the Lakeshore Trail up along the cliffs in search of a climb called Sweet Mother Moses.  This climb is only accessible from the top, which meant we would have to rappel in and climb back out. The hike to the ice was longer this time.  It took us about an hour to reach the climb, but the weather was sunny and the hike was beautiful.

Sweet Mother Moses was an impressive ice formation.  The rappel down was exhilarating, and the view from the bottom couldn’t be beat.

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We didn’t have much time here since we had to pack up, make the hour hike back to Sand Point, and then the hour drive to Marquette before 3 p.m.  We set up a couple of ropes and got as many people as we could on the ice before it was time to get going.  A couple of us tried to hike out along the bottom of the cliffs in hopes of seeing more ice caves, but the snow was thigh deep and we quickly decided there just wouldn’t be time to battle our way through it.  We scurried up a shorter hill and met back up with the main path.

For some reason, the hike felt much longer heading back to the cars than it had that morning, but I still enjoyed the day as the sunlight filtered through trees, illuminating the perfect, untouched snow.

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We made it to Marquette with a bit of time to spare, and once we had returned our gear, we set off for home.  We made one last stop back at Pictured Rocks to check out Munising falls.  I had seen this waterfall in the summer, but I wanted to see how it looked frozen.  It ended up being gargantuan, much bigger than I expected.  Climbing isn’t allowed on this waterfall, and I enjoyed seeing ice that wasn’t all marred up from crampons and axes.

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After the quick stop at Munising falls, we piled into the car and headed for home, using the seven hour drive to talk about the trip, laugh, and intermittently get some sleep.

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