Iceclimbing in Michigan
posted on February, 2019

I always have been fascinated by climbing areas or
routes with interesting views. What makes a climb
special in my eyes is not only the line itself but
also it's surrounding and the view we can admire
while climbing or from the top. For sure iceclimbing
above the frozen Lake Superior can be considered a
special view, that's why I immediately accepted the
invitation to the Michigan Ice Festival.
Toghether with my boyfriend Marco and climbing
partner Maurizio, we left in the mid of February in
search for overseas ice. We already knew before our
departure, that all icefalls were in condition and
the lake was frozen, thanks to a particularly severe
snowstorm the week before. Fortunately the snowstorm
finished before our arrival, as it had caused delays
and cancellations for several days in all airports
in the Northeast. We landed in Chicago and
immediately drove for 6 hours to Munising. We spent
the first day climbing some easier ice close to the
road and trying to get rid of our Jet Lag. The
second day we had the chance to find out how a real
snowstorm in the US feels like. We hiked for 2 hours
throught the deep, fresh snow, battling the strong
wind, poor visibility and cold temperatures. When we
finally made it to the first icefalls along the
lakeshore we had to accept that it was impossible to
climb in those conditions.
The following days we climbed despite the ongoing
snowstorm but favoured by the slightly diminished
wind. One can for sure say that Michigan is the
paradise of ice pillars. The lakeshore made of soft
sandstone has been hollowed by the waves and the
water coming down above the overhanging rock creates
freestanding pillars of all hights and diameters.
After the first storm, Michigan pleased us with a
wonderful, sunny day that we decided to spend on
Grand Island. The island in front of Munising offers
some amazing climbs, the most impressive one beeing
a portion of shoreline, 500 meters wide, all covered
with ice. It is possible to reach the iceclimbs on
Grand Island in two ways: by skis or by snowmobiles.
We choose the second option and were taken to this
impressive wall where we spent the day alone,
choosing one line after another to climb in the sun.
The icefalls in Michigan are exclusively single
pitch climbs with various lenght and all grades of
difficulty. From easy, short climbs for childred and
beginners up to delicate, WI7 columns. The climbs
are reached by rappeling from above, or by walking
on the frozen lake. As it is very difficult to
understand the thickness of the ice, it is better to
ask information to the local guides at Downwind
Sports in Munising. Rappeling from above can be an
easy way to fix a top rope line and together with
the number of easy climbs and the short access, this
is what makes Michigan a perfect spot for beginners
and people who want to toprope an iceclimb before
leading it.
But not all ice in Michigan is easy to reach, as we
found out. The most beautful lines are located in a
part of the shoreline that is more distant from
Munising and situated in a natural park. As the use
of snowmobiles is forbidden in this area, the only
way to get to the icefalls is by snowshoes or skis.
The distance to get to the icefalls is 15 to 20
kilometers and altough Michigan has no real
mountains, there is a continuos up and down on the
many little hills. Finding the right trail in the
middle of the forest and given the frequent
snowstorms, proofed to be almost impossible.
All icefalls are described in the new guidbook that
was published during the Ice Festival 2019.
What I will for sure remember most of this trip are
the severe temperatures. During two weeks of time we
only saw the sun twice and the temperatures never
reached 0 degrees, beeing below -25 during the
coldest mornings. We saw three different snowstorms
make theyr way down from Canada and locals explained
that all this is totally normal for a Winter in
Michigan. So here is to Michigan, that stil has real
Winter weather!!!

pictures by Nikki Smith