If you live in Michigan and you’re looking for some winter adventure and outdoor fun, you don’t have to travel far to find it. I keep a pair of snowshoes in my car so with a little snow I can be exploring a local patch of woods or ravine anywhere near work or home within minutes. Even with all the adventures out my backyard, I like to travel to Northern Lower Michigan or the Upper Peninsula Michigan at least once during the winter where there is typically more snowfall and fewer people. One of my favorite places to head is to the Superior Shore of the Upper Peninsula for some snowshoeing and ice climbing. This year my friend Nate and I decided to go to the Michigan Ice Climbing festival in Munising Michigan.
The Michigan Ice Climbing Festival is a 4 day event put on by Down Wind Sports of Marquette Michigan that brings in professional climbers from around the world to give classes during the day and presentations in the evenings at one of the local establishments. For a minimal fee you can sign up for gear rentals so all you need is some warm clothing. Lines are set on a series of falls just outside of town for the newbies, the more experienced climbers might find more challenging climbs farther out. In the evenings there’s beer and food served with slide presentations put on by some of the worlds best climbers.
If you’re new to Ice climbing or you’ve done it before and lack the gear and just want to get in a few climbs, then the Michigan Ice festival is a good choice. Nate and I wanted to get in some snowshoeing and some climbing. Nate has been rock climbing but never been on the Ice and even though I have Ice Climbed in the past, I’m still a rookie. The Ice festival was perfect for us, with the short weekend we could get in some climbing and some backcountry snowshoeing.
By the time we arrived in Munising and checked into our hotel it was 7 pm so we headed up to the bar/restaurant where the festivities and slide show were being held. Down Wind Sports had plenty of climbing gear and clothing available for purchase at 30% off retail prices. A few of the sponsors had demos and displays set-up as well. We arrived a little late to grab some of the demo clothing and free beer and giveaways so if you plan on attending my recommendation would be to get there as early as you can. “FITS” socks rep was supposedly giving away free socks and other goodies, all stuff we missed out on.
Our plan was to get back to the hotel and in bed early so we could get an early start the next morning. I’ve always said that some of my best adventures happen when plans go out the window and that’s where they went that night. Our neighbors were some party going snowmobilers from Detroit who were away on a “guys” week out. Being the friendly people we are, it was hard to turn down their invite to join them for drinks and euchre in the hotel party lounge. Instead of an early night to bed, it was 3 a.m before we headed back to the room and needless to say we weren’t the first in line to get geared up the next morning.
After a slow start the next morning, we signed out our gear and headed out to the climb site. If you’re renting gear it’s best to get suited up as early as you can to avoid waiting. In our case we weren’t moving too fast after our night with new friends so we endured at least an hour of waiting. After making our way to the falls, we managed to get in some pretty good climbs. By mid afternoon we were ready to get out and do some snowshoeing. We grabbed some food and decided to head out to the lakeshore at Au Sable Point lighthouse to do some snowshoeing along the lakeshore and trails.
Before heading out from the falls we talked to the DNR officer and he told us the road might be snowy and visibility low. He failed to mention that about 7 miles out on Co Rd. 58 the county stops plowing the road so the last 10 miles can be used by snowmobilers. We would find out the hard way. We were cruising along at around 50 miles and hour discussing what course we would hike, when without warning we catapulted our car up onto a 4 foot wall of snow.
Considering we were in the middle of nowhere with no help in sight, we started the long process of digging ourselves out. Nate manned a snowshoe and I grabbed the camera 🙂 . We didn’t have a shovel to use but even if we did have one it would have taken us till spring to get us out. We stopped to take a break from our feeble attempt to free us from the wall of snow we were sitting on when we saw two pick-up trucks wheeling by. We tried to wave them down but they obviously weren’t in the mood to help us out. After another 15 minutes a local guy in an F250 pickup pulled up to help us out. We lucked out, he had all the gear needed to pull us out. It took a few attempts but he finally got us off the snow bank and back onto the plowed road. Nate handed him some cash and we were back on the road.
We lost about an hour of daylight by burying ourselves in the snowbanks but we didn’t give up on getting out for some epic snowshoeing. We decided to head back toward town and head out to miner’s falls. We had headlamps so if we ran out of daylight while out on the trail it wasn’t a big deal. In fact we were hoping to get in some night snowshoeing.
Nate and I headed out to the falls with about an hour and a half of daylight left. The distance to the falls was a little over 5 miles which took us two hours of steady shoeing. It was a fantastic night that was full of stars and a hazy 3/4 moon. When we arrived at the falls we took a short break to enjoy the evening stillness and quiet before starting our long haul back to the car. The temperature that night was hovering around 10 degrees F but with no wind it was a perfect night to be out in the woods. We got back to the car and headed back to the bar to return our gear. We were too tired to listen to the evening’s presentation so we grabbed some food and headed back to the hotel. It was an awesome day full of adventure!
Even though our neighbors were up and ready to party we passed and headed to bed early. After a good night sleep we were up early and ready for breakfast, a short snowshoe and then hit the road for the ride home. It was less than a 72 hour adventure but it was awesome one to remember. I Can’t wait to get back up to the U.P. Michigan for my next adventure!! What is YOUR next winter adventure!!!