It’s 2005 at 8pm on a Friday night in February. I was 23 years old and waiting for Joe Mucci
to pick me up while hanging at my then girlfriend’s house ready to go. Class was out hours ago at UW-Oshkosh, with
no desire to even think about the homework to be done for the following
week. Joe left a few hours before
from Delavan WI working as an engineer at a pump factory. I was in my third year studding Geology and
this is how we would spend three weekends a month every winter season. We would drive to Munising Michigan to climb
the ice that forms along the 20+ miles of cliff line in Pictured Rocks National
Driving north for the next four and a half hours we always
stopped at the same place for dinner, Mickey Lu’s in Marinette. We would both
order a couple doubles then hit the road stuffed for the final push of the
drive north into the snow belt of Gitchigumi. We would shoot through the town
of Munising late, passing a few bar jumping snowmobilers filling up for the
last tank of gas of their night and continue east through a tiny town called
Melstrand to get to the trailhead. Arriving after midnight we would get out the
car into the crisp cold air and into the silence, something I always looked
forward to each Friday night of the week.
We would change into our baselayers and cutting edge
softshell clothing of the day, shoulder our 50 pound packs and click into our skis. Joe learned to XC ski this way, under the
moonlight with a heavy pack breaking trail in the deep snow. After a few miles of gently rolling trail,
which of course is a road in the summer we would reach the real trailhead of
Pictured Rocks. The plow stops a few
miles out from the actual trail head, which was always a blessing on the way
in, and a curse on the way out. From
that point it was just 4 more miles to Chapel Beach where we would make camp
for the weekend. Arriving around 3am
tired from the long day, we would set up our tent, put on a few dry layers and
crawl into our winter bags for some quality rest.
I have always believed Saturday mornings were a day to sleep
in, which we sure did. Getting up no
earlier than 9am we would start melting snow for water and cooking
breakfast. We always had precooked
sausage patties or bacon, to make a “McMucci” sandwich of meat and melted pepper
jack cheese on an everything bagel…ummmm!
Chucking the pots back into the snow, stashing the stove and zipping up
the tent, we would be off to go climbing for the day soon after. We would set off east along the lakeshore
trail and would make the only tracks in the snow since the previous weekend,
which were ours as well if not yet buried by the ever accumulating snow.
About a mile down the trail we would rappel onto the frozen
lake below and into a whole new world.
Leaving the perceived safety of the land, trees, and trails above, the
lake ice is a magical place that always gave me goosebumps the first time each
season walking on it. The lake ice would
extend out into the lake by about a ½ mile in some places, and some places we
would be walking right next to open water on our left, and a 100 foot sandstone
cliff on our right, not a place to go for a swim. After walking the lake ice
for another 15 minutes we would arrive at our first destination for the day,
Spray falls is a high volume creek making a 40 foot vertical
drop directly into Lake Superior.
Massive curtains of ice would form with rushing water behind it,
sometimes over it and through the cracks in the lake ice into the frigid lake below. We would find the driest piece of ice, as
getting wet from the rushing water above was not an option that far out, and
set to climb it. Strapping on our
crampons, tying in to the rope, picking up our ice tools and gazing up; just
like every other climb I have done, but still magical every time for the
addicted ice climber. A few swings, a
few kicks and a few ice screws later, we were both atop the first climb of the weekend
looking out at the miles of open water below ready for another.
We would climb till about dark then head back to camp. One would make a fire, the other dinner. This night it was stir fry in a bag from your
local grocer’s freezer isle with precooked chicken in a bag. One pot was for dinner, one pot was for making
water, and one spork was to share between the both of us. Scoop-Scoop pass was the mantra that we
abided by till the dinner was gone and our bellies were as full as they were
going to be. Watching the fire wind down
and the small flask of some cheep swill disappear; we would catch up with one
another on the week and shoot the shit till we were too tired to keep an eye
Sunday was always an early rise to get a few more climbs in
before the ski home. We would climb till
our proposed cut off time of 2pm, then head back to camp to pack up and start
the long ski out. Those seven miles were
always long and uphill. One more shot of
Hammer gel to get myself back to the car was all I ever had left for calories,
arriving after dark, tired. We would
throw our gear into the back, shove the skis on top and drive into town for a
red bull and a snack for the next few hours driving south. Just like the drive north, we had our tradition
for the drive home. We would stop at the all you can eat Chinese Buffet in
Oconto filling our plates until we could no longer walk trying to replace the
thousands of calories we burned over the last 40 hours on the go of 16 or so
miles traveled and 10 pitches of ice climbed.
Always amazing that a work week is 40 hours long, and the weekend 48!
Hitting home was always first for me, arriving a bit before
midnight ready to sleep for my 9am Monday morning lecture at Harrington Hall. Joe would have another few hours to go
arriving by 3am, just enough time for a pot of coffee, a shower and a quick nap
before he went to work at 7am. Monday I
would dry out the tent, hang up my climbing gear and wash out the pots for the
first time and not wanting to even think about ice climbing. Tuesday would roll along, and I would almost
be out of recovery mode. By Wednesday
night, the phone would ring. It would be
Joe, “What are you doing this weekend?” My response after forgetting about the amount
of work the previous weekend and only the fun, “Ice climbing with you, buddy”
I first heard about a Birthday Challenge a few years ago and always wanted to do one, but never have until this year. So, I decided to attempt to run 30 miles of trail and lead Upper D at Devils Lake for my 30th Bday as my challenge a few weekends ago.
On Saturday the 20th of October I drove up to the lake with my running shoes and a rack. Paul met me in the parking lot at 9am and we ran together for the the front half. I averaged 13min miles for the first 15 miles, which looking back I think was a bit too fast. The route started in Rozno's meadows and the 1/2 way point was Parfrey's Glen, with a return the way I started. See the yellow line on the map from the link below.
Liz meet me at Parfrey's glen to run the back half together. We started back out from the Glen running up hill for the next 3 miles and that's when it all went south. With my longest run to date being 15 miles, the hill kinda crushed me on the return to run double that. We made it back to hwy 113 and I needed to make a decision, turn right to continue on the trail away form the car, or left for a few more miles back to the car and just finish. My legs chose left, and we headed back. I ended the run* with out being able to actually run anymore and finishing at about 21.5 miles. My phone died on me, so I didn't get my actual total at the finish.
After that I took a rest and then hiked up the CCC trail to meet some friends up in the east bluff. I found Louise up there and she gave me a belay on Upper D to finish off my day. I actually got the "Elvis leg" going on the rest just before the crux which was kinda funny. Two weeks ago I was able to recover fully on an 11B route in the red to finish the climb, and this day I wasn't getting anything back on a jug with decent feet! So, fired off the crux, one more cam set and then set the belay for Louise to clean the route.
Overall it was a good day and I was quite happy with what I was able to do. Also looking back, WTF was I thinking in trying to run 30 miles....that is really freking far! Maybe next year...