Thursday, March 5, 2015


I could barely look out to the horizon.  My eyes were watering and my hands quickly turning numb.  One brief shallow look into Sam’s eyes and we both wanted to bail.  He was 51% ready to pull the plug. I was a bit higher on the same scale.  The fetch was as far as one could see, the frozen lake was white, not deep blue like the other 6 months of the year. 

Today was the day. The next two were scheduled to be colder and windier; we only had three.  Still, I wanted to bail. Sam asked If I wanted to go first, I asked him the same. He decided to go first into a place where he had never been before, a rope length down to the shove ice below.

It took us three hours to get there that morning, the thermometer in the car reading well below zero when we started, but the ski in kept us warm.  There was no wind in the trees, the thick Michigan forest keeping it at bay. It was a different scene at the edge of the cliff.  Crumbly sandstone with drips of yellow ice from the left to the right, but we came for only one.

Sam tied in, I lowered him down to see if the route would even go.  It would, and the wind was shallow at the bottom.  Sam’s eyes opened, and we both took a deeper look. He took a chance and decided to take advantage of the moment.  He racked up, we rappelled to the lake ice and pulled the ropes.

Puff pants, double-puff upper, heavy belay gloves, double boots, and I still wanted to keep moving. Sam lead up through wet ice the first 10 meters; weird. Above was hard, brittle, old yellow stained ice that the lakeshore is known for.  Easier vertical climbing in the middle lead to harder above. 

The crux was pulling up vertical ice on an attached curtain fracturing away with every swing.  The screws went in with an extra force of the hand, a few picks got held up in the old dense ice but the curtain was ascended, screws almost every body length for the 10 meter crux before easier ground above.

One last stubby while still in view before the run-out sandstone ramp above.  Sam was soon back to the safety and security of the forest on the edge, and back in the howling winter wind.

I followed, pulled the final few screws by headlamp with the puffy gear in the pack.  A warm fire in the woods to thaw the hands, refresh the mind, and began the journey back home to civilization and cell service.

All Photos-Mike Wilkinson - #michiganicefilm-

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