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“If You Seek a Pleasant Peninsula…”: 28th Annual Michigan Ice Festival

Posted on: February 10th, 2011 by Great Lakes Section

Re-printed on Inclined: AAC Blog

—Ice Festival Wrap-up from Great Lakes Section Chair, Bill Thompson—

The Michigan Ice Fest—in its 28th year—is the largest gathering of American Alpine Club members in the Midwest. Every year, climbers gather for slideshows, camaraderie, clinics, and of course, the fantastic and abundant ice found at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore—situated on the southern shores of Lake Superior.  This year’s festival was record breaking; 511 participants converged on Munising, Michigan. Twelve different states were represented, with participants traveling as far from Texas and California to enjoy banner ice conditions. Almost all of the classic formations were ‘in’ this year and Lake Superior froze-over enough to allow the most adventurous climbers to access the rarely-climbed Grand Island.


New this year, the Fest started with an Introduction to Ice course, where participants spent the day learning he tricks of the trade out at the Curtains [an easy to access, relatively moderate formation near the road]. The evening’s festivities started off with a climbing social and free beer sponsored by Scarpa and Osprey. Due to a family illness, Roger Strong—Black Diamond athlete and frequent Festival presenter—was unable to make it (but he has promised to come to next year’s fest). Undeterred, the evening’s presentation was provided by Michigan native Sam Elias (also a Black Diamond athlete).  Sam opened his presentation with a shout-out to his Michigan roots, which drew a huge roar from the crowd, and then proceeded to show slides and video of his skiing and climbing exploits around the world. One thing for sure, after watching the show, participants came away with a pretty firm idea of how talented Sam is!  The rest of the evening you could find people browsing the booths of:

The American Alpine Club

The Ice Pit

Jeff Lowe’s Metanoia Movie Project

Outward Bound

Peabody Ice Climbing Tower


Saturday, we got the ball rolling early with demo equipment to hand-out for Ice Fest Courses.  As usual, the courses filled up fast—participants were treated to instruction from climbing greats Mark Wilford, Steve House, Sam Elias, Majka Burhardt, and James Loveridge.

The Demo area at the Curtains also saw changes this year, with brand-new ropes donated to the festival by Sterling Ropes!  Hundreds of climbers were challenged throughout the day with a variety of difficult climbs. Also new this year was the Adventure Medical Kits and Jetboil Medical Station. The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore and his crew were at the festival doing a story on winter activities in the Upper Peninsula. Saturday afternoon saw Jim having his own try at ice climbing.  The show should air sometime in April.

After a long day of climbing, everyone converged upon Sydney’s for the Saturday-evening social with free beer provided by Down Wind Sports. A standing room only crowd greeted our first presentation of the evening Majka Burhardt. Majka beautifully narrated her life; growing up and her early days of climbing, followed by her exploits on unexplored sandstone towers in Ethiopia which led to her book Vertical Ethiopia: Climbing Toward Possibility in the Horn of Africa, short-listed for the Banff Book Award.  Midwest climbers, keep an eye out for her second book, Coffee Story: Ethiopia,which will be released in spring 2011.

Our final presentation of the evening was from Steve House.  Steve is no stranger to the Michigan Ice Fest—this was his third visit to our festival.  His presentation started out with a dramatic video of him soloing two classic, hard routes on New Hampshire’s Cathedral Ledge.  With jaws hanging, the audience sat and watched this incredible footage from February 2010.  Next-up was a gripping account of Steve and Vince Anderson’s Piolet’d’Or-winning ascent of Nanga Parbat’s infamous Rupal Face, which is widely considered to be the greatest alpine wall in the world.  And if that wasn’t enough, the show finished off with a detailed account of Steve’s 80 foot fall in the Canadian Rockies during a Mt. Temple attempt. The accident left him with multiple life-threatening, traumatic injuries from which he is still recovering.  Missed the show?  You can read up on Steve’s exploits by checking out his book, Beyond the Mountain.  The book won the Mountain Literature Award at the Banff Mountain Book Festival and the UK’s Boardman-Tasker Prize. It’s a great read and the book maintains a 5-star rating by its readers.


The effects of climbing hard all day Saturday and a late night of socializing must have taken a toll on climbers. The demo area was very laid-back all day Sunday allowing climbers their choice of routes throughout the day.  Many of our Wisconsin friends, with a horse in the race, so-to-speak, bailed early to prepare for their Super Bowl parties.

All in all, it was another great Michigan Ice Festival and we appreciate all of the patronage we get from Midwest climbers.  We are proud to say that over the weekend we were able to sign up 20 new members to the American Alpine Club, raised $200.00 for the Jeff Lowe movie project and exposed hundreds of first time climbers to the sport of ice climbing.

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