Ignoring the Signs

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Michigan Ice Festival, 2016

Signs often give direction, suggestions, information needed to get from point a to point b. In my case, the signs I encountered on my way to the sheet of ice I was about to attempt to ascend at the Michigan Ice Festival in Munising said run the other way.

It started with my travel buddy being sick. She alerted me the day before and while it would have been easy enough to cancel the trip, we decided to go anyway. It was sunny skies and temperate weather in Iron River. A few hours later, as I drove over the Michigan border, visibility was deteriorating quickly. Within an hour, plows had abandoned all hope of keeping roads clear leaving us nothing but marginal trail tracks, rumble strips and snow covered signs guiding us through the UP. By the time we hit Marquette, even my well-trained winter driving skills were maxed out.

We fueled up at a UP favorite—Donckers. Walking down Main Street headed to get our fill of chocolate, I couldn’t help but question my sanity. The road was shutdown and packed with several feet of snow in anticipation of an evening sled dog race scheduled to take place in sub-zero temperatures. We didn’t hesitate to tromp over the barricades and snow piles for our caramels.

wroadclosedBut, perhaps the biggest sign was the one I almost hit (literally) on our final leg of the journey. MI-28, the main interstate between Marquette and Munising, was closed. Somehow, I missed the sign notifying me that this main artery was no longer passable. The barricades, while barely visible, were hard to miss. Did I mention they were placed nowhere near a detour as well?

Did we turn around? Absolutely. Did we head home? Absolutely not. Instead, we navigated our way through the back roads of the UP. At first, we thought the steady stream of hazard lights approaching us was a funeral procession. We later learned, this was common during white out conditions in Big Snow country.

The signs didn’t stop here. Once in Munising, temperatures plummeted. Even the hardcore climbers were talking about how unforgiving a cold, winter day in Munising can be for folks heading out. Rather than wimp out, I just put on another pair of pants. There was of course the embarrassing gear check-out moment where I had to point out that my supersized ass would not in fact fit in the harness designed for the normal climbers body type. After several attempts and a lot of wriggling around, I was told I was equipped with straps that’d withstand me falling from a cliff.

And then there was the trek -in. Did I mention there would be an uphill climb in a snowy, ice-covered trail full of steep ledges? Or, that I wasn’t aware of said trail and had an extremely top heavy backpack on me that was packed with shoes (yes plural), coffee, snacks, extra clothes, 3 cameras and other miscellaneous outdoor gear.

This is what was below us when we climbed. Lots and lots of hill.
This is what was below us when we climbed. Lots and lots of hill.

The first time I fell over on an uphill incline, I questioned whether I’d get up. Like a turtle straddled on its back, I somehow waddled my way up the hill. There was of-course the embarrassing and somewhat frustrating attempt to secure my crampons while sporting 4 layers of clothing. But somehow, despite all of these signs, I soon found myself at the base of a 40-foot cliff with only one way to go—up.

We were handed some pick axes and given some basic instruction on how to ice climb. It seemed as though the ice hated me. If I swung hard, the ice shattered. If I swung delicately like our instructor, the pick ax ricocheted back at me, threatening to take my eyes out. This didn’t seem promising. But again, I ignored the signs.

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One of our instructors giving us some tips on how to climb. That is what it looks like to get to the top. This was not me.

My girlfriend and I were in an intro teaser course. Our instructors were awesome. One was from Salt Lake and a rep for Black Diamond. The other, a world cup ranked speed climber. (Yes, that’s a real sport and she is an amazing athlete). They made climbing look so easy. They provided serious encouragement and didn’t scoff as I fumbled about like an idiot.

Given the time limitations of our course, we only got two chances to climb. And, despite the our class title has intro in it, most of the guys in our class had climbed before. The gals, while less experienced, were primarily rock climbers. I am neither. We lined up like little soldiers, each taking our turn at the base. When it was finally my turn, I clipped myself to the rope and climbed. And fell. And climbed. And fell. Even though I knew that each time I slipped off the icy rock or my pick ax gave way, I wouldn’t in-fact plummet to my death, my survival instinct screamed what the F**** do you think you are doing? I managed to ignore that voice and kept trying. Progress was slow but progress just the same.

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This is me early on. It did not get better as time progressed.

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Did I make it to the top? Absolutely not. Did others? Absolutely. But, I’d be willing to bet our experiences were equally as scary, exhilarating and frankly fun. There I said it. Despite all of these signs and obstacles, ice climbing is a pretty big high. If given the opportunity, I definitely would have kept trying to get to the top. And, knowing the stubborn Fin in me, I would have at some point made it. In hindsight, I wish I had taken two days of classes so that the second go around I’d maybe experience more success. Who knows, I might even go back next year. It is unlikely the weather or road conditions could be any worse.

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After my climb. Did I mention it was cold out there?

For everyone curious to know how high I went… I honestly don’t know. The Go Pro was stopped about 10 seconds into my first climb and I later realized I had nobody take shots on my second climb. I don’t want to pull a Paul Ryan on his half-marathon time or a angler’s tale of the big fish by exaggerating my climb, so suffice is to say, let’s just say I went high enough. The second time, I climbed even higher. But, by far the hardest part of the climb was getting to the base.

Crampon Casualty 2016.
Crampon Casualty 2016.

And, I’m just happy that in total, the only real casualty of the day was my snow pant leg that got shredded by my crampons when I tripped attempting to pose for a group photo.

That evening, I had the opportunity to listen to keynote speaker Tim Emmett. An athlete for Mountain Hardware, he redefines adventure. I loved his presentation and the photos and videos to accompany it were spectacular. In his presentation, he mentions that life is what we do before we die. It sounds stupid but it is so true. So much of life is about the unknown day-to-day stumbling we make trying to navigate this thing called life.

Afterwards, Aaron Peterson premiered The Michigan Ice Film. It was an enduring combination of extreme ice climbing and the people and culture known as the UP. Peterson did an awesome job intertwining the two to create a solid story line amongst a backdrop that only Michigan ice can provide. Two thumbs up for sure.

At the end of the day, I loved my experience at the Michigan Ice Fest not because I was good at ice climbing, discovered a hidden talent or because it changed my life. Instead, I love that this festival and instructors opened my eyes up to the fact that I can in fact climb, even though every sign along the way said I couldn’t.

Future ice climber in the making! Watch-out Michigan Ice Festival 2025...
Future ice climber in the making! Watch-out Michigan Ice Festival 2025…

Working Port

Our pace is considerably slower today. In addition to sleeping in, we came back to the hotel this afternoon to relax before heading over to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario for an authentic Italian dinner.

Our day was spent learning about and experience the Soo Locks. We had the opportunity to watch two boats go through the locks. This in itself is quite impressive and reminded me of the working docks in Duluth.

We also went to Clyde’s Drive-Inn, which is located on the outskirts of town along on the water. Their burgers are delicious but extremely greasy. (This might be partially to blame for why we’re taking an afternoon rest). Sitting at the old school counter, watching the ships come in, it quickly became apparent this is a working town that hasn’t seen the tourism boom (and financial benefit) Duluth gets. If anything, this part of Sault Ste. Marie is authentic.

The downside to today is the shopping in downtown Sault Ste. Marie. The street of “gift shops” could also be called t-shirt and tacky tourism central. This alone would not be entirely irritating. What is, though, is the fact that every shop has the same set of hoodies, t-shirts, and random knick knacks that have absolutely nothing to do with Canada. The one exception to this rule is Fudge Du Locks. The complimentary Rocky Road Fudge was still warm when handed to us. I’m usually not a huge fudge person but this was exceptionally delicious, as was the fresh made saltwater taffy I ended up buying before leaving. One cheesy shop did catch my attention by having dog hats on display. It was $5 well spent 🙂

  

Photography wise I don’t have much to post today so I thought I’d take a few minutes to download photos from my other camera. This one tends to focus on the “candids” my husband is quickly growing tired of. To me, it is these photos that memories are made of. Tomorrow we begin the “rustic” end of our journey. I hope to keep posting but if not, expect some updates when I return to internet coverage.

 

 

Moose Capital of the World…

The sun is in full force today. With it, the bugs. More specifically, lots of hungry mosquitoes. Despite this, we forge ahead. Our first stop is the Seney National Wildlife Refuge where we encounter a variety of animals floating about the marsh. Eagle nests, baby geese, swans, and plenty of unidentified birds flutter around us as we wind along the unpaved road. At one point we let our puppy out to run full speed ahead. She loves the warm weather and open trail. All is well as long as we are moving. We pause to soak in the view and the infamous buzzing instantly becomes like a bad surround sound system. It is time to move on.

Our second stop for the day takes us to Newberry, Michigan where we enjoy a self-guided tour of an old CCC Logging Camp. In addition, the camp now features a variety of artifacts from that time period, including a museum of chainsaws. Suddenly, Steve thinks the $5 entry fee is the steal of the decade!

It is here we learn two things—first off,  Newberry is the Moose Capital of the World. Second, the main route to our next stop is under road construction. It turns out the road construction isn’t an issue. And, even though we never actually see a moose in the Moose Capital of the World, it makes for some fun souvenirs… including a sledding moose for our Christmas tree.

The drive to Tahquemenon Falls takes us down a windy, deserted paved road filled with garage sales that clearly are a weekly affair. Finally, we reach the entrance of the park. What a contrast. It is like the Disneyworld of northern Michigan. The packed parking lot reminds me of  Gooseberry Falls on on a fall weekend. Better yet, (or worse if you are going for an authentic hiking experience) a brewery sits within the park along with multiple cheesy gift shops. I cannot help but smile. A cold brew sounds good about now and I love a good, funny t-shirt.

It turns out staff isn’t expecting such a large crowd this Memorial Day weekend. The waitress apologizes at least a half dozen times for the obnoxiously long wait. It is after 2 pm and the lunch crowd is massive. The Lumberjack Lager settles our stomach until the fresh whitefish arrives. It is worth the wait. Then, a short ¾ of a mile hike to the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi (minus Niagara Falls of course). It is a spectacular view.

For those wondering how a brewery ends up in a state park, it turns out long ago a man used to canoe upstream to see the falls. A time came when he was finally able to buy all of the land around the falls. Eventually, he sold the land to the state with the condition that there always be at least a short hike to the falls so that its beauty is maintained. I’m guessing he somehow worked the brewery into the deal as well… I’m not minding this arrangement today at all.

After hiking the lower falls, we continue heading north for our last major stop of the day—the Shipwreck Museum on Whitefish Point. It doesn’t disappoint. The artifacts are authentic, including the bell from the Edmund Fitzgerald. Growing up in Duluth, I always heard about the great ship and the “lake that never gives up her dead.” After touring the museum and outbuildings, we go by the lighthouse and over to the lake so Joey can get a drink from the big lake and stretch her legs.

As we climb over the observation deck, we are met with a graveyard of driftwood, endless calm blue water, abandoned pilings, a great lakes vessel, and an infinite number of skipping rocks. This is the Lake  Superior I love.

The tour book hinted at multiple moose sightings in the Moose Capital of the World. What it overlooked was the great sighting of all—A little slice of Heaven, right here on Earth.

Day Two – Picture Perfect

The weather is not cooperating. We awoke just after 7 am to gray skies and a solid drizzle with no end in site. Such is life. We load up our car and begin the drive out of Copper Harbor.

The road hugs the lake and is lined with ancient cedar trees that stand ready to enclose the road should civilization ever cease to exist. Then again, it really does feel as though we are in the middle of nowhere. We stop at one of several lakeshore stops and look out on the big lake. Her glasslike features fade into the gray sky, creating a neutral backdrop against the deep green cedars. After wandering around the shore for a while and stumbling across the impressive Jacob’s Falls, it is time to make our way south towards Marquette.

On the way, we make a stop in Alberta, Michigan. Here, Henry Ford remains a legend. You see, back in the day Henry Ford was spending some time in the UP when he fell in love. He loved the area so much that he created a “Utopia” of sorts along with a saw mill. Today, the town is abandoned and owned by Michigan Tech. While visiting the abandoned town, we ran into a local who creates spectacular Birds Eye Maple woodworking pieces. After much discussion, I purchased my first Lake Superior Circle Tour souvenir—a Walnut and Birds Eye Maple candle.

The afternoon was spent exploring beaches and taking a hiking in the woods to give our puppy some off-leash time. By the time our hike was over, the skies had cleared making way for a picture perfect backdrop in Christmas, Michigan.

After one more cheesy photograph, we made our way into Munising where we ordered in some fabulous pizza from Main Street with some Keweenaw Brewing Company Pick Axe Blonde Ale. Then, it was time for a sunset cruise along the Picture Rocks. Standing in line with people from all over the Midwest, and well the world, it became clear some “colored rocks along the lake” were more than an afternoon adventure. As our boat pulls out of the harbor, I gaze into the horizon. It is hard to imagine in just a few days, I’ll be staring back from the other side. The tour is quite good. The photography options are endless.

 

Perhaps the most inspirational shot was this majestic white pine that despite all odds, it still alive. It is literally hanging on by a thread—on in its case roots. Despite its struggles, it still stands strong.

As the sun sets over the lake, I can’t help but smile. A day that started out a little lackluster, is literally ending picture perfect. I cannot wait to see what Day 3 brings.

Back in Civilization

Day one equaled no internet access so I’m already delayed in my posts but I did manage to write a quick recap last night of our first day adventures which I can post now, along with hopefully some photos from yesterday and today. In about 30-minutes, we’re headed out for a Sunset Cruise on Lake Superior around the Picture Rocks National Lakeshore. It is 70, sunny, and absolutely gorgeous! This is good since the first half of our day was solid drizzle. I’ve discovered that I have way too many photos to post (over 200 in the first 24 hours) but I’ll post a few at least. Enjoy!

Day One

Our morning starts out simple. After loading our car (and making one last trip to the house for that must have thing we “almost” forgot), we head east. Soon, we find ourselves inMichiganfor our first roadside attraction of Hiawatha – the world’s largest wooden Native American statue. After figuring out the self-timer, we snap a few shots and hop back in the car for the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness Park. There, we hike some trails and enjoy a cooler lunch under a bright green canopy.

Our focus for the afternoon is historic sites along theKeenewahPeninsula. Our first stop—Old Victoria. The mini-village is impressive from the parking lot. Unfortunately, the caretaker is nowhere to be found. This doesn’t prevent some great photos from happening, though.

As we role into Calumet, my guide book casually mentions Schute’s as the oldest known tavern inMichigan. I figure the bar is one more thing I can check off the list. Plus, my husband looks like he could stand a beer. Walking in, it is readily apparent this isn’t just any old bar.

Schute’s dates back to 1890. On tap, Keenewah Brewing Company’s favorite brews. (I highly recommend the Pick Axe Blond). What’s more intriguing, though, is what’s behind the taps. “Pretty cool glass,” my husband casually says to the man behind the bar. The bartender’s eyes immediately light up. He soon dives into a story about the Tiffany stain glass backdrop that 10-years ago sold for $1.3 million to a tourist. Unfortunately, (or fortunately forCalumet,MI), not a single insurance company would insure dismantling and shipping the piece so the piece remains. It is now owned by the town and is registered with the historical society. As the bartender wipes down the counter, he takes us back toCalumet’s mining boom. Stories about the original bar owner and the Speak Easy during prohibition role off his tongue, bringing me back more than 100 years.

Our historical trip continues at the Old Delaware Mine where a self-guided tour gives me a glimpse into mining life. Despite being in the 60s above ground, the weather is cold and damp in the mine. Our dog runs ahead, indifferent of the chill. I find myself grateful that my life is easier. On the way out, we meet Snickers and Oreo—two pet skunks who are an unexpected touch and attraction for an old copper mine.

Soon we arrive in Copper Harbor. The town itself takes mere minutes to explore. We’ve arrived too late to hit any of the shops. But, after chatting with the owner of the local bookstore in-town, we find ourselves driving down an unmarked (and unpaved) road to a hidden cove called Horseshoe Bay. The bay, which is now owned the Nature Conservancy, is speckled with skipping rocks and an expansive horizon of blue water. The million dollar view is preserved in perpetuity.

Our day comes to a close in front of a bright orange fireplace fire in a private cabin at the Keenewah Lodge. The lodge, which dates back to the 1930s, was built entire off the sweat and tears of the Great Depression. Following the Mining Boom, unemployment sat at 70-80 percent. Rather than sit, the men joined the CCC and built an impressive series of cabins, a lodge and an endless brick wall. Today, the lodge and golf course are owned and managed by the county ensuring many of the historical aspects remain.