munising falls pictured rocks frozen waterfall michigan
Eastern Upper Peninsula · Winter in Michigan

Ice Climbing at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Did you know that some of the best ice climbing in the world is right here in the Upper Peninsula? In fact, it’s become a popular winter activity in Michigan to try ice climbing at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore!

Ice climbing pictured rocks
Bill climbing “The Curtains”

That’s right, I said ice climbing. Cool, eh?

Last year when I discovered the Michigan Ice Festival and found out that we have awesome ice climbing along the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, I made it a point to try it out. Ice climbing is something that has been on my “bucket list” for a while.

That was April, though, after last year’s ice fest had already taken place and I wasn’t sure where to start. So I waited until this year and then reached out to Down Wind Sports.

At the time, I didn’t know Bill Thompson (owner of both Down Wind locations) was the man behind the Michigan Ice Fest. So of course, it turns out that Down Wind Sports not only rents the ice climbing gear, they’ll take you climbing!

My first ice climbing experience went something like this:

I arrived at Down Wind Sports Marquette location (they have a store in Houghton, too), met Bill and his climbing partner John, picked up my gear, and then it was off to the races. A little over an hour later I was hiking along sand point road in Munising, crampons in hand, when Bill and John cut into the woods at a seemingly random point and headed uphill.

They clearly knew where they were going. I did not.

Our first stop was an ice formation called “The Dryer Hose.” And from what I understand, it’s called that because, at one point, someone used the exhaust hose from a clothes dryer to funnel a little more water that way, helping to build up the ice. In warmer months, there is no water here. No waterfall, and not even a trickle according to Bill. This massive tower of ice is all formed by gradual snowmelt.

Ice climbing
The view from “The Curtains”

The Dryer Hose was not climbable the day of our climb due to a bout of warm weather, so we made our way over to another area known as “The Curtains.”

And let me just take a moment to stay how stunning the view is from up there. High above Lake Superior with no leaves on the trees, it’s a spectacular sight. I’d hang out up there all day just for the view. Okay, back to climbing…

In stark contrast to the Dyer Hose and most of the other straight-up vertical ice formations in Pictured Rocks, the left side of The Curtains ascends at a relatively low angle, which was a great place for a beginner like me. This is also where the kid’s climbing area is set up during the Michigan Ice Fest.

Bill and John taught me about “hooking” (placing your ice axe where someone else has already chipped out a hold) and showed me how to place my feet in the ice (perpendicular to the ice wall) along with a bunch of other pointers. I made my way up the ice several times without falling, which I didn’t expect, and watched Bill and John traverse some more difficult areas. It was a blast!

As morning became afternoon, we had to pack up and get back to Marquette. But I vowed to return soon when there was more climbable ice. All in all, it was an excellent day of ice climbing in the Upper Peninsula and I got to knock something off of my bucket list.

In regards to Down Wind’s ice climbing services, Bill said that he’s able to accommodate both those who have never climbed as well as experienced climbers. People who haven’t climbed before would get an “intro to ice climbing” sort of experience (much like I had) whereas experienced climbers would have more of a guided climb experience.

Ice climbing
Bill tests the ice on “The Dryer Hose”

I had such a great time, that this definitely wasn’t my last ice climbing excursion. I see ice axes and crampons in my future!

Want to try ice climbing? You can! At the Michigan Ice Festival! Check out their website for all the details.

Bottom line: If you’re a little adventurous, ice climbing in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is easily one of the top things to do in the U.P.!

How to get there? The “how to get there” for this one is a little difficult. Ice forms all along pictured rocks (both uphill from Sand Point Rd. and along Lake Superior… and on Grand Island… and a bunch of other places…) so if you’re an experienced ice climber you probably won’t have to explore long to find climbable ice.

If you’re not experienced, I’d highly recommend planning your trip through Down Wind Sports. Ask for Bill!

original content provided by Jesse Land

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