A Cold Homecoming: 3 Weeks in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

Sitting in my makeshift office in sunny Cortez, Colorado, I analyzed the dimensions of my luggage. Weighing in at 47 and 49 pounds, my two checked bags consist of a not-so-carefully organized assortment of cameras, ropes, snow gear, and clothes for 3 weeks. 2 pairs of jeans should be enough right?

As a new resident to the centennial state, I’ve only just begun to explore the natural wonders that lie within a day's drive. The allure of year-round rock climbing in places like Moab, Durango, and the few local crags that are dirtier than my ex-girlfriend are what brought me out here. Living within a few hours of the renowned Ouray Ice Park meant that before February hit, I had already gotten a season’s worth of climbs in. That place is amazing and as about as convenient as it gets.

For reasons soon to be explained though, I found myself packed and jumping on a plane back to the midwest. I’ll be meeting a friend in Chicago and driving with him to northern Michigan for their annual Ice Fest. Besides the friends from my home state, the dreamy and at the same time treacherous shores of Lake Superior were calling my name.

You see, Michigan was having one of their coldest years in the last decade. The snow amounts in the UP weren't terribly deep, but they hadn't gone above freezing in about 50 days. I’d spent the last 4 weeks contacting locals and arranging to hit some of the epic lakeshore climbs with them. Wind chills down to -30F, 7 mile snowshoe hikes, and having a shortened list of gear– oh yeah, sign me up. I knew the work and conditions would be worth the images and experiences.

Below is a gallery of images from climbing with friends, new and old, experienced and just starting out. Have a look at these, and then read on to hear more about what I got up to.

My trip was somewhat preconceived, but it was also controlled a bit by fate. I flew into Chicago, and was picked up and given a place to rest my head for the night by a good man named Dirk VanKoughnett. We drove up to Northern Michigan the next day and I climbed with friends for a few days. After the festivities of the annual Michigan Ice Festival, I crashed on a hotel room floor for several nights and shadowed ice climbing athletes Jon Jugenheimer and Adam Dailey. We spent our days chasing big climbs, and I worked hard to capture stills and video of it. You can see some great examples here in this video and article I did for fstoppers.com.

Link to that hotness!

Once Jon and Adam left town, I headed to Marquette and met up with Brandon David Snyder, who gave me a place to crash for a few nights while I got some rest and tried to thaw out from all of of the ice climbing. I ended up joining photographer Aaron Peterson a few days later and assisted him on a 3 day photoshoot of ice fishing in Escanaba. Oh great, more time out in the cold!

It was actually really fun to see what ice fishing was all about, and I gleaned a lot of useful information about the local photography industry from Aaron, who has been building his business there for 10+ years. A completely unexpected departure turned into a great networking and money making opportunity, so I was glad to have been there.

Once that shoot was done, I got a ride back to Marquette and continued working from cafes and meeting up with local photographers and climbers. After 2 more days in that town, including a trip up to Presque Isle Park to shoot this video, I packed all my things and caught a bus back to Munising.

For the third year running, friends of mine from Ann Arbor would be staying in a lodge on the bay, very close to Pictured Rocks. I got there as soon as I could and did some much needed laundry. I needed groceries, beer, and dinner, so I walked a couple miles into town and did some shopping. In a stroke of genius, I then walked in to a Pizza Hut and ordered a pizza... for delivery. They agreed to take me along and save me a long, cold walk in the dark back to the cabin. Score!

Stories, home cooked meals, more ice climbing, and reuniting with old friends commenced for the next 4 days. I put away my camera for the most part and focused on having a good time. Funny enough, I ended up acting more like a guide for my friends, setting up climbing anchors and leading hikes along the lakeshore and to Grand Island so we could find sweet climbs. The path from Sand Point to the east channel climbs rarely freezes, so we were very lucky to have made it without snowmobiles. Good times. A few more images:

If you're interested in purchasing any prints, please head over to my Fine Art America site and browse available images there. Thanks!

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