Last year, I traveled back to Michigan to go ice climbing with friends and create some photography of the areas and athletes I would be working around. I wrote about that trip in a previous blog here.
That trip was somewhat successful but absolutely enjoyable, so I made arrangements to repeat this experience for 2015.
Despite rising costs for airfare and a busy schedule heading into February, I booked my flights with a plan to only be in the UP for only about 10 days, climbing with friends mostly, and shooting some stills here and there. The first adjustment to this initial plan happened when Aaron Peterson of Clear & Cold Cinema asked me to help shoot footage for the Michigan Ice Film. Below is the teaser trailer for it.
He was wanting to build out his story and collection of video clips for this short film, and wanted to get some top-down visuals of climbers. I pushed back my flight by about 4 days, and made sure to pack enough of a kit to safely rig and capture the desired images.
Like last year, I again flew in to Chicago and met with my buddy Dirk, who graciously let me stay at his place just outside the city. After sharing stories from the past year over a late night meal and some wine, we got rest before the early drive up to Munising the following day. We picked up Marne Smiley, who provided an enjoyable spark of lively conversation (and some delicious homemade irish cream!!) for the long car ride North.
Stopping for pasties and food for the weekend, we got in a few climbs that evening before meeting up with others and heading up for the first evening of the annual Michigan Ice Fest. The presentation that night was brief, and included Bill Thompson speaking a bit about current ice conditions, and then showing a slideshow of images– many of which were mine from the previous year! Here's a sample of what was shown.
That evening I quickly caught up with Jon Jugenheimer, Black Diamond rep and co-author of the Michigan Ice Climbing guidebook, as he was helping to coordinate climbers and locations for shooting scenes for the film. We had a quick meeting with Aaron and our plan for the next day was set.
I snowshoed out along the North Country Trail from Sand Point, at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. I was following ice climber James Loveridge, who is the first ascensionist of several of the lakeshore climbs in the area where we would be going, in particular, Dairyland.
With wind blowing hard upon the lakeshore, I got very cold while hanging from a rope. Keeping my hands warm and maintaining a steady shot were both extremely difficult tasks. Fortunately for me, James made short work of both Dairyland and Purple Haze.
We hiked out at night, a couple miles in the dark along the trail to make it back to Sydney's for a late dinner.
The following day was a "rest" day for me, which meant leaving the camera in the motel, but still waking up before sunrise and hiking back out along the same trail. Christopher, Don, Dirk, Rob, and several other friends in our climbing group from downstate made our way to the climb known as Giddy Up, and set up top ropes to run laps on. I had seen this area on the previous days hike, so I knew that the climb Hi-Ho Silver was in. In the 3 previous years, I had never seen it touching down, so I was excited to set up a top rope and give it a try, with a guidebook rating of WI6!
As fate would have it, I ran into a guy named Erik Olsen, a photographer out of Traverse City that I had been chatting with online for some time, but never had met. He just happened to be walking past when someone said my name, and he put it together right away. We kept in close touch after this meeting, as he came to play a large role in the later weeks.
After a full morning of climbing, we got together back in one of our motel rooms and enjoyed smoked fish, cheeses, and some fine Colorado Whiskey. I'm not sure what I did to deserve it, but during the premiere of the Teaser for the MI Ice Film that night at Icefest, that same group gave me a rousing cheer when introduced as a part of the production team. Those guys are too awesome.
I unfortunately had to say my farewells though, as they would be departing the next morning, and I would be hunkering down for even more time in the wintry north.
The next day's shoot was with Raphael Slawinski, a soft spoken, but very intelligent fellow who had such grace and form when ice climbing. Our crew of 4 loaded onto snowmobiles and rode out to the furthest end of Grand Island, where we were welcomed with low winds, open water, and of course some spetacular ice formations.
With Aaron shooting from across the island, I kitted up and rappelled down the climb to get close images of Raphael going to work. This is a quick portrait I shot of Raph before we left the island.
The following morning the crew (Aaron, Dan, Jon and myself) teamed up with athletes Anna Pfaff and Ben Erdmann from Cassin/CAMP USA and we made our way to lakeshore, via the Mosquito Beach trail. An enjoyable 3-4 mile snowshoe hike in led us to the climbs of Twin Towers and Burr on a Boat. The angles were tricky on this formation, and I only managed a few snaps of Ben while climbing, in between the video clips I primarily focused on capturing.
On the hike out we were presented with some of the most amazing sunset light I’ve ever had the pleasure of shooting.
The snow and ice formations seemed to glow in this warm luminescence that made every image look incredible. I shot some stills of ice bouldering for as along as the light would let me, and then we all made our trek back to the vehicles, tired from the long day.
Another day, another shoot. This day ended up being one of the toughest days of my entire trip. Along with friends and athletes Garrett Peabody and Adam Dailey, the crew headed this time out to Spray Falls. After the 4-5 miles hike in, right away I noticed the possibility to set up for a crane shot above the climb, since there was a flat area right before the immediate falloff of the ice. Below is a video review I did for Resource Magazine Online of the crane that I used, which includes some of the video I shot from that particular perspective.
Funny enough, that crane shot was pretty much the only shot I got that day of climbing (I shot lots of gear prep and approach footage) despite the amount of work I put in to get to that area. I guess it's just a testament to how much a crew will work for even a single shot.... I have to say though, it was totally worth it and I would do it again in a heartbeat. The hike out that night was a tough one for me, as the daily hiking and cold temps were starting to take their toll. Alone in the dark for several hours of lugging a camera pack through the woods with blowing snow was a challenge to say the least.
Grand Island was our objective for the next day, and it served as a rest day since we had been hiking for the last couple of days. Adam, Jon, Aaron and myself rode out to the East Channel climbs to shoot some beauty shots of Adam climbing one of the many picturesque pillars that form every year. I got to shoot some crane shots of Adam, and then some top-down video clips of Jon, the eternal belayer for almost every athlete we have featured. (You can see clips from that in the above video.) Jon took some ice to the face, which opened up yet another wound on his schnozz. Classic Jon.
This marked the end of our scheduled shooting for the Michigan Ice Film, but just like the wind coming off of the lake, it changed very quickly...
Part of the reason I had planned to be up here was to join up with my friends from down-state for our annual winter trip in the UP. For the last 4 years we have rented a cabin along the lakeshore and spent a weekend ice climbing, snowshoeing, and sharing stories. It’s always a breath of fresh air to spend time with them, and this year was no different. Scott, Brian, Kelly, Sujay, Jakob and of course my lovely Jen had all come out. Newcomers Abby and Matt joined us this year as well– hopefully our irreverence and ridiculousness didn’t scare them too much!
I was extremely tired from long days of hiking, shooting, and then of course having to process data and manage gear… a few days in a cabin with friends was just what I needed!
We hit The Vierling and Ore Dock Brewery in Marquette to kick things off, but our plans of ice climbing the next day were scratched due to a winter storm that hit, as visibility was virtually non-existent. We spent the day watching some of my old videos, playing cards, and then cabin fever set in and some of us ran laps around the cabin in only underwear, while -30 degree winds blew in off of the shore.
As the weather cleared a bit the next day, we spent the afternoon climbing the Dryer Hose and Amphitheather ice climbs. I set up the routes and everyone enjoyed the picked-out ascents on these Munising classics. The temperatures were still pretty low, but it wasn’t cold enough to kill the stoke that we had from a great day of climbing in the beautiful scenery the ice formations reside in.
At this point I had originally planned to catch a ride downstate with my friends, and fly out of Detroit back to Colorado. Like I said though, things changed quickly.
I decided to push my flight back when Aaron got word that Mountain Hardwear athlete and all around awesome female climber Dawn Glanc would be coming out for the MI Ice Film, along with Michigan-born professional climber Sam Elias. Sick! We had 3 days to work with them, so I adjusted my plans so I could stick around to help shoot them for the film.
I said “goodbye” to my close friends, and said “hello again” to a motel room. I spread my gear out and prepped for the coming week’s shoots.
Knowing how much work this was going to be, but also seeing how much the MI Ice Film was starting to take off, I reached out to Erik Olsen, that photographer I had met a week prior at Icefest. I asked if he would join us on this crazy quest to capture some spectacular ice climbing. Conditions would be brutal and pay would be non-existent, but there was a bed in my room he could crash on. He decided to join, and became an asset to the project right away.
The first day with Dawn and Sam started off with some adjustments right away. The weather was just unpleasant– temps in the negative teens with a 15-25mph wind. We still made the hike to try and get something, anything, to make the most of this day.
A cold, long hike out to Yellow Smear (WI5) brought us to the edge of a 150-foot cliff, where the wind was blasting a constant 25-30mph gale. We assumed that the day was lost, as climbing in these conditions was certainly not ideal. After throwing our gear down behind a windbreak, Sam rappelled down the climb a little bit to inspect the condition of the ice. Once he came back up, he proclaimed that he would be down to try leading it. The video team scrambled and set up to capture Sam climbing in this blizzard-like weather.
Sam did the climb 3 times! An amazing feat considering the conditions and difficulty of the route. Jon wrote a blog on his personal account of that day, which goes in to much more detail about the conditions and the mental challenges that resulted. Jon's blog
After taking some video clips from above, I rappelled all the way down to capture some images of the ice juxtaposed against the striking rock face.
There is no documented first ascent of this route, so after climbing it, Sam renamed the route “Fallen Feather,” for a feather necklace he lost at some point that day. A beautiful name for a beautiful climb.
The stoke was high on even such a hard day– everyone had expected that the day would be lost to the weather, but Sam’s determination was rock solid- his quiet intensity was infectious to say the least, and it made the day a complete success in the wake of total failure.
The high winds and below zero temperatures raged on. Dawn was feeling a bit better, so the team decided that taking snowmobiles would be our best bet. As luck would have it though, the snow and wind was so bad that the roads were closed! We couldn’t even get to where we planned to ride the snowmobiles from. Police set up roadblocks and we were held inland. To make the most of what we had though, the crew decided to shoot inland climbs that provided a little protection from the wind, but also gave the chance to capture interviews with Sam and Dawn as well. It was a shortened day for climbing, but the evening is what held the really interesting content. I'd tell you what we did, but I don't want to give everything away here. You'll just have to watch the Michigan Ice Film when it comes out!
Dawn and Sam left the next day, and the primary shooting for the MI Ice Film came to a close. Jon was taking Dawn back to Madison, and originally I was going to share a ride, and fly out of Madison back to Colorado, but something no one expected kept me in Munising for another 2 weeks…. but that story is the topic for another blog :-)
Big thanks to Aaron Peterson for taking on the daunting task of producing and directing a project such as the MI Ice Film and asking me help capture visuals for it! I'm so glad that this story is being told by someone who actually has the vision as well as the creative chops to give it justice. Major props to Jon Jugenheimer for working harder than anyone to support the area (and being the most rad belayer of all time) and to Erik Olsen and Dan Englund for being BEASTS and hauling gear into the backcountry for some of our shoots, in addition to shooting media for my gear reviews.
See you all next year?!?