Photography for Michigan Icefest 2017, Climbing, Aerials for a Documentary Film Crew, and More

Every winter I make the drive up north to Munising, Michigan, to spend a few weeks ice climbing and taking on a few video and photo jobs while there. You can read about previous trips here and here.

As with previous years, I met friends, old and new, and was able to balance work and play for a great three week trip.

My pilgrimage started in early February, as I planned to get some climbing in a few days before my first booked job. On my drive up, I stopped at Peabody Ice Climbing in Fenton, Michigan, and got in a few laps with my friends KC and Garrett. You might remember Peabody Ice Climbing from a video we produced last year.

The next day I left from Brighton, Michigan, and headed north. I stopped for gas and a coffee before crossing the Mackinaw Bridge, and walked out to the frozen beach near Colonial Michilimackinac Park. As I took in the view of the bridge, I quickly noticed that about a quarter-mile out on the ice, there were large shards of blue, transparent ice that had broken up and frozen together. I snapped a few pics.

The job I was booked for up north was to film aerial video clips,  so conveniently I had a couple of drones on hand and ready to fly. I took a few minutes to review the regulations around the use of drones in proximity to the bridge, and checked local airspace restrictions to make sure I was legally in the clear to fly. Once I knew what the rules were, I made several flights and created this video:

I made it to Munising that night, and spent the next day ticking off a few climbs on the lakeshore, including Dairyland and Boreas.

With a bit a climbing to sate my appetite, I focused on getting ready for the next three days. I was booked by a documentary film unit from Japan, producing content for NHK World, one of Japan's largest broadcasting corporations. My job was to capture aerial imagery of the ice formations and water along the shores of Grand Island and various locations along the southern shore of Lake Superior. Because I would be hiking to locations and flying in some very cold temps, preparation was paramount. I used a Lowepro PreTrekker 650 backpack that has customizable inserts to carry gear and food. This kept my Phantom 3 Pro secure, but also added room for a small cooler, which I used to store batteries, along with a few hand warmers. This proved to be a key to successful flights, as without warm batteries, I would have never been able to get off the ground!

Here's a sample of clips from those three days, in no particular order or style, just to show the kinds of things I was shooting.

After three days of filming for the Japanese documentary film crew, we parted ways and I joined up with a group of friends from downstate (Michigan) to go climbing. I was able to finagle a snowmobile ride and we headed off to the west shore of Grand Island, where I knew there were a bunch of ice formations just waiting to be climbed! My buddy Heath Rowland and I led about 7-8 climbs, putting up ropes for our crew to run laps on. Awesome, awesome day.

Michigan Icefest 2017

This day also marked the start of the 2017 Michigan Icefest, with a huge lineup of professional athletes and an expected 900+ attendees all converging on Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore to enjoy some of the finest ice climbing in the States. I was hired to capture some documentary-style photography of the event and athletes, so for all of Friday and Saturday I was booked, with camera in hand.

Friday I spent the day in the front country, taking stills to tell the story of Icefest; showing off gear, students, demo climbing areas, and more. Saturday I got to spend hanging out with Conrad Anker and Marcus Garcia as they taught a backcountry climbing clinic at Bridal Veil Falls. Here's a small gallery of images from the weekend.

As Icefest came to a close, I spent the next day on my laptop, bouncing around different wifi cafes. It was nice to take a day off and re-collect after going from motel to motel and being outside for hours on end each day.

The day off to recharge was well timed, because the next day I found myself making the long walk out to the Lakeshore with professional Athletes Ari Novak and Angela VanWiemeersch. Joined by a few local friends and photographer Jabob Raab, they ticked a few possible first ascents, and then we each got in a lap of HMR, one of the biggest, most notable climbs in Pictured Rocks.

The weather had gotten quite warm and there weren't many climbs to get on around Munising by the end of the weekend. I made a trip out to Houghton to scout ice conditions further west, but weather proved to be warm in that part of the state as well, and the ice wasn't any better.

After a couple days in Marquette, I joined up with another group of friends from downstate, and moved into an airbnb rental we had reserved for the weekend. Over the next few days we hiked out to Miners Falls, Left Soda Straw, and spent a day in Marquette enjoying their lovely microbrew scene. Weather cooperated just enough, as we got some colder temps and even some snow for a few days, which made it feel closer to winter.

I took one day afterward to work with longtime friend and photographer Aaron Peterson, who needed help for a tourism photoshoot, focusing on snowmobiles. We spent a day zooming around Grand Marais, enjoying the sun and warm weather that continued to be present.

And that was it! There wasn't much ice left to bother climbing, and I was starting to miss home. I made the 12-hour drive back to Kentucky, truck full of wet ropes and climbing gear, and face covered in a big smile after enjoying another great winter in Michigan.