Osprey Athlete Ben Clark was in Michigan for the Michigan Ice Festival. He attended as an athlete/presenter Photos courtesy Downwind Sport
Flying into Marquette, MI late on a Thursday night in February was about as exotic as my life could get. I’m a climber from Colorado and heard there was ice here, in the cold and windswept upper peninsula.Not just normal ice of course, ice that had drawn climbers to the region for a climbing festival running into its 26th year. Really???
For all the promise of cold, it was the warmth of the locals that made the trip so worthwhile. Heading out to Sand Point on Friday with Rep Bryan Kuhn and his friends, I was treated to thunker swings in a savory pillar of steep waterfall ice. We shared it with several locals, looking to experience the privacy that makes ice climbing so cherished in this region about to be inundated by weekend festivities. I was psyched to be there and happy to be surrounded by such nice people.
The weekend went really well and the Michigan Ice festival had 481 attendees. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise, Event Organizers Bill and Arnie from Downwind Sports are longtime climbers and locals. The enthusiasm and commitment that it takes to learn ice climbing seemed to be innate qualities of the beginners who showed up for the clinics I would get to teach. Swinging, kicking and then finally smoothing out into climbing and hooking, the learning curve matched the motivation and it was clear that ice climbers were born both days. That is a real victory for climbing, to see all ages and body types learning about this activity that was once the realm of frozen high altitude alpinists.
That is the type of celebration of spirit any ice festival could learn from and that will have the hidden routes of Grand Island beckoning me like a siren for years to come. Most importantly I feel like I made friends and met new partners, what more could you ask for? Oh yea, there was free beer too.