Pemba Serves Michigan Ice Fest Report

photos: Bryan Kuhn / Erik Sundberg

A lot of people had a lot of fun last weekend… Michigan Ice Fest happens every year with the tremendous effort of Downwind Sports, and after 20-something years (depending on whose version you get) Munising gets virtually overrun the first weekend in February with ice climbers both new and veteran.

Kayland, Scarpa, and LaSportiva all sent boots this year, Mountain Hardwear had plenty of apparel to go around, and we brought our own Petzl demo gear to add to the assortment of Black Diamond crampons and tools. The word from Bill Thompson every year: “Send more crampons, please!” This year was especially thin, but no one really complained – sure a few grumbles were heard here and there – Bill quieted all that down with an “Email our gear sponsors!” comment.

Downwind Sports routinely runs out of boots and crampons for classes and demo. People who have never climbed ice before – in some instances have never climbed before – can just show up, pay their “Fest Toll” of a whopping $25 (if they don’t have gear, add $15). If you want to get all-day professional instruction from a world-class climber? Costs you $99 ($35 for the kids’ class) – your gear is included. If you don’t want the instruction? Hope you can get up early for the demo gear distribution – if not or you strike out, come by the Curtains and be patient.

Its cheap to stay, cheap to eat – Sydney’s hosts the Fest in a room upstairs, the food’s good and drinks are plentiful – and very reasonable to attend. No wonder why over 480 people dropped in.
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 festival running into its 26th year. Really???

Here’s what Ben Clark, a Mountain Hardwear sponsored alpinist thought:

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 festival had many attendees. 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.

Were you at the Michigan Ice Fest this year? Tell us about your experience!

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