MARQUETTE - The emails are still coming in from ice climbing enthusiasts who traveled from as far away as Iran or the Ukraine to participate in the annual Michigan Ice Fest at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Munising.
The event, which was held Jan. 31-Feb. 3 enticed more than 400 climbers this year. An increase from the 380 people who participated last year.
"We were pretty well-represented all over the world," said Bill Thompson, co-owner of Downwind Sports in Marquette.
Jarrod Blundy, a student at Central Michigan University, finishing his first climb at an ice wall at the demo area. Blundy was coached during his climb by Bill Thompson, one of the instructors, and was able to make it to the top. (Journal photo by Abbey Hauswirth)
Thompson said festival coordinators were very happy with the outcome, aside from a few cancellations due to poor driving conditions. Otherwise the weekend ran smoothly with favorable weather conditions. He noted that ice climbers prefer colder weather.
"We always say there's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing," Thompson said.
Unlike some years, climbers were able to travel to Grand Island this year and scale a few of the larger ice walls.
The festival, though it encompasses all skill levels, is geared toward beginners who want to try a new experience.
"I think you get a mixed bag," Thompson said. "There are people who are very excited who didn't think they could do it, there are those who said it was as hard as it looked... overall though, everyone really enjoyed it."
In addition to gaining a new skill, participants are coached by professional climbers, including world-renown climbers Zoe Hart and William Gadd. In the evenings, slideshow presentations were given at Sydney's Restaurant in Munising, which served as headquarters for the event.
"It's very exciting because a person can come out, get an experience, and then see the slideshows and get inspired by some of the best climbers in the world," Thompson said.
Thompson emphasized that the midwest offers some of the best ice climbing in the midwest, but is often forgotten, which is why the festival is so important.
The Michigan Ice Fest, which began in the early 1990s, is the oldest ice climbing festival in the country. It has been referred to as an "ice climbers paradise." Representing the event were participants from 11 states and six countries and ranging from kids to senior citizens. The demo area, known as "The Curtains" was host to hundreds of beginners who faced the challenges of their first climbs and the satisfaction of triumphing in the end. Many used borrowed equipment that was offered by the numerous sponsors who contribute to the event. One such individual was Halley Hinderer of South Vienna, Ohio, who climbed for the first time.
"I liked it. Though it is as hard as it looks!" Hinderer laughed. She said this recreational activity is not offered where she is from and it was fun to try a completely new experience.
"Be adventurous!" She said. "Try something new... I think I will come back next year."
Thompson said anyone who may be on the fence about trying ice climbing next year should visit the website and read the recap from this year as a way of encouragement to participate next time.
"We have a resource here and there's nothing else like it in the midwest," he said.
To learn more about the Michigan Ice Fest, visit www.michiganicefest. com.
Abbey Hauswirth can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 240. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org