If you haven't already, check out my blog Embracing Winter Part I before diving into Part II!
Just when I thought winter was over for my camera and I, an opportunity to chase the ice and snows of Upper Peninsula Michigan came up and I joined my friend Christy Frank to head North. She and I met in Sumatra almost exactly a year before this adventure. We both seemed to be missing the rainforests, people, and wildlife even more with the one year anniversary still looming over us, and I believe it's safe to say that same feeling was shared among the rest of the group from that excursion.
Excited as I was to hang out with one of my friends from the Sumatra trip, to cross over the Mackinac Bridge into the UP, to hike in the snow, and to find frozen waterfalls, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. While I truly believe that is a necessary ingredient of a great adventure, and while I always say prepare for the worst, I was not at all prepared to spend a majority of the trip in some of the worst pain I've ever had to endure. Was it still a great adventure? Hell yes, it was.
After linking up with Christy in Toledo we made our way North to Mackinaw City to spend the night before continuing on into the UP towards our final destination of Munising. The drive north was filled with heavy snows and countless car accidents. It was pitch black by the time we got to our hotel just south of the Mackinac Bridge, and we went to sleep ignorant of the splendor waiting to greet us in the morning.
The Straights of Mackinac were littered in various forms of ice, displaying an array of amazing colors and textures. It was one of the best and worst mornings of my life. Walking on the frozen landscape was surreal - I could have spent hours and hours out there, but the sun kept rising, the colors faded, and there was still quite a bit of road to put behind us before arriving in Munising,
After climbing on giant ice formations and tip-toeing around on the crystal clear surface, hopping from ice island to ice island (without wearing my ice cleats), I made it back to the shore just in time to slip on a small patch of black ice hiding beneath fresh powder from the morning snow. I landed right on my hip and left elbows, trying not to destroy both cameras I was holding at the time. Laying on the ground with both cameras in good shape, I laughed at how stupid this fall was after everything I just did on much worse terrain. My attempt to get back on my feet shot the first wave of pain through my entire body. I screamed and fell again. I thought I broke something.
After crawling and limping my way back to the car, we went back to the hotel to catch breakfast (priorities, man) I called up both my doctors and described the pain and damage endured to at least get an idea of what I might be dealing with. In the middle of no-where winter, hours away from home, and intense pain from just sitting in a moving vehicle, I had to figure out what the next move would be. Munising was much closer than home, with no real or immediate way of getting back home anyways. There were hospitals in relatively close proximity to where we would be, and with nothing actually broken, I made the decision to keep going.
After a few hours on the road we were passing through Naubinway, right around the northernmost point of Lake Michigan. To our right were sand dunes lightly covered in snow, to our left was the planet Hoth. Under doctors orders of keeping my leg relatively mobile and some light stretching, and views like this to our left and right, no other excuse was needed to make a pit stop and take some photos. I did not make the same mistake of not wearing my ice cleats...
By the time we got to the cabin I was unable to move even just slightly without searing pain shooting through my entire left side. There was still plenty of daylight but once I managed to get into my bed I knew I wasn't going anywhere any time soon. Christy, the only other person who can really understand the pain I was in, seemed to be a little hesitant to leave me alone but I convinced her to go out and explore without me. So while she was out exploring some amazing ice falls along the side of the highway, I spent my time icing my injury and performing cycles of stretches and light walking around (mostly to and from the bathroom.) Christy shared stories of her solo adventures over dinner and we made plans to visit two locations the next day. My attendance in this plan was still entirely based on my condition, but a night of rest, ice, and hydration did my body good.
Getting up or sitting down was still incredibly painful but I was able to walk around without severe pain in light movement and I felt confident I could lightly hike the .5 miles from the parking lot to the first set of falls. I was so wrong. The trails were steep, slick with ice, and covered in a foot of snow in some places. Once we got downhill I wasn't able to go uphill, which forced us to find - or make - alternative routes. Even though we were told the ice falls were "easy to find, we couldn't find them. From time to time I sat down in piles of snow to ice my injury, which worked surprisingly well. All in all the expected .5 miles ended up being closer to 7 miles in just under 5 hours, before we finally found them. By the time we hiked out, the sun was working it's magic on the woods before the parking lot, creating an amazing play of light and shadows in the snow.
The pain was catching up to me on the drive back to town, but we had one more series of ice falls to visit and I was relying heavily on adrenaline to get me through. Luckily these falls were just off the side of the road, and after realizing hardly anyone visits these falls and seeing how gigantic they were compared to the other ones, Christy and I joked about how we should have came here the whole time. We had the whole place to ourselves apart from a trio of ice climbers out of Detroit who were checking out the ice for their climb the next morning. They were kind enough to let Christy try out their picks to clamber up into a large
Watching the colors of the ice change with the setting sun was incredible. The sheer size of these falls both in height and width was almost obscene. I couldn't see the end of the falls looking in either direction, and a lot of it wasn't easy to get to. With our cleats on and careful tip-toeing around, we explored as much as we could, including a small cave I found with easy access, glowing with brilliant turquoise and blues. We slowly made our way back to the car and watched the lights of the ice fishing huts flicker to life while the sun dipped below the horizon.
It's difficult for me to leave a destination without first sampling the local beer, so I searched for any breweries nearby and soon enough we found ourselves at the East Channel Brewing Company. Small worlds collided in this dimly lit, hole-in-the-wall as we enjoyed a few pints while chatting with the climbers we bumped into earlier and spent the evening with laughter and conversations of adventure, failure, pain, and passions. Cheers!