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I started climbing pretty regularly at the bouldering gym in downtown Madison shortly after moving here. I saw an ad at the gym for the Michigan Ice Festival and I immediately knew I needed to go check it out. I asked a few of my climbing buddies if they wanted to come with me, but between the 5 hour drive from Madison to Munising and already having other plans for the weekend, no one was willing to come along with me. I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to learn how to ice climb, so I decided to make it a solo trip.

I didn’t really know what to expect going in to the festival. I had assumed that I would be climbing up frozen waterfalls, but I found out in my lesson that the limestone rock absorbs moisture during the summer months that gets released during the winter to form ice walls all over the area! I used this webpage to plan my trip. Here’s the extent of the planning that I did:



Dates: February 15th-16th 2020

Location: Munising, MI (5 hour drive from Madison)

Intro classes are full on Saturday, Limited spaces are available Sunday. 

The plan: drive up (Friday afternoon/Saturday morning). Check out festival Saturday. (Camp/Airbnb) Saturday night. Attend class Sunday. Drive back Sunday night. 


Registration $50
Gear demo $50
Guidebook (optional) $35
Intro class $150
Total (without guidebook) $250
Total (with guidebook) $285


I ended up leaving Madison on Saturday morning. Between getting a flat tire halfway there and then getting caught in a blizzard, I didn’t make it to Munising until sunset. I “camped” (slept in my car) overnight. I did buy the guidebook, and I also donated the suggested $4 to help offset my carbon footprint. I didn’t realize that the intro class included demo gear for the day of the class, and I didn’t use the demo gear outside of the class, so I basically donated another $50 to the festival. I definitely plan on taking full advantage of the demo gear next year!

I signed up for the women’s intro to ice class, which ended up being an awesome decision. There were only two others signed up for my lesson and we had two awesome instructors, Emily (pictured above) and Angela. After a quick hike out to Big Pine Pillar (pictured below) and a safety debriefing, it was finally time to climb some ice!

Being in a lesson with two guides and only three students meant that I was able to scale the ice as many times as I wanted to. We had two ropes anchored on the trees above the ice wall which allowed for some nice variation. 

I had never climbed outside of Boulders before, so I was pretty terrified my first time up. I was even more terrified when I had to rappel back down, but as soon as I was safely back on the ground I was ready for my next lap. 

My indoor bouldering experience definitely helped me get the hang of things quickly. Big Pine Pillar was a cool wall to learn on because I felt challenged at the beginning but by the end of the day I felt like I had mastered it. 

Overall, I had a fantastic time at the Michigan Ice Festival. I would absolutely recommend checking it out if it sounds like your kind of thing. The demo gear alone makes it worth the trip in my opinion, it included literally everything I needed, from the tools I used to the jacket I wore to the backpack I used to carry everything. I am absolutely planning on returning next year and taking on an even bigger wall!

Things I Wish I Had with me, but Didn’t

  • More layers. The wind was brutal
  • Chapstick. I left it in my car
  • A thermos full of hot tea. Would have been nice to drink during lunch
  • My waterbottle. I forgot that at home
  • Portable battery charger. I didn’t get as many pictures as I wanted because I forgot to charge my phone overnight
  • Tripod. I took a timelapse of myself and it took me about 10 minutes to get what ended up being a terrible angle
  • More time. Cliche, but I’ll be back next year!

Things I was Very Glad I Had with me

  • Fleece-lined buff. Essential for keeping my neck and face warm
  • Earwarmers. A hat wouldn’t have fit under the helmet
  • Wool base layers. I was actually doubled up on top and bottom
  • Indoor climbing experience. This translated pretty well and gave me the endurance to climb all day long