Adventure Awaits Just North of the Bridge

Derrick Larr and Madison Gardner head to the Upper Peninsula for a winter adventure!

Sometimes we forget how lucky we are to call ourselves Michiganders – especially during the long, winter months. Chief Photojournalist Derrick Larr and I were quickly reminded how lucky we truly are when we went to the Upper Peninsula on assignment to meet some awesome people and learn new things – like how to ice climb, how ice caves are formed, what an antique snowmobile is and how to navigate without using Google maps! I would encourage anyone and everyone to visit the Upper Peninsula, not only in the summer months but in the winter months when the snow goes above your knees!

Derrick and I woke up bright and early to make our trip to Munising. The roads were clear and the drive up was smooth sailing! Once we made it to Munising we went on our first adventure – Ice Climbing. The Michigan Ice Fest brings in hundreds of people from across the world to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. We geared up at Down Wind Sports and were taken out by our guide and the organizer of the Michigan Ice Fest, Bill Thompson. We went to the Curtains, a climb that takes you approximately 30 feet in the air and a perfect climb for beginners.

The walk up to the actual climb itself was steep. So with all of our heavy gear it was important that Derrick had on special cleats even though he had no intention of ice climbing! 

When the time finally came for me to start the ascent I was both nervous and excited. It took me a while to get the hang of it and loosen my death grip on the ice tools (the tools you use to climb). Once I became more comfortable I took a quick look around, I could see in each direction for miles. I heard the water trickling and forming what I was climbing. It was truly breathtaking. An exhausting yet rewarding start to our 3 day expedition!

The following morning we woke up to a beautiful sunrise! This was truly indicative of how the rest of our day would go – the perfect day to explore! We were headed to Eben Junction to see the Eben Ice Caves in the Hiawatha National Forrest. These caves were nothing short of spectacular. It was a bright and sunny day with few clouds in the sky! Perfect for the hike back to the caves which was a little over a mile from the road.

We once again had our equipment with us but thankfully our hosts Heidi and Tim Swajanen had a heavy duty sled that we were able to bring along with us – lightening the load just a tad! This was no brisk walk by any means, but it was well worth it to see the living breathing work of art waiting for us at the end. I’m no scientist but from what we gathered, these ice formations are created when small amounts of water run-off or seep through the sandstone. Little by little creating a masterpiece that changes each and every day. 

As we were exploring the caves, Derrick was making sure to get some really cool shots for our story that aired on “the four”. This of course meant going a little further back in the cave. I heard some commotion and turned to see Derrick up to his knees in water! The ice wasn’t frozen solid so he fell right through. It was both funny and frightening. I was nervous that he was going to be cold and miserable for the walk back to the car but thankfully he came prepared with his waterproof boots and snow pants! Crisis-averted! 

That evening we made the drive from Eben Junction down to Naubinway. Here we were greeted by Karen and Roger Jarema, a couple who has a passion for collecting antique snowmobiles! We went to “The Cove Bar” in downtown Naubinway to meet the rest of the group who was participating in the 3-day, 100 mile journey from the Top of the Lake Snowmobile Museum to Engadine and back. These antique snowmobile enthusiasts came from across the midwest and Canada just to bond with the group that shares their love of these primitive machines!

The following morning we joined the Antique Snowmobilers on the first leg of their 3 day journey. We were prepared with countless layers and plenty of hand warmers – ready for whatever the day may bring! Along the way there were a couple of snowmobile break downs… This fun-loving group however was ready to fix any mechanical problems that were thrown their way! It was fun watching them problem solve and fix the machines with smiles on their faces. Something like a break down typically would be a tense and stressful situation, but not with this group! 

Lunch time rolled around and there were hot dogs and burgers that were made from a kitchen on skis! Even 50+ years ago people were innovative and decided to bring the kitchen with them out onto the trail! Gotta love it! After lunch, the snow started picking up. Derrick and I knew it was time to head home. The conditions were only worsening and we wanted to cross the bridge before it closed…

Little did we know we weren’t going to make it across! The wind was howling and the snow was blowing – nothing short of what you’d expect during a Michigan snow storm! We went to the bridge, asked some questions and did some hits for the 5pm and 6pm shows. We were exhausted from being outdoors in the cold so we decided to Hunker down for the night. Around 8pm however, we were alerted that the bridge was re-opened and we could head home. The drive was slow but it was worth it once we made it home safe and sound!

We had a total blast during our time in the U.P! Having poor cell service was a blessing and forced us to put down our phones, spend quality time with the people around us and even try to figure out directions without using our GPS! 

The Upper Peninsula is a truly spectacular place year-round and  makes you feel closer to nature and full of adventure. If you’re looking to plan a trip to the U.P and want more information click one of the links below!

Ice Climbing: Down Wind Sports

Ice Caves: Eben Ice Caves

Eben Junction Food: Snack Bar

Antique Snowmobiles: Top of the Lake Snowmobile Museum

Naubinway Food: The Cove Bar

Categories: the four