Andy Hansen above the Wisconsin River at Lone Rock.
After a long weekend surrounded by vertical ice landscapes and climbing enthusiasts I am safely back home, and although my travels were grand, it's interesting to note that it was all happening right here in Wisconsin. I sit now in my studio at MIAD uploading the 1,081 photographs that have accumulated since my first venture onto the ice a few weeks ago, and it's hard to find a place to start. The excitement from the Ice Pit's first annual climbing festival has yet to subside, and the numerous small cuts on my forehead and gash in my lip serve as a fair reminder that I must have received an authentic ice climbing experience, I hope the images reflect that.
I decided not to let the excitement linger too long, and chose to start writing and editing photos from the one day outing I took to Governor Dodge state park. It was the Thursday before the weekend's festivities, and I hitched a ride with local hardman Andy Hansen, and his friend Mike Ganley who was the proud owner of a Toyota Tacoma with a miniature back seat which held me tight. It was my first time to this park, and I was excited thinking about experiencing Wisconsin's own naturally forming ice falls within just a two hour drive from Milwaukee. We were the only ones at the park that day; our only other company being a hawk that flew overhead and a bald eagle lounging near the side of the road. It was slightly overcast in the morning, but the clouds gradually lifted and the sun came out to illuminate our first stop of the day at Stephen's Falls.
Stephen's Falls is a naturally flowing waterfall which accumulated about 30-40 feet of less than vertical ice. Because of the slightly warmer temps this day the ice was nice and soft, which ensured that most every swing of the ice tool yielded good purchase on the surface of the ice. I am still new to the sport and relatively unfamiliar with the rating of ice routes, but Mike estimated that the climbing at this spot was an easy WI 3 (Water Ice 3). There was good protection and only a few short sustained vertical sections, and rests were available and forgiving. It was a joy to climb, and the surrounding environment was serene and dreamlike. Although much shorter than any of the climbs at The Pit, it was great to get on completely natural ice forms, and it seemed slightly more adventurous, especially while on lead. Being able to climb and place ice screws for protection progressively along the way was exciting and the thought of decking was always lurking in the back of my mind because the climb was so short. We went ahead because the climbing was relatively easy, and got some good practice placing ice screws on comfortable terrain.
After climbing for a few hours here, the group decided to check out a climb just 15 minutes away called Lone Rock. This spot is located on the bank of the Wisconsin River, and was a 40 foot vertical ice fall going directly into the still flowing river. To access the climb we had to start from the top and get lowered into the base. Here only a small sheet of ice existed to stand on to start the climb. The belayer stayed at the top and belayed the climber on the way up. It was similar to what one would experience on a multi-pitch climb, and it added a little variety to the day, and worked pretty well photographically. I set up my own anchor and lowered into position awkwardly, and with the help of the rope I managed to not slip to my death over the icy edge. From this hanging vantage point I could capture the climber, the belayer, and the unique position of the climb on the river. The color and late afternoon lighting was inspiring, and after the struggle of positioning myself was done, I quite enjoyed the view.
The whole trip opened up my eyes to the ice climbing potential in Wisconsin, and it was great to experience it first hand. Shooting over the river was really fun and added a new challenge that I haven't experience in any of my trips thus far. I am already used to being extra careful not to drop any gear or camera equipment, but with the river rushing below I had extra motivation knowing that the dropped soon-to-be broken equipment would also sink to the bottom of the river. Everything went as planned, and I didn't have to watch anything dramatically sink into the frozen depths. A great day indeed...
I've got plenty of photos to work on from the rest of the weekend at the Ice Pit festival, and many more photos will be included in posts to come. Check back soon for writing and images from that event. Thanks to all the climbers, sponsors, and spectators who came out to The Pit for the weekend, it was great to meet new people and to bring everyone together for some good ol' fashioned fun in the outdoors. Hope to hear from many of you soon... Stay safe and warm.