On the Ice at the Grand Traverse Lighthouse

Recap: We played on the ice for two hours at Gills Piers Road, where the news had apparently identified some awesome ice caves. We enjoyed the people way more than we thought, but our curmudgeonly instincts eventually kicked in and we left.

A couple of the kindly folk we met on the ice mentioned the clear ice they had previously seen at the Grand Traverse Lighthouse. In four winters here we had yet to witness this phenomenon, so it was kind of a bucket list item. Considering the location of the lighthouse – not directly on the coast and exposed to the winds we assume created the massive ice formations there – we were shocked to see mounds of ice fairly close to shore. After all, we were just there a month ago, spying nothing quite so dramatic.

A few other explorers probed the ice, and before long we joined them on the slippery, knobby surface. It was a relief not to be surrounded with our fellow humans, but this also meant picking our own way among the treacherous ice mountains instead of following a well-worn path.

After viewing the ice from above, we decided to join a few others down on the flat ice below the giant formations we’d been climbing. Though we only spotted one good place to walk out, it was obviously the place as it was a wide clearing between walls of ice. We shuffled across the glassy surface, seeking possible caves to the south. Before long we were rewarded with two toothy finds. I clambered around as I do, but Tony and Petey declined to join in the fun instead remaining in the open with Petey’s new-found friends (Neville and Jasper, in case you’re keeping track). Farther south – a good bit farther – a larger possible cave beckoned, but north faced more into the wind, also calling. As the sun was lowering in the sky, and a group of boisterous adventurers headed to the cave (including Petey’s friends), we ventured north.

Shards of glassy ice I spied on the way in won my attention on the trek out. I stopped for a couple photos, and then we headed across the clearing.

We had previously watched the boisterous adventurers run and slide across the ice, and were able to see that it was about twice as thick as the recommended safe thickness, but it was still unnerving to stand upon such clear ice. (Mom: not only did we get close to the edge, but we kind of walked over it…)

We didn’t discover any caves during our northerly expedition, but the ice formations were still breath-taking. Large, fangly icicles twisted from the escarpment, hinting at the windy conditions under which they were created. Unlike the crystal-clear ice we had just crossed (which is also the strongest kind), these appeared to be frozen marshmallow fluff.

No caves, then, but still very cool stuff, including some icy overhangs that look like frozen waves from just the right angle. (I tried to set the gallery up so that each photo of me below is followed by the picture I was taking/my viewpoint.)

We wanted to continue both north around the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula (haha – that’s a long trek), and back to that ice cave that still tugs at my shutter finger, we knew we still had to climb the ice mounds to get back to the car. Though it was hard to drag myself away, it was the smart thing to do. And with nigh on 200 photos, it’s not like I needed to stay our there ;) (Speaking of which, you’d think with 36 photos in a blog that I’d have shared them all, but I haven’t. I’ll be posting more on Facebook and my photography site in the coming days. After I sleep. Because even though it’s 1:00am, I just got word the aurora is doing its thing again, so off I go!)

Famous Lake Michigan Ice Caves

I may have talked a time or two (or every.single.recent.blog) about my wanderlust. On even the dreariest weekend, my feet pull toward the door, itching for an adventure. Yesterday, we awoke to clear skies, and before we had even started breakfast, I told Tony to hurry it up, because we were leaving.

We grabbed sandwiches from a little place in town, careful to avoid the Winter Comedy Arts Festival, which was probably fun, but not on our agenda. Instead, because of the brilliant blue skies, we were headed out for what’s become our weekend tradition: to find some ice caves on the Lake Michigan coast.

At some point in our travels, I checked the internets, and an acquaintance had suggested I head to a particular location on the Leelanau Peninsula, because it had been featured on the news. As luck would have it, we had been aiming in that general direction, and decided to stop. The first place we tried was so busy that we were afraid we’d end up getting blocked in, so we did a U-turn while waiting in a long line and instead set our sights a bit farther up the beach. That spot was busy, too (the road we opted for crossed our first attempt), but there was ample parking and room to move. Normally we eschew busy places, because we are hermits, but this time we decided it would be fun. And also, decided that like going to the beach up here in warm weather, even if it seemed busy we’d be able to find some space to call our own.

Given that we normally run into a scant handful of folks while we’re out winter-adventuring, it was astonishing to see people of all ages and walks of life pouring out onto the ice. The news piece must have really talked up the incredible ice formations. After jostling around a few people who obviously thought they were the only ones headed out, we struck out for a bit of solitude.

Tony and Petey and I walked up the coast a bit, and then crossed the first layer of ice mountains heading toward open ice (what would normally be open water beyond the leading edge of ice, but is now frozen solid thanks to this bitter, bitter cold winter). We explored mini-caves and overhangs. We climbed to the very edge of the exceptionally tall ice and wondered how we’d get down. Eventually we found a spot that the three of us could safely traverse and made it to flatter ground ice.

We walked north along the huge ice cliffs, exploring the edges, looking at the overhangs and caves. We examined the ice under our feet (yep, very thick and sometimes clear enough to see into the water). And then I saw a heap of ice farther out that called for closer examination.

Petey didn’t much care for walking on this ice; the upheaved sheets were tricky to find footing on, and required careful foot placement. Don’t worry – I may look like I ventured far afield, but I didn’t go anywhere that I didn’t see lots of footsteps, and there were folks much farther out than I would have fathomed.

After his time out on Tony’s lap, we decided to delve into the crowds we had avoided at first. Along the way, we stopped for a few in-cave photo ops. I do generally prefer to have nature outings to myself, but even I’ll admit that the crowd generated a festive atmosphere that surely rivaled anything we’d missed downtown. Petey kindly kissed a couple dozen admirers, and cheerfully greeted about a dozen dogs. I offered to take photos of four or five different couples who clearly hadn’t been on such a high adventure in ages (based on things they said; not on their demeanor). Everyone was gracious and cheerful, and while I wanted to begrudge the news for publicizing something we previously enjoyed nearly alone, I instead found that I was grateful that all these people were out enjoying something I so dearly love.

After two hours out in the blazing sun (seriously, I didn’t zip my coat at all and still found myself sweating despite the 14F [-10C] temps), we climbed off the ice and trekked back to the car. As the day was still young, there was still exploring to be done.

I took nearly 200 photos, and will probably keep around 150 of them. I don’t expect I’ll share all of them on the blog, so if you want to check out more, check my Facebook page or my photography site. <–New and I’m very nervous and excited about!
Since I’ve already written enough words for a three-page essay, I’ll leave the rest of the day’s explorations for another blog. :)

More Ice, More Exploring

There’s more snow above that mailbox than there is below.
laughable mailbox

Yep, that’s a lot of snow. Our inland lakes are frozen, with the snow on top forming drifts, and over half of Lake Michigan is frozen. Some days it seems like a featureless landscape, and fighting off ye olde seasonal affective disorder can be a chore. Normally, we’d just jaunt off to go skiing, but our schedules have been less flexible lately, and it has been cold. Thus, when the clouds part to reveal the blue sky they’ve been concealing, we go adventuring.

…And because it’s still winter in northern Michigan, sometimes the clouds swallow the sky right back up as we’re on our way for a hike. Too late, though; we were already on our way, so along we went, to the mouth of the Platte River. Our dearth of moving water meant that we appreciated the short stretches of exposed river wending its way into Lake Michigan’s icy expanses.

Tony, Petey and I meandered along the beach (there was sand to walk on in places – sand!) and then scampered out onto the near parts of the ice shelf for our weekend explorations. Occasional peeks of the sun added a touch of drama to the sky to compliment the ice formations.

After a bit, we headed south to check out the Pt. Betsie Lighthouse. We were there just before Christmas, reveling in the blue waters despite our constant grey skies. Yesterday revealed a different scene. Ice stretches nearly to the horizon; from the top of the dune, you can just make out a hint of open water.

It’s a surreal thing, absorbing the beauty and irony of a lighthouse perched above a giant frozen lake. This lighthouse is always a favorite, but I particularly love how the ice near the shore retains its characteristic teal color.

Not long after we left Pt. Betsie, lake effect snow again blew in, blotting out any color in the sky. With a projected high of 6F tomorrow, I am ever more grateful for the ability to take spontaneous refreshing, recharging trips on the weekend. I hope you’re recharged for the week ahead.

Adventure and Routine – A Restorative Weekend

I meant to write this last night, but since I was feeling so mellow from the weekend, it didn’t happen. We didn’t have the kind of weekend where you stay in and bury yourselves in books, but we also didn’t have the kind of weekend where you explore 15 new places. Instead, we did a little exploring, a little winter routine, and none of it on a schedule. By the time Sunday evening arrived, I was feeling refreshed and ready for Monday (or “today” if you’re on this side of the world).

Saturday afternoon we roused ourselves for a hike. We settled on Pyramid Point, because it has a nice view, and we hadn’t been since July. The road situation is a bit different in the area this time of year. Last time I drove my sister’s little front-wheel drive car down a two-track with no problem (well, except that we had to take said two-track because I briefly got us lost). The other day, I could only spot the road because the top foot or so of the road-marker pokes out of piled and drifted snow.

We parked at the bottom of the road the trail is on, and hiked up to the trailhead…to begin our hike. I knelt in the snow for a close-up of some dried Queen Anne’s Lace, convinced it was the only decent shot I’d get for the day thanks to dense cloud cover and intermittent swirling snow.

After the short climb, we reached the Lake Michigan overlook, and though the view isn’t what I’ve come to expect, it was spectacular in its way.

Guess which one was from July – even though it was 57 and raining that day :(

Fine snow poured through our duration at the top (admittedly brief) so that we never did glimpse the horizon. What you can see in the left image is a break in the ice, which now coats nearly 50% of the lake’s surface.

Back in the warm confines of our car, I noted that sunset is now happening at nearly 6:00, and that we had time for some beach exploration if Tony and Petey were game. They were.

Considering the impending sunset, we knew our time on the ice would be short. Since it’s such a novel world though, every find is unique and exciting, making even a quick trip worth the effort. With the shore in this condition, I feel like I’m visiting a polar region. Icebergs sit perched and cracked on top of yet more ice, some of which you can see Lake Michigan’s teal through, and some of which expands out in little white pancakes toward the horizon.

Ice caves yawn at the west toward previously incoming waves, their savage maws nonetheless inviting you in. I answer their call. Eventually, the sky darkens enough that we call it a night before someone breaks an ankle (again).

Yesterday (I’m sure because we had gone adventuring on a cloudy day) dawned bright and blue, so we geared up for a morning of skiing. Though fiercely cold, the groomed trails were a blast, and I hope it stays just a touch warmer so we can get out more often. After a late lunch at the best brew-pub in existence, we returned home for a little snow shoveling followed by an afternoon walk. Most of our route was beautiful and sedate, with the exception of the biting winds when we faced west.

Oh yes, we also saw a veritable herd of turkeys…nearly four dozen!

And though only a few crepuscular rays shone through in the west as the sun set, the east held a lovely pink tinge, a gentle ending for a gentle weekend.

Icy Shoreline Explorations

Friday night dropped a bit of freezing rain on our packed snow roads, meaning that Saturday we were housebound. For most of the day, the roads were so slippery I didn’t even feel safe walking on them, YakTrax or no. We lazed the day pleasantly away with books and video games, but come Sunday – after some much-needed grit had been applied to the roads, plus a fresh coat of grippy snow – we were ready to get out. I wasn’t kidding; that cabin-fever thing happens quickly ’round these parts!

Like good parents, we gathered all our puppy paraphernalia and loaded it along with Petey into the car before taking off. Because it’s been a while since we last visited, we aimed for the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula, specifically to the beach surrounding the Grand Traverse Lighthouse.

Even in the summer it’s not much of a beach. It’s more like a shallow grave for glacier-tumbled granite remains. In the winter…well:

Which is not to say we were disappointed; obviously, the place was ripe with photo opportunities. We just didn’t set any records for Most Distance Walked on a beach outing.

After the camera had had its fill, we skittered back over the ice into the car, and aimed for the open waters at Peterson Park. For a fairly sedate day – low winds, pretty but not amazing sunset – the shoreline was dramatic. Deep pink tinged the sky to the south as the lemony sun sunk behind the clouds. And I never tire of the turquoise waters.
Peterson Park in Winter-3

Ice mountains, volcanoes and caves littered the build-up along the shore. While Tony and Petey chased down smelly things (nothing too smelly – just rocks and hidden treats) closer to the treeline, I ventured out onto the ice, as you knew I would.

Occasionally, an errant wave threatened with overspray. I was lucky, managing to miss any freezing drops.

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The camera was still hungry, but the sun had set and I was still wearing my sunglasses (“I wear my sunglasses at night!”), so before it got too dark we climbed the stairs back to the top. Then we began making our way up the snowy hill where we had left the car.

Sprawling birches and cactus-shaped pines requested I take their photographs. I obliged. While Petey enjoyed a snack, I grabbed the camera for one last snap, because I really liked the texture of the snow and the contrast the car’s headlights provided. Once Petey, the camera, and myself were all sated, we buckled up, and headed back home.

We’re expecting more freezing rain tonight, and then more snow, so I’m not sure what my next adventure will be. How about you?