Deeply Ill

In case you’ve forgotten what it’s been like in this part of the world, let me remind you:

frigid Rapid River

That was Thursday morning. Double digits below zero again. But the mercury was on the rise, and threatened to get almost warm. No really – we’ve been expecting 40’s (between 5 and 10 C) and sunny, which I feared would make our ice unsafe for exploration so I did the unthinkable.

On Friday morning, I rose at an indecent hour, and then left the house just a couple minutes too late to catch the moon setting over the west coast in Empire, MI. I remain a touch disappointed about that, but only a little. I had the whole beach very nearly to myself (I wasn’t out on the ice all alone-y on my own-y) for the entire hour and a half I was there.

Although temperatures hovered in the single digits, I was never cold. Being surrounded by such beauty is awe-inspiring, and surreal, and breathtaking. It is invigorating.

The sun rose hot on Friday, and by the time I made it to my running appointment at 10:00 (I’m cleared to ease into running!) it was nearly 20F. I hesitate to speak out of turn, but I think Old Man Winter finally got tired, and went to bed.

good morning sunshine

This morning we woke to brilliant sunshine accompanied by spring-like temperatures. It was still below freezing, but not much. Birds sweetened the air with their songs – and not just one or two birds, but a whole chorus of them.

I’ve removed the fleece lining from my coat, and didn’t make Petey wear his. Speaking of whom, some puppies have a terrible case of spring fever. That little guy practically pranced his way through his morning walk. He sniffed the air and sashayed along the way, not once trying to end the walk early. Then, he begged to go out for an afternoon jaunt. Then, he asked to go for an evening walk.

A stop on our evening walk on Torch Lake in Alden
Torch reflections

And then we walked again during sunset. Since I obliged with every request, I think I must’ve caught it too. Looking at the forecast – which has 50’s in store dontcha know?! – I think I might have a fatal case of spring fever. Quick, no one get some ice! And be careful; I think this strain is highly contagious 😉

Images from tonight’s everlasting sunset. That sun pillar lasted nearly 15 minutes after the sun dipped below the horizon,

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 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. 🙂