I awoke to the ring of an unwelcoming alarm. The kind of ring that wakes you the morning of a presentation you aren’t prepared to give or the physics exam you’ll never be prepared to take. The excuse reel started to roll: My dog took off in the woods. I thought I was signed up for tomorrow’s class. My car wouldn’t start. I’d been in town three days representing Ore Dock as the official beer sponsor of Michigan Ice Fest. I’d seen the photos. Ice climbers resembling action figures kicking into frozen waterfalls draped hundreds of feet over sandstone cliffs. I’d heard the stories. Lake Superior in all her furious winter-glory swallowing ice axes whole, forcing single-tool ascents. Today, it was my turn. There were plenty of other first timers and no shortage of professional athletes equipped with the most jaw dropping of Instagram feeds. All of them happy to share tips on navigating their icy world. It’s the kind of gathering that just by getting there meant you could belong.
Within no time the staff from Down Wind Sports had me set up and decked out for the day’s adventure. I was encouraged to learn that not having any previous rock climbing experience was actually a good thing. “Technique is all about your core,” I kept hearing. Did I mention I work for a brewery? We traded introductions before boarding the shuttle that led us through the frozen streets of Munising and into Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Rather than contemplating the arctic conditions or any possible
safety concerns, I stared out the window wondering if I could do this.
After finding our ice and receiving final instructions from our guides, it was time to climb.
Throwing my axe and kicking into the ice as I began my ascent may as well have transplanted me to planet. I clutched my ice tools as if they were winning lottery tickets and did all I could to pull myself up the climb. Exactly everything you’re not supposed to do. I was done for. Attached by rope to a world-class climber continuously relaying instruction and words of motivation from below, I realized I actually wasn’t stranded atop some icy world of defeat. Resting in my harness, I focused upon putting those words into motion. I soon found myself confidently stepping in, then up, to the top of the climb. Worked over and warmed up I sat back for the short decent, eager to again try what I had learned, what I had just discovered. A collective thread seemed to weave its way through the group. Clearly more than a few of us boarded that shuttle with thoughts of self-doubt. As we stood in the snow awaiting our next turn, impervious to the cold, it was obvious those thoughts had morphed into an intense feeling of accomplishment.
The ice that day has long since vanished as summer took center stage. Now, with the arrival of autumn, the winds along Superior’s shore are starting to shift. And though the leaves have just to fall, they’ve got me thinking of snow. They’ve got me thinking of ice. This year, I’ll be waiting for that alarm to ring.
Adam Robarge is a Brewery Liaison/Craft Beer Activist and now an ice climber. Most people ask, “What’s a liaison?” A liaison links: brewery to community, words to beer, labels to bottles, bottles to hands. After all, in my experience, beer pairs well with life. I said that. The Ore Dock Brewing Company is the Official Beer Sponsor of the Michigan Ice Fest.