Ice Fest 2020 – Hey Let’s Do This Again!

The 2020 Michigan Ice Fest is officially over and 1167 participants/athletes and staff ascended on the beautiful Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Munising, Michigan for what was once again the largest gathering of ice climbers in the Midwest ever! Climbers from  33 different states and 5 different countries were represented this year, as participants traveled from far and wide to enjoy the camaraderie and the chance to climb the spectacular ice formations at Pictured Rocks!

One of the main goals of this year Fest was to develop and enrich the climbing community of the Great Lakes region. We do everything we can to give back, and this year, our 29th anniversary we decided we can do more.
Becoming a carbon neutral event was high on our list. Our climate is changing and this years programming reflected our commitment to the environment.  For the first time ever participants were able to offset their carbon during registration and we are proud to announce that $1500 will be donated to the Honnold Foundation. Over the next few festivals we have plans to reduce and offset all of the carbon emissions related to the festival, including travel, shipping and festival events.
Festivals make a lot of waste, but they don’t have to. Again this year we partnered with Klean Kanteen to reduce the amount of single use plastic our parties produced. It was a huge success and inspired us to do even more for 2021.

Another focus this year was diversity, equity, and inclusion. Looking around at Ice Fest over the past many years, we realized that there were a lot of people not being included in the fun. Climbing is not an exclusive club. Anyone who wants access and membership in our community should be encouraged and welcomed with open arms.  We developed a partnership with Lowa Boots and Big City Mountaineers to help break down these barriers. The BCM brought 8 wonderful kids from Minneapolis to experience the wonders of climbing in the U.P. and we are very excited for the future of our sport!


Tuesday MIF staff and volunteers set up an exhibitor display and opened registration at our headquarters in downtown Munising. Participants had the opportunity to shop products, interact with athletes, and talk with sales reps from some of the leading manufacturers in the outdoor industry. Once again our Gold Level Sponsor Fits Socks hooked up the first 100 online sign ups with brand new socks to keep their feet warm during the event.  In or effort to reduce our dependence on single use plastic cups, Klean Kanteen provided a MIF logo pint glass to be used throughout the weekend!  Big thanks to Fits and Klean Kanteen for sponsoring our event!

The festival was officially underway on Wednesday as several full courses headed out with our professional athletes.  For the first year ever we offered back country trip to Grand Island but unfortunately the big lake did not cooperate as there was not enough lake ice to safely get participants to the island.

Our main stage presentation was the Sterling Rope Film Adaptive. The film followed Jim Ewing – a Sterling Rope engineer and below-the-knee amputee who enlists professional climber, Maureen Beck – born without her left hand – to attempt the first all-adaptive ascent of the über classic and deeply remote Lotus Flower Tower (5.10+) in Canada’s Cirque of the Unclimbables.

A casual climber’s social on Wednesday night at Shooters beckoned those who had climbed all day as well as those that had just arrived in Munising, and plans for more type-II fun were made for the following day.


New to the fest this year was our morning Coffee Talks at The Gallery Coffee Company.  The programming started off with Former Former Army Ranger 3/75 and Executive Director / Founder Veterans Expeditions, Nick Watson who spoke on military veteran climbing.

Best thing ever was that new sponsor YETI provided free coffee throughout the festival during our mornings at the Gallery Coffee Company!

Great stories kept coming in all day of climbers hitting the ice during one of the colder days of the festival. Wide eyed first timers we able to experience the force of an angry Lake Superior as the cold winds were relentless.

Once again we offered Free Ground School classes run by the good folks at the American Alpine Club on the AAC Boulder! This year we are proud to say that 279 participants took advantage of the free classes to learn valuable skills.

The evening presentations at the Mather Auditorium included a powerful presentation on climbing, diversity, & inclusion from festival favorite Nikki Smith.

First time Ice Fester, Graham Zimmerman entertained the crowd sharing his experience of the first ascent of Link Sar in Pakistan. A gripping tale filled with all of the details of this brilliant first ascent with his partners Steve Swenson, Chris Wright and Mark Richey.

The final presentation of the evening was from our good friend and North Face athlete, Sam Elias.  It has been awhile since Sam was at the fest and it was great to have him return home and present on his project, Cities to Crags, showing some amazing climbing gyms and programs being developed in many urban cities.

A highlight for many at Ice Fest are these wonderful and unique presentations……we were barely 48 hours into Ice Fest and the stoke was already high!

The evening’s social kicked off at our new party headquarters, The Gallery Coffee Company and a sampling from our official beer sponsor- The Ore Dock Brewing Company.


Waking up early Friday morning to a bluebird day,  climbers hit the trails in search of ice. Several groups headed out the Lakeshore Trail, while others walked, skied or snowmobiled out to the backcountry climbs. Wide eyed first timers we able to experience the force of an angry Lake Superior as the cold winds were relentless.

Our morning Coffee Talks included Climbing Photography with Austin Schmitz.  Missed the show?  You can catch the live stream here!

Many consider the performance of climbing as an art form in itself, so it only seemed natural to bring a climbing artist to Ice Fest highlighting our new program Artist on Ice. We were excited to have our first visiting artist Craig Muderlak showing his art as well as presenting a Coffee Talk.

Our final Coffee Talk of the morning featured Carolie Gleich who shared her personal stories about Himalayan ski mountaineering and citizen activism, highlighting the parallels between adventure and advocacy and the tools and advice you need to influence public policy.

Most clinics at the fest were filled to capacity and we were fortunate to secure some of the best professional athletes to instruct our clinics and offer some amazing learning opportunities for our participants, all of which wouldn’t have been possible without our sponsors.

Working in conjunction with Veterans Expeditions, we were proud to offer ice climbing opportunities for our Nations veterans. The group headed out to lakeshore to get instruction from Karsten Delap. Our Verglas for Vets program  will move forward to the 2021 fest and continue to offer vets the opportunity to meet other veterans and experience the sport of ice climbing in a supportive educational setting.

Thankfully, our friends from Big Agnes set up a warming tent down on Sand Point to give participants safe and warm place to escape the cold wind. They stayed out there all weekend and were a great place of refuge.

Late afternoon had our headquarters full of good smells and smiling faces as Brittany Griffith of Patagonia Provisions cooked up some wonderful treats just in time for hungry climbers fresh off the ice! Mackerel? Yes we had some.  Sushi?  Of course we had that too! Missed out?  We have to have her back again next year!

We had a very long line winding throughout the community center…..why you may ask? Well YETI decided to sell YETI drinkwear at $10.00 and have Conrad Anker engrave them!

We are pretty stoked that YETI has joined our team as they brought a lot of special touches to our event from the free coffee, to the $10 drinkwear. The amazing part of the drinkware sale is that YETI raised $3000 for the SHARP Team!  Over the last 8 years participation at Ice Fest, and climbing around the central Upper Peninsula, has grown a ton.  That growth has brought a lot of good things to the area but has also brought an increased risk of accidents.

SHARP is a team of local climbers and Ice Fest guides that are trained in high angle rescues, to assist local agencies in case an accident happens. Thank you to YETI in assisting to help in making climbing in the Upper Peninsula more safe!

Our presentation schedule for Friday kicked off with Garrett Peabody at the Community Center highlighting his climbing facility in Fenton Michigan.

One of our pushes this year was to make our event more sustainable and part of that was to bring Protect our Winters in for a panel discussion. Interesting perspectives were shared from Caroline Gleich, Conrad Anker, Ryan Vachone and Graham Zimmerman!


Friday evening the festival gathered at the Mather Auditorium for introductions , announcements and presentations.  The Michigan Ice Fest has a long standing relationship with the National Park Service and each year the superintendent and chief ranger come on stage to officially welcome participants to the park.  This year the rangers surprised the audience with an announcement of opening Munising Falls to climbing for two days of the festival!  The climb has been closed since the 1990’s so this was a special treat for this years participants and we thank the park service for allowing this unique opportunity!

Photo by @wilkinsonvisual –

Ice climbing in Kentucky?! You bet there is and we learned all about it from Ice Fest friend and film director of Gone Tomorrow The Story of Kentucky Ice Climbing. This adventure documentary took the audience for a bourbon-fueled ride deep into the bushy hollers of Appalachia with a crew of harmless misfits as they raced to search out and climb new ice routes before they’re gone!

With a packed auditorium of over 700 people, Patagonia athlete Steve House finished the evening off with an entertaining presentation of his career in climbing.  Always an Ice Fest favorite, we are lucky to have the talents of someone like Steve at our event.

Friday’s after party we took it to the streets! Friday night after the presentations we hit the circus tent on Maple Street right in front of Munising’s finest brewery, the East Channel Brewery which offers a variety of unique beers “made with water from the freshest lake in the world!” Fire pits and space heaters kept climbers warm and the cold beer was a great way to top off a special night.




Our hosts at the Gallery Coffee company didn’t disappoint with the morning presentations.  Fueled by amazing coffee our first presenter was James Mills speaking on The Adventure Gap.  The nation’s wild places——from national and state parks to national forests, preserves, and wilderness areas——belong to all Americans. But not all of us use these resources equally. Minority communities across our country are much less likely to seek recreation, adventure, and solace in our wilderness spaces. It’s a difference that African American author James Edward Mills addresses in his 2014 book, The Adventure Gap: Changing the Face of the Outdoors. Missed the show- check it out here!

Following James, Conrad Anker held a true Coffee Talk by inviting the audience to join him on stage to discuss climate change.  This unique presentation offered a more intimate discussion on a topic that is near and dear to our festival.  Watch the full presentation here!

As usual, we got the ball rolling early with equipment hand out for Ice Fest courses. One of the unique aspects of the Ice Fest is the opportunity to take a course, whether entry-level or advanced, from one the most accomplished climbers in the country. Sent to the festival from our sponsors, these athletes work with participants to give them the tools to be successful. Talented, patient, funny and some of the nicest people in the industry, these climbers are what make Michigan Ice Fest so darn fun (and welcoming!)

The demo area at The Curtains saw lots of first time ice climbers learning the basics on some of the many routes that were set up. Crisp temperatures greeted the eager participants but most climbers were able to top out on their first climbs. Hundreds of people were challenged throughout the day with a variety of climbs. Morning excitement to get on the ice quickly gave way to the afternoon exhaustion that can only come from climbing hard in U.P. temps and Lake Superior gusts.

Saturday afternoon we celebrated mountain literature where Ice Fest brings together writers/athletes and of course, our book loving participants!  Our host the Falling Rock Cafe, is the perfect setting to grab a snack and coffee, buy a book, and have a discussion with one of our athlete/authors!

For those who came off the ice a little early, they were treated with stunning imagery at Paul McSorley’s slideshow at the Community Center.

With a long day of climbing, for some their third or fourth in a row, everyone converged upon Mather Auditorium for the highly anticipated Saturday night presentation of Himalayan Ice. Alpinists Ari Novak and Karsten Delap set out for India to explore one of the most remote valleys in the Indian Himalaya with local climber Karn Kowshik. Their goal was to meet with the indigenous population of the Spiti Valley and try to support local ice climbing. What they found was perhaps the biggest treasure trove of unclimbed ice in all the Himalaya. All four members of the expedition were on hand to give our audience a first hand account on why and how this expedition took place!

The final program of the evening was from mountaineering legend Conrad Anker chronicling his storied climbing career. Mather Auditorium had standing room only as the audience as Conrad took us from Yosemite to Everest to Meru, recounting the most prominent stories and pivotal points of his life of mountaineering.

Prior to the shows we introduced our 2020 Sue Nott Scholarship winners, Alex Hansen the Heartland Grant Award winner, and the Mark Mahaney Scholarship winners.

With a still incredibly packed auditorium, the evening concluded with the now legendary Michigan Ice Fest raffle where we gave out close to  $10,000.00 worth of gear and clothing to some very excited climbers. Soft shells, belay parkas, ropes, crampons, shells, packs, tools, screws, and ice boots were only a few of the items raffled off to the biggest Saturday night crowd we’ve ever had!

After the raffle climbers gathered to celebrate a great weekend of climbing at the “Chris Kalous Dance Party” which was buzzing with the sounds of The Way Outs!


The classic UP weather opened and a wee bit of sunshine warmed climbers as they headed out to Sunday classes and the demo.  The effects of climbing hard all day Saturday and a late night of socializing must have taken its toll on climbers as the demo area was very laid back all day on Sunday. This afforded climbers their choice of routes for most of the day.

With all the changes we’ve seen this year it was another great Michigan Ice Festival and we appreciate all of the patronage we get from Midwest climbers. We are proud to say that over the weekend we were able to sign up 116 new members to the American Alpine Club, and exposed hundreds of first-time climbers to the sport of ice climbing — not to mention all the professional athletes who were able to experience the cold and masochistic world of Midwest ice climbing for the first time.


As you look back on your Ice Fest experience we ask you to think about the companies and organizations that you saw this weekend, and if you liked what you saw or tried on during the weekend we encourage you to buy local. Buying local in the Midwest supports the reps that came, and in turn helps to keep the Michigan Ice Fest alive and healthy. Feeling some retrospective remorse for not buying those mountain boots? Down Wind Sports is still offering the Ice Fest discount for the next week. Give them a call at 906-387-8025.

We also want to thank all those who volunteered their time, energy, and hard work throughout the weekend. Without these folks Ice Fest would simply not happen.

The reason our event is so successful is because of the assistance behind the scene from all of our sponsors. If you were at the event and had fun, enjoyed the presenters, or loved the killer raffle prizes please drop the following sponsors a note to tell them that you appreciate them and their support for the Michigan Ice Fest!



We also can’t thank our athletes enough.  Over the years they have shared their expertise and knowledge to thousands of Michigan Ice Fest participants giving them a solid foundation to help them to enjoy the sport we love and to help keep them safe while out climbing.  The 2020 lineup was as strong as it has ever been- to the following we are forever grateful. Many of these athletes are guides and would love to see Michigan Ice Fest participants in the future.

And finally, thank you so much for being part of the Michigan Ice Fest this year! The festival is a gathering of our tribe and we are so thankful that climbers from all over the Midwest continue to come up and celebrate everything that is Michigan Ice. We hope you had an great experience and you can be sure that we are already working on bringing you the best Ice Fest in 2021…..our 30th anniversary! Be sure to keep up with what is happening with the Michigan Ice Fest through our blog at or on our facebook page!


ICE FEST February 10-14th 2021