Peace In A Tin Can

Peace In A Tin Can

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Michigan Ice Fest: The Beta

If you had asked me a week ago what the term "beta" meant, I would have referred to IBM software development or digital video descriptions.  I am a geek, after all.  But today, when I see the word beta I have a whole new understanding and respect for the word, because now, I am an ice climber.

Bill Thompson,
I recently attended the 2013 Michigan Ice Fest, which was without a doubt the most well organized, fun, challenging and fulfilling weekend of my life.  Bill Thompson from Down Wind Sports in Marquette and Houghton, Michigan, works tirelessly and with great passion to organize and promote the event, and he does a top-out (pun intended for you ice climbers out there) job.  I was impressed on so many levels with the Michigan Ice Fest, and am excited to share my experience with you, as well as toss around the many new terms I learned about ice climbing, as if I were an old pro.

Ice Climbing Beta is a term that refers to gaining information about a climb before attempting it.  It encompasses advice from other climbers, weather predictions, ice and snow conditions, routes, grades, and much more.  I intend, over my next several posts, to give you the beta about the festival, so that if you go, and I hope you do, you will be prepared.

After a nerve-wracking drive to Michigan's Upper Peninsula last Wednesday, in which I completed my first solo drive through blizzard conditions, witnessed a fatal accident, prayed, and drove
20 mph for the final 50 miles, I settled in at Munising's Superior Motel with a headache and cold feet.  I mean "cold feet" as in what the hell have I gotten myself into?  But my room was so cozy and comfortable I was able to calm myself and be reminded of my resolve to accomplish something this weekend.

The owners of the Superior Motel have been busy renovating the rooms, and with a brand-new tile floor in the bathroom, a very clean room, and an "up north" ambience, I felt right at home.  The new mattress on the bed welcomed me and my headache, and at midnight I fell asleep with dreams of giant icicles in my head.

I have many stories to share about the Festival, which will come in later posts.  But the most overwhelming theme of the weekend was community.  The incredible support and passion of the people, from Bill Thompson and his staff to the professional alpinists to the repeat attendees to the newbies like me, there was camaraderie and help, a thread of the common bond of people who live outdoors and want to challenge themselves in nature.

I spent the weekend hearing of Denali, Hyalite, Kilimanjaro, and Ararat.  I didn't know where any of the mountains are located, except Denali.  People threw the names of Huaraz, Vinson, and Aconcagua around like I talk about Target and the local grocery store.  Last week I went to the local hiking trail.  Last week Ben Erdmann was in Alaska.  I eavesdropped on conversations about caribiners and clogs, whippers and belays, top rope, anchors, and crampons.  I was confused by the light and fast lead of someone who was dialed in.  It was like hearing a foreign language.

Crampons courtesy Google Images
In the beginning, I hung back.  Intimidated by the language and experiences of the rest of the crowd, I lurked on the fringes of conversations, laughed when everyone else laughed, nodded like I knew who Will Gadd is, and tried to absorb what I could of this confusing world of climbers.  I watched how their eyes lit up when someone spoke of a mixed climb at 17,000 feet, or a six day bivi.  I saw the momentary pause when the name Sue Nott came up.  I wanted to know more.  I felt a pull to understand this community and feel what they feel.  I wanted to experience their language so that instead of words, they became actions.

And I did.  As the weekend progressed, the members of this small club took me in, welcomed me, encouraged me, and taught me.  They introduced me to their passion and ignited a flame in me.  I have to say, I'm hooked.

In subsequent posts, I will explain all these words, and places, and people.  I am honored to introduce my readers to this community of fine people and their passion for living.

Last Saturday, I walked into the Michigan Ice Fest Headquarters in the late afternoon to return my equipment.  As I opened the door, a pair of climbers came out, looked at my gear, and said "Did you climb today?"

The Curtains
"Yeah, yeah I did."  And just like that, I became part of the community.  It doesn't matter that I've only climbed WI3 9 Meter Opening Curtain.  (Sounds like I know what I'm talking about, doesn't it?)  No one cared what my name is, or where I've been, or what I've done.  All they knew was at that moment, I was a climber at the Michigan Ice Fest, one of the most popular destinations for climbers of every level.  It felt really, really good to be nobody but a person who did what the rest of them did and lived to tell about my day.  I was part of something that is so much bigger than the personal details of our lives.  I faced frigid temperatures and wind, stayed out all day, gazed up at a frozen waterfall, and climbed it, with a lot of help from my climbing partners.
Look at me go!

That's what Bill Thompson is all about.  The beta on the Michigan Ice Fest is get out in it, be a part of it, be safe, and embrace every aspect.  It is so worth it to climb on!