Ice and Carelessness

While on the pier at Grand Haven, Michigan, I noticed dozens of visitors walking on the shelf ice off shore of the public beach.  These particular people, decided to walk as far as they could, and made it to the very edge of the shelf ice.  Once there, they climbed the highest mound and stood on top, taking in the view.

Sounds like a great vantage point - probably was.  But that walk could have easily ended in tragedy if one foot fell through the ice on the way out or the way back.  Shelf ice is never safe to walk on.  Cracks and faults in the ice lead directly to the freezing water below.  The large mound can crack off of the rest of the ice shelf, and roll into the lake - taking everyone with it.

These people probably weren't aware of the danger, or simply figured they knew better.  I watched as they made their way back to shore, expecting one to simply disappear at any moment.  Luckily, they all returned safely.

Broken Ice

Sheets of Ice
Large sheets of ice, broken up by the waves of Lake Michigan, gather together in piles, soon to become pancake ice. Pancake ice is created when ice collides with other chunks of ice in moving water.  They collied and turn slighthly, over and over again.  The random movement creates round formations that look like pancakes or donuts. Notice how the broken ice is beginning to form round bunches on the water.

These large, flat pieces of ice came from the Grand River, and collected here, near the mouth of the river at Grand Haven, Michigan. Though they look rather small, the larger chunks measured about 10 feet across, and at least four inches thick.

As they moved in the water, an odd squeaking, cracking sound could be heard.

Winter Stroll

Winter Stroll

A Walk on the beach in winter is really a trip to another world.  Viewing Lake Michigan from a sand dune may be the only way to actually see the lake. Once you're down on the beach, the lake is invisible, obstructed by the 15 foot tall ice mounds created by the pounding waves and freezing temperatures. These mounds appear like mini-volcanos, slowing growing as the waves force water up though the cones of ice. Walking safely on the sand, it appears as if you're walking in the arctic, on top of a mountain range, viewing another mountain range from a distance, but the "mountain range" is in reality, only 15 feet tall.

Ice Mounds

If you haven't been to a Great Lakes beach in winter, put it on your list of things to do.  You've got another month at least to experience the magical, frozen landscape first-hand.  Remember to stay off of the ice mounds. Read why here, on my Huffington Post blog:

Frozen Pierhead

Frozen Pierhead

A pier on Lake Michigan, in winter, covered in piles of ice chunks several feet tall doesn't seem to be a prime destination for many, but for us, it was a perfect weekend getaway.  Most people visit beaches in the summer, and when I mention I'm heading to the beach in February, they seem to think I'm heading to the tropics.  I wouldn't pass up an opportunity to walk on the frozen shore - I could see a tropical beach any time of the year, but the ice boulders and shelf ice are only here for a while. Mix in giant icicles created by frozen spray from Lake Michigan, and we have the perfect spot to visit on a sunny winter afternoon.

Locked in Ice

We headed onto the frozen pier carefully; it was my youngest son's first time up close at a frozen lighthouse. Knowing the area and the construction of the pier is important, especially when bringing someone else with you.  It was easy to see where the concrete pier ended even though it was covered in ice that extended many feet into the lake.  We remained safely on the concrete areas, and avoided any areas where a slip would result in a slide into the cold lake. We stopped a few meters from the lighthouse, noticing the piles of ice further up were large enough to carry a falling person into the water like a toboggan.

From the vantage point of the pier, we could view the shelf ice from the windward side, the side facing the lake. Thankfully, on this visit, nobody was spotted walking on the dangerous shelf ice.

Michigan City Pierhead Iced Up

Michigan City Ice

The sunny afternoon brought temperatures near 40 degrees, making for a very comfortable visit to Michigan City, Indiana's Washington Park. The lakefront park is a convenient place to view the winter shore. A lot of the lakefront parks at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore are closed during the winter, so this is one place to view the shelf ice.  It also provides a great view, and access to the Michigan City East Pierhead lighthouse, and this year, it had quite a bit of ice on it. I haven't seen this lighthouse covered in ice as dramatically as some lighthouses in Michigan, but this year was different.

We decided to see how far we could walk out on the frozen pier before it got too dangerous.  The ice boulders washed up by the waves provided pretty good footing, preventing us from accidentally sliding off of the pier. The shelf ice can be safely viewed from the pier, and it was rather large and dramatic.

Ice Packed Harbor

As we climbed up and down the mounds of ice on the pier, we were reminded of the warm weather by the constant dripping coming from the melting ice on the catwalk.  At times, the ice was mounded so high, we were able to see over the catwalk.

More snow, cold, and wind this week, possibly adding to the ice on the pier in Michigan City.

Beneath Wildcat Falls

Beneath Wildcat Falls

Starved Rock's Wildcat Canyon features an 80 foot tall waterfall that freezes into a solid column of ice in winter.  Used by some for ice climbing, the column grows to at least eight feet in diameter, and is a wonder to stand near.

I was able to climb up a small, icy rock outcropping just behind the frozen waterfall. Here I could view the back of the waterfall - the portion toward the inside the concave canyon wall.  Water continued to drip from the stream above, and echoed inside the small cave created by the ice column. From the bottom of the frozen fall, one gets a unique perspective of the ice in relation to the canyon.

After years of visiting Starved Rock in winter, I'm still amazed at the scale of these icefalls.

Matthiessen's Frozen Waterfalls

Pair of Frozen Waterfalls

Almost every winter, the waterfalls of Matthiessen State Park freeze over. One pair of waterfalls that are in close proximity to each other, but not often visited (because one needs to cross a small creek), create ice caves on the sides of the canyon walls.

The canyon walls are undercut here, and as the water flows over, it drops several feet away from the interior rock wall allowing for space between the falling water and the back of the canyon wall. When the falling water freezes, it creates a solid wall of ice, with a few feet in between the ice and the rock wall.  Most years, agile hikers can climb into this space, and explore the "ice cave" from within.

Inside the Ice Cave

This winter, the canyon beyond Matthiessen's Cedar Point contained two frozen waterfalls, and one in particular created an ice cave that was long and accessible from both sides. The approximately 50 foot long cave had an interior height of about five feet, and width of four feet, making the walk inside relatively easy.  In years past, the length of the cave was obstructed by ice, and one could only venture in a few feet before confronting the end of the cave.

Colorful Ice

Eerily lit by sunlight filtering through the ice wall, I found the light mesmerizing as I explored inside the cave. The ice was multicolored; minerals and clay carried by the water froze in place, and the canyon walls, sky, and trees were telegraphing through the ice.  Water continued to fall between the frozen walls, creating a six to eight inch deep pond on the entire floor of the ice cave.  As I walked through the cave to the far end, it was possible to exit on the other side of the canyon, where a good amount of water was falling from the creek above. Not wanting to get drenched on such a cold afternoon, I headed back the way I came, viewing the ice from a different perspective.

Ice Cave Interior

Most of Matthiessen's five or more waterfalls freeze each winter, but the two beyond Cedar Point are by far the most interesting for me to explore - inside and out.