Editor’s Note: Look for coverage of Great Lakes recreation and adventure in this new monthly feature. The author, Ian Solomon, founded Amplify Outside, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing access and representation by Black people in the outdoors, starting in the Great Lakes region. Find more about him HERE.
As the age old saying goes, “you never know what you have until it’s gone.” And while winter is technically here, the season we knew as children seems long gone. I’ve never been a big fan of the cold months, but I’m determined to mend our relationship this year.
As I write this on yet another 40 degree January day here in Southeast Michigan, I’m grateful to be spared of the bitter cold, but admittedly nostalgic for the snowy days I grew up with. Winter is changing and I may be running out of time to love it.
To work on any relationship, one must first identify where it all went wrong.
Snow is beautiful while it falls, but in a major metropolitan area like Metro Detroit, the beauty can turn ugly quick. When slushy roads meet dirty snow mounds, your morning commute can feel like a scene from Mad Max. In other words, winter disrupts a flow we are not willing to change.
That’s right, I’m choosing to turn the blame inward asking “is it really winter’s fault we don’t slow down with it?” While the unrelenting hustle and bustle of the urban world is out of my control, I knew somewhere I could escape the movement — Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Shortly after crossing the Mackinac Bridge I found the winter I had been searching for. Err, maybe it found me. I was quickly inundated with the Yoop’s biggest snowstorm of the season.
This was a far cry from the nearly 50 degree weather I left earlier in the day. In just a few hours, over a foot of snow had landed across the peninsula. If it weren’t for massive snow plows constantly clearing the roads, I surely wouldn’t have made it to my hotel. I know what you’re thinking … Ian Outside sleeping indoors? Blasphemous. Please forgive me, but this relationship is on eggshells and I’m taking baby steps.
It wasn’t until morning that I saw just how lucky I was to be caught in winter’s wrath.
A thick, fresh blanket of snow covered Munising’s tall pines and vast shores. I was beginning to get the hype. That’s an understatement, I was amazed. I had forgotten how a fresh snowfall makes a cloudy day bright and just how quiet the woods become after nature’s sound proofing. We may not be in love yet, but I was starting to like it and eager to explore.
I was immediately engulfed by the quiet. Even in the more populated areas, there was a slowness that felt fitting for the setting — finally somewhere that works with the seasons rather than against it. Snowmobiles replaced sedans and summer hours were no more. Everything and everyone seems to slow down. As someone familiar with the Pictured Rocks area in the summertime, the shift in momentum can be felt immediately.
The once readily available trailheads are now miles down unplowed roads and Lake Superior’s icy winds are far from inviting. The area receives droves of tourists every summer and fall looking to soak up its one of a kind relatively accessible landscape, but the winter stops most in their tracks— most, not all.
I decided to join the minority of tourists that traverse the northern Michigan cold. There is a wealth of winter recreation opportunities in the U.P. The area is known for some of the best ice climbing in the world and Munising’s Ice Fest in early February draws a massive global crowd annually. While Ice Climbing was certainly on the list, today was for hiking.
Somewhat unprepared for the landscape, I took the opportunity to absorb the area from the comfort of my car taking the 40 minute coastal drive from Munising to Marquette. Ice is just beginning to form on Lake Superior, a 30 foot Santa Clause read “North Pole” from the side of the road and another quick flurry began to fall.
I had successfully found my winter wonderland and I was kicking myself for not renting the snowshoes necessary to explore! I knew my hiking boots wouldn’t take me through an unbroken plane of snow, but there was no way I was keeping this a scenic drive.
Looking for a chance at adventure, I found myself at Presque Isle State Park in Marquette. I’d fallen in love with this park five summers in a row and was dying to see the change the season brought and knew there was a slim chance the road would be plowed, but to my surprise it didn’t matter.
Here’s a winter in the U.P. lesson — save the road less traveled for summer, a trailblazer is your best friend. Thanks to the hike’s popularity, the foot traffic along the trails had packed the snow so densely it was a walk in the park (pun, regretfully, intended) and I couldn’t have been more grateful. Just as I suspected, the season had transformed the landscape I’ve loved for years into something new I could love all the same. Towering icicles grew down the cliffs and the steep rocks were capped with snow as Lake Superior roared. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves, but I think me and winter might just figure this thing out.
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Featured image: “I had successfully found my winter wonderland.” (Photo Credit: Ian Solomon)