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Michigan filmmaker highlights ice climbing culture in the U.P.

Feb 12, 2016

Last week it was 50 degrees in many parts of the state. This week it’s freezing. But in the Upper Peninsula, freezing is a good thing for certain adventurous souls.

The sandstone cliffs in Munising, Michigan rise 200 feet above Lake Superior, and during the winter the area attracts ice climbers.

Marquette resident Aaron Peterson is the director, editor, and cinematographer of the new film The Michigan Ice Film. The film takes a look at ice climbing culture in Munising, home to one of the world’s largest concentrations of climbable ice and the nation’s oldest ice climbing festival, the Michigan Ice Fest.

Ice climbing route in the U.P. called "HMR"
Credit Aaron Peterson/Clear & Cold Cinema

Many of us may recoil at the thought of embracing the cold and climbing a frozen waterfall, but Peterson tells us that for some folks, it’s an experience unlike any other.

“Some of these people are crazy, but you know what, there’s a 30-year history of ice climbing, and it’s not for the faint of heart, but there is a tribe of winter folks out there that want to test themselves, and Munising and the Upper Peninsula is the place to do that in the Midwest,” he says.

Peterson tells us that since it started in the late ‘80s, the Michigan Ice Fest in the U.P. has been a great scene for first-time climbers.

"I really wanted to show the way of life here ... the flavor of the people, the flavor of the land, it's different."

“A lot of the western festivals focus on intermediate to advanced climbers. The Michigan Ice Fest is a laid-back, family reunion-style, you know, there’s a lot of beer, a lot of slideshows and opportunities for folks that have never done this before, [who] have no equipment,” Peterson says.

“For $45, you get on a rope, and you learn from the best of the business. It’s amazing. I did it myself.”

Climber Sam Elias
Credit Aaron Peterson/Clear & Cold Cinema

Peterson has spent the last three winters filming for The Michigan Ice Film. While climbing does take a central focus, Peterson wants audiences to get more out of the film than the thrill of the climb. He’s lived in Marquette for over a decade, and wants to share a little bit of the U.P. culture and way of life with the world.

“I live here, you know, and these are my friends and my neighbors, and there’s a way of life here. I was not very interested in making a climbing film. That’s not what I do. I make people films. I wanted this to be a film of people and place, and using climbing as a vehicle to take it out to the world,” he says. “I really wanted to show the way of life here. As Sam Elias says in the film, the flavor of the people, the flavor of the land. It’s different.”

“In the homogenization of the modern world, the U.P. stands out as still a relic, you know, a place where there’s true culture. Albeit quirky, and albeit northern, it’s a true culture that is still untouched by the outside world.”

Peterson tells us The Michigan Ice Film will premiere at this year’s Michigan Ice Fest on February 13, in Munising’s Mather Auditorium.

The film, along with behind the scenes content and outtakes, will be available for rent and purchase on Vimeo

The Michigan Ice Film from Clear & Cold Cinema on Vimeo.