Story by Jay Lowry
Despite what TLC might advise, Tahquamenon’s frozen waterfalls are a unique thrill worth seeking this winter. When temperatures fall each year, these waterfalls can freeze in place, creating an entirely new scenic destination! For the people who want to climb these formations or photographers hoping for a unique shot, this time of year is when the real fun begins!
The Tahquamenon Falls are located in Paradise, Michigan (in the Upper Peninsula), nestled within Tahquamenon State Park. During the summer, locals and tourists alike rush to the lower falls, where the water is much calmer, for swimming and hiking adventures. The falls are also unique for photography due to the yellowish-brown color of the water due to the tannins that are sourced from the nearby cedar swamp at the head of the Tahquamenon River (hint- perfect for Scenic Michigan’s photo contest).
For travelers who aren’t interested in summer trips, and for those who do want to brave the cold, the waterfalls offer a whole reason for a vacation up to the U.P. once they creep to a stop. Tahquamenon Falls are typically frozen solid enough for safe climbing from January through March, right at the time of the publishing of this newsletter. Due to the large amount of water, and the rapid flow of the waterfalls, the freezing process of Tahquamenon Falls is unique. Since the process of freezing the waterfall is slow, the frozen falls actually start off as a gathering of frazil ice. Frazil ice is a gathering of ice crystals that form a sort of slush within the waterfall. These gatherings can anchor onto rocks like giant icicles at the top of the fall, and gradually lengthen down as the water spray accumulates. As the temperature continues to get colder the groundwater that supplies the waterfall freezes, diminishing the flow of the waterfall. Finally, once the water is no longer moving, then voila! You have a frozen waterfall ready to be climbed!
Now, while similar in concept to traditional rock climbing, this adventure is going to require a whole new set of equipment. Aside from the essential winter additions of a warm coat and fuzzy hat, an ice climber depends on a special pair of shoes called crampons. Crampons are insulated ice climbing shoes adorned with sharp spikes around the outside. These spikes are designed to be kicked into the ice to provide extra traction, as well as to make footholds. Even the climbing axes are tools that must be carefully chosen since they are used to chop chunks out of the ice in order to create handholds where the climber can lift themselves up!
Now if the freezing weather is not piquing your interest, or even making you cringe, don’t write off this trip just yet. Beginners and experienced climbers can sign up for classes, or “festivals”, where climbers can learn everything they need to know from a trained instructor. Doing the activity in groups of two or more is ideal, and harnesses are recommended for all participants who want to try this excursion. Safety first!
If I still haven’t convinced you to give the activity a shot sometime, Tahquamenon Falls State Park offers many other wonderful natural experiences, along with a fantastic view, especially in the wintertime! It’s more important now than ever to show continued support for the conservation of our state parks and one of the simplest ways to do this is by paying a couple of dollars to visit. If you decide to visit Tahquamenon Falls this winter be sure to share a picture with us on our social media pages!
Photo pulled from the RunOut Podcast.