Obsession and Ingenuity, Part I: Michigan


Brittany Schram, on the left, and an unidentified participant on the right, climb opposite sides of the tower during the sunshine and mild temperatures of the Fen-tucky Ice Fest, January 2007. [Photo] Courtesy of Garrett Peabody

Finally, with three 70-foot trees, the aforementioned crane, an unused farm well, 250 feet of plastic tubing, some landscaping-grade sprinkler systems borrowed from Jeff's business, a lot of two by fours, an unmentionable amount of chain-link fence and 30,000 gallons of water, the third edition of the tower was a success.

"If you have temps below 20 degrees, you can build the tower with proper adjustments on the heads—that has to be done while the water is running and you are 55 feet in the air with the wind blowing and water freezing to you—in about three days. It takes much longer if weather is around 25 degrees," Jeff reports. Fifty-seven feet high, mildly overhanging on one side, the new structure featured enough to provide quite a few different routes.

[Photo] Luke Bauer

Now that the gentlemen had a tower, it was time to have a festival.

Owing to the rural nature of Fenton, Michigan, and the originators' extensive time climbing rock in Kentucky's Red River Gorge, the festival was eventually dubbed the Fen-tucky Ice Fest and was held over a weekend in late January of 2007. Attended by more than seventy people, it "went off without a hitch."

Participants, mostly friends and family of the builders—and one Finnish couple—with some acquaintances of acquaintances ranging from as far away as Ontario, Kentucky, and Wisconsin, found the two top ropes and the remarkably long-lasting keg to be a satisfying way to spend the day.

Next to the tower was a ca. 1950 mobile home—decidedly lacking in mobility these days—decked out with propane heaters, ashtrays and shag carpeting. This became the warming trailer: a lounge, of sorts, for those participants less familiar with the rigors of belaying in the cold from the comfort of a lawn chair.


"My mom got up about fifteen feet and had a blast. The typical rest time between laps was about the time it took to drink a beer, and we lucked out with fantastic weather for the day," Garrett said.

When darkness fell, the party moved inside the nearby barn, where Mr. Peabody's brother had constructed a bar, christened Dirty Ernie's after the farm's old tractor mechanic. The party lasted well into the night, while acquaintances of acquaintances became friends. "Next year we're going to have a bluegrass band."

Jeff Shoemaker, showing off the latest in business casual ice climbing attire. [Photo] Courtesy of Garrett Peabody

"Though we still spend most weekends in the car, we can now spend our lunch hours climbing ice in khakis, and our evenings climbing ice by headlamp. Sometimes, however, the tower's proximity to civilization makes it a little trying. A bystander, watching us one day, said, "Why didn't you build it higher? You have way more rope."

For information on the upcoming Fen-Tucky Ice Festival, tentatively targeted for Saturday, January 12, 2008, send an email to the organizers.

Community tool storage. [Photo] Courtesy of Jeff Shoemaker

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