I once interviewed famous climber Pete Takeda about his experience in this town of 2,784 on Michigan's Upper Peninsula, which every winter hosts a unique gathering of Midwestern climbers at the Michigan Ice Fest. He was impressed with the ice climbing and moved by the locals' enthusiasm for the sport.

He also commented on the nightlife scene. "I liked the fact that all the locals smoked and ate lots of red meat and deep fried everything," he said.His impressions seemed to sum up the Munising experience. Real people with North Woods ethic and a town immersed in a great wilderness setting.

He forgot one thing, however: piles and piles of snow.

Last winter, the sleepy Lake Superior town recorded 276 inches of snowfall--that's 23 feet. Because of its proximity to the big water, Munising is ravaged with lake-effect snow. It averages about 215 inches of the white stuff each winter.

On the quiet side streets, residents have to shovel out their mailboxes to retrieve letters. The sidewalks are enclosed alleys and resemble tight sheet-rocked hallways. The pavement has an always-present shine of compacted snow.

Surrounding the town, the dense pine woods of the Hiawatha National Forest dominate the terrain. Bluffs roll toward the lakeshore. Tight river canyons cut scars through the hills. Icy water races to the lake.

East of town, the silent winter forests push up against the dramatic Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Towering, multi-colored sandstone cliffs glint in the sunlight. Huge icicles drape from the precipitous heights. Lake Superior lays out in an icy abyss, stretching from the shoreline to a blurred horizon.

The boundless lake, wild forests and white mantle of fresh snow give the town a feeling of vitality and freedom. There is also a sense of purity that can only be found in a North Woods wintertime setting.

The locals add to the experience, smiling, offering conversation and simply persevering through the long winters. They embrace winter recreation, and party and laugh into the cold nights.

The Michigan Ice Fest attracts hundreds of ice climbers from Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Detroit, Chicago and beyond. Last year's event pulled in more than 350 participants and other visitors.

The festival focuses around the stunning climbs of Pictured Rocks. The largest icefalls are more than 200 feet high.

To ascent, climbers use specialized boots, ice axes and crampons (boot-spikes), plus ropes and other climbing gear.

In addition to the many Midwesterners, a handful of world-famous climbers came to the event last year. They gave slideshow presentations and taught introductory and advanced ice climbing classes. Free gear demonstrations were also included in the four-day event.

The festival is one of the Midwest's most popular climbing events.

The Lake Superior region has four ice climbing festivals each year, but the Michigan Ice Fest continually brings in the largest crowds and biggest sponsorships.

First-time climbers and people just wanting a look at the sport are welcome. The gear demonstrations let interested people try out the sport for free with the latest equipment.

Experienced climbers benefit from advanced classes and the advice of the visiting experts. Also, the area's immense icefalls present challenges to climbers of all levels.

At the end of his stay, Pete Takeda had climbed those 200-foot frozen waterfalls, helped introduce beginners to the sport and had given a slideshow to a crowd of 250 people. He also had his share of Munising's rich cuisine. Despite the daily ice climbing adventures, by the end he'd gained three pounds--not bad for a four-day weekend.

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