Hiking the Waterline

Hiking the Waterline

It may not look like it, but this is the shore of Lake Michigan. The person walking is safe, right on the shore where the waves break in warmer weather. Cold water and waves create these mounds of shelf ice; this year, they extended hundreds of feet into the lake. Tempting hills to climb, but they can be deadly, so it's never a good idea to wander out onto them.

Into the Light

Into the Light

Kintzele Ditch keeps flowing into Lake Michigan, beneath the thick shelf ice that lines the shore. Sheltered from the winter sun, the temperature in this small valley between the dunes was much colder than the open beach, which receives full sun.

We couldn't wait to get back to the "warm" winter air.

The Carillonneur

The Carillonneur


Walking through the 265 foot long Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, while gazing up to the soaring vaulted ceilings, one feels small. Moments later, as the small, wooden door to the bell tower stairs opens, and the climb to the top begins, one feels large.  The 271 narrow steps spiral to the top, with barely enough room for an adult in a winter coat. We traverse a wooden catwalk that spans a portion of the chapel's false ceiling, around the mechanical unit that once controlled the hourly chimes, past the massive 18.5 ton, F note bell, through a walkway with two inches of snow on the path, and finally, to the heated cabin.


Once inside, the beautifully carved wood instrument commands attention.  The second heaviest musical instrument in the world (second only to it's sister in New York), the carillon, is an organ-like instrument connected to 72 cast bronze bells - each playing a different note - and weighing a total of 199,900 pounds.  The Carillonneur pushes the batons with his fists to activate the clappers of the higher pitched bells, and uses his feet to sound the lower pitched bells.

Mr. Jerry Jelsema, who commutes from southwest Michigan each Friday to play the carillon for 30 minutes, organizes his sheet music, and tunes the bells prior to the noon performance. On this particular day, after a few inches of snow, the bells sound a bit flat, but a few strikes of the batons and the snow falls off.

While Jerry was tuning the carillon, I walked up a few additional spiral stairs to a door that led to the outdoors - to the parapets, 188 feet above the street, near the top of the chapel's 207 foot tall bell tower.  I was alone, yet I shared the view with the stone figures carved at the top of the tower - Thomas Aquinas, John Bunyan, Thomas a Kempis, and Erasmus. Breathtaking views even on a cold, foggy day.

Watching Over Everything

Oddly enough, as I returned to the cabin, I found that even though it was winter, Jerry opened all of the cabin windows. He explained that this was so he could hear the bells as he played -- it was rather difficult to hear all of the bells from inside the cabin. At the stroke of noon, he began to play the carillon with effortless, fluid movements, a testament to his musical talents.  If I wasn't in the cabin enjoying the performance, Jerry would have been playing alone, never seeing any of his audience outside, never receiving any feedback.



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Mr. Jelsema played for 30 minutes, and described the process to me as he played. Following the performance, we locked up and headed back down the narrow, spiral stairs, opening the door to the massive chapel interior.

Who knew so much went in to making those beautiful sounds of the chapel bell tower.

Winter in St. Joseph

Winter in St. Joseph

Said to be the most photographed lighthouse in Michigan, the St. Joseph range lights are a popular spot for avid photographers in winter. The 35 foot tall outer light often receives a thick layer of ice during winter storms. This year was no exception.

Here, people look around the inner light, probably to see if it's safe enough to walk past. It's deceiving from this angle - the outer light is over 100 feet from the inner light, and there is only about a two or three foot wide path between the lighthouse and the frigid lake. In winter, that path is often very slippery.

This year, many people ventured to the outer light, but not many dared go around to the windward side of the outer light. While I've seen hundreds of photos from the shore and the pier, I've only come across a couple of photographers who braved it and ventured out around the tower - me, my son Chris and another person who posted his image on Flickr.

The Ice Monster, from the Edge

It was worth the trek.

Punishment

Punishment

Michigan City's east pierhead light endures another punishing day of wind and waves. Waves crash into the shelf ice, piling up more ice chunks, building more and more shelf ice.

The breakwater off shore, and the boulders along the pier prevent this lighthouse from getting covered in ice as often as its companion a few miles away, in St. Joseph, Michigan.

Lake Effect Snow Approaching

Lake Effect Snow Approaching

With Lake effect snow expected all weekend, I opened the window to check how much snow fell over night. At 5 am, not only was there no snow, but the stars were out. I headed outside with the camera and tripod to capture images of the stars.

In this 5 second exposure, the approaching lake effect snow can be seen on the horizon. By 6:30 am, the snow was falling.

Beneath the Canopy, Under the Bridge

Beneath the Canopy, Under the Bridge

Generally, following a hike down into the canyons of Matthiessen State Park's upper dell area, I'm confronted by a silky waterfall, or a frozen waterfall. While the waterfall was partially frozen, I was captivated more by the view up.

The arched, concrete pedestrian bridge and the bare trees silhouetted against a partly cloudy sky, mattered more to me than another photo of the waterfall.

Watch Your Step

Watch Your Step

Each winter, I dedicate a good portion of my photography to ice and snow. I really don't like cold weather, but for some reason, when I'm out photographing the frozen lakeshore, I don't mind so much. Along with the beauty of the ice, comes a lot of danger. It's easy to forget that these huge mounds of ice are deadly - very deadly. In between the 15 foot thick mounds of ice are dangerous holes - some leading directly to the deep, frigid waters below.

These holes are often covered over by loose, drifted snow or a paper-thin layer of ice. One step and you're in Lake Michigan - 33 degree Lake Michigan, with no way out. It's similar to falling into an open sewer, except there's no ladder to help you out, and you are pushed around under water by the wave action, so you don't pop up where you fell in.

In the photo here, Mike stands near one such hole. This one was easy to see, plus it was formed by waves crashing onto the beach, so it was not over water. Just a few feet to his right is the waterline of Lake Michigan, and the shelf ice continues for hundreds of feet off shore. The water is over 10 feet deep a few yards out, making it impossible for anyone to stand up and attempt to climb out. Besides, the sides of the shaft leading to the surface is slippery ice, and the water is so cold, muscles don't work.

If you're out near Lake Michigan in the winter, resist the temptation to walk on the shelf ice - it's much more beautiful from the top of the dunes, than from the bottom of the lake.

Hundreds of Feet of Ice

Hundreds of Feet of Ice

If you look closely, you'll see a person standing at the foot of the dune, just before the mounds of ice. That's Mike! He ran down the dune ahead of me to the beach.  Standing safely on the sand, he's just a few feet from where Lake Michigan begins, and he knows not to go any further. He really gives the shelf ice some scale.

I'm about 70 feet up the dune, and I can hardly see him. Compare him to the ice mounds behind him, and you begin to realize just how vast the ice field is.

On the Edge

On the Edge

This image is made up of 4, portrait oriented images, stitched together.

Standing (safely) on the first mound of shelf ice. I say "safely" because I know the beach is underneath me, not cold Lake Michigan. If I were to venture any further to the right, I would be standing on ice that formed over water, and was only connected to the shore at the surface - like a shelf; hence the term "shelf ice."

Barely visible are two people walking down the beach - they certainly give some scale to the amount of ice here at the shore. It extends hundreds of feet out into Lake Michigan. The wind and waves kick up the floating drift ice, it piles up near the shore in mounds over 15 feet tall. Then a calm period follows where more drift ice forms, followed by another windy day of ice piling up, and so on. This creates the series of ice mounds seen here.

An Arctic Kintzele Ditch

An Arctic Kintzele Ditch

Walking through this area today, I was struck by how much it appeared like Alaska. The "mountains" on the horizon are only about 15 feet tall, and the water is around 3 feet deep, but it sure seemed like a hike in the arctic.

Kintzele Ditch, the stream seen here, continues to empty into Lake Michigan even when it's clogged with shelf ice.

Frozen Shore

Frozen Shore

Shelf ice lines the beach of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Weeks of cold weather, and high waves have mounded up ice over 15 feet high, and hundreds of feet into Lake Michigan. These thick ice mounds are often peppered with paper-thin covered holes leading directly into the 34 degree lake below. As inviting as it may seem to walk out onto them, it may the your last hike. The ice is attached to the shore, but not the bottom, thus the name "shelf ice." It often breaks off and rolls into the cold lake, creating a dangerous environment for people.

Two people walk along the shore, looking for a place for sledding. It's prohibited in the National Lakeshore.

Curtains Parted

Curtains Parted

A small space that hasn't yet frozen over, becomes a window to the wooded canyon outside of the frozen waterfall. It was quite a slippery crawl into the small cave, but well worth the experience.

Falls Near Cedar Point

Falls Near Cedar Point

A slippery climb up to the upper part of the canyon at Cedar Point, gives a view of the creek above the frozen falls. There's another frozen waterfall just to the right.

I walked along the small path at the left to view the canyon above. Certainly on my agenda for spring!

Behind the Falls

Behind the Falls

At the "end" of our canyon walk, two waterfalls empty into the creek. In winter, they generally freeze into solid columns of ice. This one has just started to form a column, and the indent in the canyon wall provides a great place to crawl into to view the back-lit ice.

The ceiling of the cave is about 15 feet above the ground, and the column of ice is about 8 feet wide.

Winter Warmth

Winter Warmth

Even at 26 degrees, the canyons of Matthiessen State Park near Utica, Illinois appear warm in the winter sunlight. The Pine trees seems to have remained green, along with the ferns and moss on the sandstone canyon walls. The creek at the foot of the canyon is frozen solid, providing a great surface for hiking.

Ice Daggers

Ice Daggers

A view from below the long, dagger-like icicles hanging from the 35 foot tall lighthouse tower in St. Joseph, Michigan. Probably not a safe place to stay, but worth a bit of risk for such an unusual view.

Under the Catwalk

Under the Catwalk

A wall of ice blocks the wind from the north following several days of cold, windy weather. The St. Joseph, Michigan lighthouse endures tons of ice on the catwalk and 35 foot tall tower.

Among Giant Icicles

Under the Catwalk

Surrounded by huge icicles, and frigid Lake Michigan, Chris takes a photograph of me, taking a photograph of him. We're on the pier in St. Joseph, Michigan capturing the ice formations on the outer lighthouse and the catwalk. The catwalk was built so lighthouse keepers wouldn't need to worry too much about washing over the side when it's wavy on the lake. Looks as if the keeper wouldn't be able to get to the light after this period of freezing spray.

Pancakes Anyone?

Under the Catwalk

Pancake ice, that is. As the lake water freezes near the St. Joseph, Michigan lighthouse, ice forms. The wind and wave action constantly move the pieces of ice, and they pack together in circles-growing radially forming these interesting circles.

The ones here were about five feet in diameter.

Perhaps they should call them kolache ice, as they appear to have a fruit filling in the center.