A recent arctic weather pattern turned the Midwest very cold and windy - the perfect ingredients for iced lighthouses! This is the earliest I can remember, where the 35 foot tall outer lighthouse in St. Joseph, Michigan was completely covered in ice. As a rule, mid to late December was the typical time for icing -cold, windy, and the lake is still liquid. Any later, and Lake Michigan tends to freeze over, and the splashing and spray are suppressed, and the lighthouses don't ice up.
Beating the forecast for warm weather and rain, I headed out to photograph the lighthouse before the ice melted, and before the skies turned to rain. Following an hour or two capturing images from shore, I headed out on the iced pier only to find the railings completely ice covered. While this is nothing new, the ice also covered the only space between the rails allowing me to walk to the inner and outer lights. I considered climbing over, but the return was certainly not as easy, and not safe.
After a time photographing the pier and inner light, a familiar face came walking down the pier. It was Tim, a local man who regularly studies bird migrations from the pier. I've run into Tim for the last six or seven years here, no matter what day I venture out to photograph the lighthouse from the end of the icy pier. Today, he was armed with an axe, and ready to chop the ice away from a portion of the railing so he could get out to the outer light.
He worked at chopping the ice for almost an hour, as I watched along with two fishermen and a few photographers. He finally made enough progress to safely climb over the rail. Tim held my camera gear as I climbed over to fasten a rope to the first catwalk upright, then back to the rail for a handhold in case we needed it on the return trip. Once over, I assisted a fellow photographer over the rail, and we made our way out past the inner lighthouse, to the outer light. We were the first people this season to access the frozen outer light, and also to photograph it from the pier.
I remained on the pier for quite a while afterward, photographing the light, and conversing with Tim as he set up his gear. We were joined soon after by another photographer. It was a great opportunity to meet some photographers and talk about our love for this lighthouse, especially in winter.
Posted by Tom Gill at Saturday, November 22, 2014