On Thursday, March 6th, 2014, I got to attempt something that hasn’t been done for 40 years: to hike the treacherous ice across the Manitou Passage to the islands 8 miles out.
The opportunity came about because of my work. I lead the digital marketing for a little company in northern Michigan called Cherry Republic. Its owned by a man passionately in love with his northern Michigan home, Bob Sutherland.
In the 1970’s, Bob’s father and two brothers had attempted to cross the Manitou Passage. They left the shore in Glen Arbor early one morning to attempt the crossing, but were cut off by open water a mile from North Manitou Island. Their hike took so much longer than planned that Bob’s mother called the Coast Guard in panic! Having heard his father and brother tell stories of the adventure, Bob has been waiting for his chance to hike to the Manitous for decades.
The winter of 2013-14 has been one of the most severe in living memory. It has seen temperatures plunging to -20°F, enormous amounts of snow, polar vortices, and fierce storms. The near record-level ice coverage on Lake Michigan has been a big part of the story, as have the amazing ice caves along the Leelanau shoreline.
It was all this cold weather and ice build-up that allowed us to attempt such an adventurous (some would say foolhardy!) hike.
The weather over the last week was brutally cold, but ideal for shoring up the ice pack. The temperature never rose above 21°F; it fell to as low as -20°F. Perhaps more important, there were only very light winds.
On Thursday, March 6, the weather created the perfect window for us. The bitter cold of the previous week was replaced by temperatures in the mid to high 20s with clear skies and no wind. The forecast for following days called for warm weather and wind. If we were going to attempt this, it had to be Thursday. It was now or never!