Carelessness

Ice and Carelessness

While on the pier at Grand Haven, Michigan, I noticed dozens of visitors walking on the shelf ice off shore of the public beach.  These particular people, decided to walk as far as they could, and made it to the very edge of the shelf ice.  Once there, they climbed the highest mound and stood on top, taking in the view.

Sounds like a great vantage point - probably was.  But that walk could have easily ended in tragedy if one foot fell through the ice on the way out or the way back.  Shelf ice is never safe to walk on.  Cracks and faults in the ice lead directly to the freezing water below.  The large mound can crack off of the rest of the ice shelf, and roll into the lake - taking everyone with it.

These people probably weren't aware of the danger, or simply figured they knew better.  I watched as they made their way back to shore, expecting one to simply disappear at any moment.  Luckily, they all returned safely.

Broken Ice

Sheets of Ice
Large sheets of ice, broken up by the waves of Lake Michigan, gather together in piles, soon to become pancake ice. Pancake ice is created when ice collides with other chunks of ice in moving water.  They collied and turn slighthly, over and over again.  The random movement creates round formations that look like pancakes or donuts. Notice how the broken ice is beginning to form round bunches on the water.

These large, flat pieces of ice came from the Grand River, and collected here, near the mouth of the river at Grand Haven, Michigan. Though they look rather small, the larger chunks measured about 10 feet across, and at least four inches thick.

As they moved in the water, an odd squeaking, cracking sound could be heard.

Winter Stroll

Winter Stroll

A Walk on the beach in winter is really a trip to another world.  Viewing Lake Michigan from a sand dune may be the only way to actually see the lake. Once you're down on the beach, the lake is invisible, obstructed by the 15 foot tall ice mounds created by the pounding waves and freezing temperatures. These mounds appear like mini-volcanos, slowing growing as the waves force water up though the cones of ice. Walking safely on the sand, it appears as if you're walking in the arctic, on top of a mountain range, viewing another mountain range from a distance, but the "mountain range" is in reality, only 15 feet tall.

Ice Mounds

If you haven't been to a Great Lakes beach in winter, put it on your list of things to do.  You've got another month at least to experience the magical, frozen landscape first-hand.  Remember to stay off of the ice mounds. Read why here, on my Huffington Post blog:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tom-gill/the-winter-shore-beautifu_b_6431724.html

Frozen Pierhead

Frozen Pierhead

A pier on Lake Michigan, in winter, covered in piles of ice chunks several feet tall doesn't seem to be a prime destination for many, but for us, it was a perfect weekend getaway.  Most people visit beaches in the summer, and when I mention I'm heading to the beach in February, they seem to think I'm heading to the tropics.  I wouldn't pass up an opportunity to walk on the frozen shore - I could see a tropical beach any time of the year, but the ice boulders and shelf ice are only here for a while. Mix in giant icicles created by frozen spray from Lake Michigan, and we have the perfect spot to visit on a sunny winter afternoon.

Locked in Ice

We headed onto the frozen pier carefully; it was my youngest son's first time up close at a frozen lighthouse. Knowing the area and the construction of the pier is important, especially when bringing someone else with you.  It was easy to see where the concrete pier ended even though it was covered in ice that extended many feet into the lake.  We remained safely on the concrete areas, and avoided any areas where a slip would result in a slide into the cold lake. We stopped a few meters from the lighthouse, noticing the piles of ice further up were large enough to carry a falling person into the water like a toboggan.

From the vantage point of the pier, we could view the shelf ice from the windward side, the side facing the lake. Thankfully, on this visit, nobody was spotted walking on the dangerous shelf ice.

Michigan City Pierhead Iced Up

Michigan City Ice

The sunny afternoon brought temperatures near 40 degrees, making for a very comfortable visit to Michigan City, Indiana's Washington Park. The lakefront park is a convenient place to view the winter shore. A lot of the lakefront parks at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore are closed during the winter, so this is one place to view the shelf ice.  It also provides a great view, and access to the Michigan City East Pierhead lighthouse, and this year, it had quite a bit of ice on it. I haven't seen this lighthouse covered in ice as dramatically as some lighthouses in Michigan, but this year was different.

We decided to see how far we could walk out on the frozen pier before it got too dangerous.  The ice boulders washed up by the waves provided pretty good footing, preventing us from accidentally sliding off of the pier. The shelf ice can be safely viewed from the pier, and it was rather large and dramatic.

Ice Packed Harbor

As we climbed up and down the mounds of ice on the pier, we were reminded of the warm weather by the constant dripping coming from the melting ice on the catwalk.  At times, the ice was mounded so high, we were able to see over the catwalk.

More snow, cold, and wind this week, possibly adding to the ice on the pier in Michigan City.

Beneath Wildcat Falls

Beneath Wildcat Falls

Starved Rock's Wildcat Canyon features an 80 foot tall waterfall that freezes into a solid column of ice in winter.  Used by some for ice climbing, the column grows to at least eight feet in diameter, and is a wonder to stand near.

I was able to climb up a small, icy rock outcropping just behind the frozen waterfall. Here I could view the back of the waterfall - the portion toward the inside the concave canyon wall.  Water continued to drip from the stream above, and echoed inside the small cave created by the ice column. From the bottom of the frozen fall, one gets a unique perspective of the ice in relation to the canyon.

After years of visiting Starved Rock in winter, I'm still amazed at the scale of these icefalls.

Matthiessen's Frozen Waterfalls

Pair of Frozen Waterfalls

Almost every winter, the waterfalls of Matthiessen State Park freeze over. One pair of waterfalls that are in close proximity to each other, but not often visited (because one needs to cross a small creek), create ice caves on the sides of the canyon walls.

The canyon walls are undercut here, and as the water flows over, it drops several feet away from the interior rock wall allowing for space between the falling water and the back of the canyon wall. When the falling water freezes, it creates a solid wall of ice, with a few feet in between the ice and the rock wall.  Most years, agile hikers can climb into this space, and explore the "ice cave" from within.

Inside the Ice Cave

This winter, the canyon beyond Matthiessen's Cedar Point contained two frozen waterfalls, and one in particular created an ice cave that was long and accessible from both sides. The approximately 50 foot long cave had an interior height of about five feet, and width of four feet, making the walk inside relatively easy.  In years past, the length of the cave was obstructed by ice, and one could only venture in a few feet before confronting the end of the cave.

Colorful Ice

Eerily lit by sunlight filtering through the ice wall, I found the light mesmerizing as I explored inside the cave. The ice was multicolored; minerals and clay carried by the water froze in place, and the canyon walls, sky, and trees were telegraphing through the ice.  Water continued to fall between the frozen walls, creating a six to eight inch deep pond on the entire floor of the ice cave.  As I walked through the cave to the far end, it was possible to exit on the other side of the canyon, where a good amount of water was falling from the creek above. Not wanting to get drenched on such a cold afternoon, I headed back the way I came, viewing the ice from a different perspective.

Ice Cave Interior

Most of Matthiessen's five or more waterfalls freeze each winter, but the two beyond Cedar Point are by far the most interesting for me to explore - inside and out.




Reaching the Lighthouses

The Walk Back

The reason the lighthouses are difficult and dangerous to reach during the winter, is the same reason they are relatively safe to access.  Sounds like a bit of a paradox, but ice is the cause and solution to safely accessing the piers on Lake Michigan.  Of course, the ice is what draws hundreds of people to the lighthouses each day. This can be deadly when a smooth layer forms on the concrete surfaces of piers and seawalls. But when the ice is rolled into boulders by heavy wave action, and piled up onto the pier by the waves, a deep, textured surface is created, allowing your feet to plant themselves in the small valleys between the boulders, preventing slipping.

Grand Haven Boulders

The walk is a bit more difficult, as one needs to tread on uneven, hilly surfaces, but the danger of slipping, falling, and continuing to slide into the freezing water is all but eliminated.

Of course, care must also be taken in this situation, a trip on an ice boulder can send you falling into Lake Michigan.  Plus, it's often difficult to discern the shelf ice from the ice on the concrete pier, and a person can easily continue walking onto frozen Lake Michigan - a dangerous mistake.

Amidst the Ice Boulders

Above, a photographer is dwarfed by the piles of ice on the pier.
The mounds of ice provide a great opportunity to get up almost as high as the keeper's catwalk. These catwalks were constructed about 10 feet above the pier, to keep the workers away from high waves that could wash them into the lake. Thanks to the ice, were able to see the catwalk close up.

Standing Tall
But once on the pier, the view unfolds.  One cannot truly experience the extent of the ice until it's within their reach  Dwarfed by the piles of ice boulders and the ice formations created by Lake Michigan's waves, you get a real sense of the power of the Great Lakes - frozen in place for close examination.
Boulders on Pier


Dauntless Prow

Iced Prow

Looking more like a ship's prow plowing through the ice, the Grand Haven, Michigan fog signal building endures another winter on Lake Michigan.  Enveloped in ice formed by waves and spray during a winter storm, the fog building is also the outer lighthouse in a set of range lights standing guard at the mouth of the Grand River.  The longest river in Michigan, the Grand empties into Lake Michigan at Grand Haven, the pier and lighthouses mark the entrance to the Grand Haven port.

At a height of 35 feet, the lighthouse on top of the fog signal building was built with a sixth order Fresnel lens. The building was moved to the end of the pier in 1907, and the concrete "prow" was added in the 1920's to help divert Lake Michigan's waves away from the building.

Plenty of visitors walked along the pier to view the ice on this relatively warm, winter afternoon.  A few ventured out around the fog signal building to experience the icy view firsthand. Never wanting to walk on the drift ice or shelf ice, I was assured by local residents that the concrete pier extended nearly six feet from the building, thus allowing us to walk around without fear of falling through the ice.

Dozens of other visitors ignored warnings and walked out hundreds of feet onto the shelf ice, some with children in their arms. According to a Grand Haven police officer, 911 was automatically dialed three times over the weekend, when visitors accidentally pulled the safety cord on one of the life rings along the pier.  The response time for the Coast Guard, according to the officer, could be as long as two hours, because the port was frozen in, and rescue swimmers would need to be dispatched from another station.


Early Morning at the Outer Light

Morning at the Outer Light

Our day began before sunrise at the St. Joseph, Michigan lighthouse, where we made our way out on the ice covered pier to the outer lighthouse.  The sun hadn't risen yet, and the blue light of early morning bathed the ice.  We were surprised to find three other people already on the pier.  It was their first time visiting a frozen lighthouse - they were thrilled.  Many new people are making their way out to the lighthouses in winter, in fact, it's getting crowded!

The high waves tossed chunks of ice onto the pier, where they froze into piles several feet tall in places. This made hiking the pier a bit difficult, but the texture created by the chunks actually prevent your feet from slipping too much, so the danger of falling into the lake is lessened somewhat, but extreme care should always be taken.

On this visit, I decided to go up to the catwalk for a different view. Jumping to grab the catwalk bars 8 feet above the deck, I pulled myself up and stood on the catwalk and captured several images from the vantage point of a lighthouse keeper.  Judging by the ice on the catwalk surface, the high walkway did little to protect the keeper from the elements.

From the Lighthouse Keeper's Catwalk

My son Chris took this photo of me on the catwalk



Spending about three hours on the pier, we captured hundreds of images, and as always, every freeze is a unique experience.

Winter at the South Haven Lighthouse

South Haven in Winter

We were on the Indiana roads by 5am, on our way north to photograph several Michigan lighthouses in winter. Often, these lighthouses are covered in ice from early winter storms.  The lake needs to be liquid in order for the winds to create waves high enough to splash onto the lighthouses and piers; once the water freezes, the icing cannot continue.

One of our stops was the lighthouse at South Haven, Michigan.  A favorite of locals a visitors alike, this lighthouse sees crowds of people in most every season, including winter. A short walk from the quaint downtown area, and right along a popular beach, the lighthouse serves as the backdrop to every occasion - from weddings to walking the dog.

In winter, this deep red beacon stands out against the ice on Lake Michigan, and the ice clinging to the lakeside of the light.  We carefully made our way onto the pier, making sure the ice was not flat and leading into the lake.  Once slip and we would slide into the freezing water.  On this day, the ice on the pier was layed down in chunks- formed by turbulant water, and tossed up on the pier in piles.

Ice Boulders at South Haven

These uneven ice boulders create a deep textured surface, and the spaces between the boulders serve as perfect places to set your feet as you walk.  If a foot slips, it will slide into one of the depressions and stop before sliding sideways into the lake.  Add a layer of snow, and the traction gets surprisingly better.

The unusually warm day and sunshine began melting the ice from the iron lighthouse and catwalk, dripping on us and our gear as we photographed the formations. Another day or two of this weather, and the ice will retreat quickly, but winter is not finished with the Great Lakes, cold weather to come will certainly preserve the ice for weeks to come.


Heading Out

Heading Out

An unseasonably warm winter day was the perfect time to check out the activity in St. Joseph, Michigan.  While we were walking on the beach, a large vessel made its way past the lighthouses and onto Lake Michigan.  As it entered the lake, it turned north and eventually disappeared over the horizon.  We wondered where it was headed. Northern Michigan, Minnesota, perhaps somewhere along the St. Lawrence Seaway, or out onto the Atlantic Ocean for ports much farther away.

The passing vessel dwarfs the pier and lighthouses, and serves as a reminder to onlookers, of how shipping built the towns along Lake Michigan.

Beginning to Freeze

Beginning to Freeze

Less than two months away from the annual ice fishing derby, LaPorte County lakes are beginning to freeze.  Here, winds push the thin, newly formed ice to the shore, where is breaks into pieces, then freezes again.  This action creates some interesting patterns in the ice that generally only last a few hours until the spaces in beteen the plates of ice freeze as well.

Ice Patterns and Frosty Sticks

This seems to occur anywhere the water is moving gently - lakes on windy days, or near waterfalls where the falling water pushes forming ice away from the falls.  The image above, taken near a small waterfall feeding the historic Illinois and Michigan Canal near Lemont, Illinois, shows these ice patterns beginning to freeze.  Only a few hours later, the stream was frozen completely over, and the patterns were no longer visible.


Recent Happenings

Here are some of the latest events that have unfolded over the past few weeks.


In addition, it was also selected for Weather.com's Top 50 Science and Environment Photos of 2014.



Previous to this, the image along with several more, were featured in:
 UK's Daily Mail
The Huffington Post
ODN News, London

Along with a short interview for The Culture Trip

The Huffington Post also extended the invitation for me to become a photo blogger for their site. I plan on posting original material once a week, in addition to this blog.  My HuffPost blog author page and blog archive can be found here; http://huffingtonpost.com/tom-gill

Much more to come in the new year.

The Morning After the Freeze

The Morning After the Storm

Clouds finally break up a bit, allowing the sun to illuminate the frozen lighthouse and pier. At least two days of freezing temperatures and high winds caused a large build-up of ice on the outer lighthouse in St. Joseph, Michigan. Not unusual, but always stunning, the ice formations give the outer light the appearance of a frosted cake.

Arriving at the beach early in the morning, I waited for a couple of hours for the sun to finally break through the clouds. In the meantime, I met quite a few people who were taking photographs along the beach and pier.  It's always great to talk to other people with similar photographic interests, and even more intresting to view the images they captured.  The subject is the same, yet the interpretation is often quite different.


Ice Above

Ice Above

Getting close to the ice covered lighthouse is always the goal, but not always possible.  This visit to the St. Joseph, Michigan lighthouse was almost one of those times when accessing the end of the pier was not possible. But with a bit of luck, a local man used an axe and chopped a path to gain access to the end of the pier.  You can read about that in my previous post.

You need to get close to the ice to really appreciate the subtle twists and turns the wind and water created. The intricacies are remarkable, and easily passed by while taking in the big picture of a 35 foot tall structure covered in ice.

Standing below the ice gives a unique view of the formations, and having a deep blue sky as a background helps, in this case, to show off the glistening ice.   This is not a place I would stand once the temperatures climbed above freezing - hundreds of pounds, perhaps thousands of pounds of ice could crash down with little warning.

This ice lasted only a day or two, then, thanks to  warmer temperatures, the ice dwindled.


Frozen Range Lights

St Joe Range Lights

During the small window of time between the early freeze and the thaw a day later, I was able to capture the St. Joseph, Michigan outer range light covered in ice.  Check my earlier posts to view the images and read the story about how I was able to gain access to the outer light with the help of a local man.

Frozen Spray

The sunlight bathes the outer light, while the water and shore are still in shadow.  Later in the  morning, the sky would clear, then temperatures warmed up, rain fell, and so did the ice.

The spray from the high waves on Lake Michigan not only covered the lighthouse and portions of the catwalk, but also the surrounding bank of the St. Joseph River.  The marram grass and walkways were covered in a layer of ice, making walking very difficult.

Iced Crown

This close up shows the lantern of the outer light, covered on the windward side by ice, but still partially visible on the leeward side, framed by icy tendrils.

The ice is gone - for now - but winter promises another round of cold air, and the possibility of ice formations is still great.

Abominable Snow Man

Abominable

An early cold spell turned the St. Joseph, Michigan lighthouse into a 35 foot tall Abominable Snow Man - well, actually an Abominable Ice Man.  I you look closely at the ice formation, you can see two shoulders, arms, a head full of disheveled hair, and a long beard hanging down.

Each time this light ices up, the details are different.  The ice twists and turns as the wind blows the water sprayed onto the lighthouse, then freezes in the direction of the wind.

Making the trek out to the outer lighthouse was made easy by a local man who chopped through the ice build up on the railings of the pier.  The deck of the pier was mostly wet, not frozen, as the slightly above freezing temperature waters from Lake Michigan were still washing over, keeping the ice from building up.  The only icy place on the pier seemed to be right where I was standing to capture this image, but as the sun made its way around the lighthouse and the ice came out of the shadow of the tower, the ice melted enough for me to safely walk on.

Warm weather later in the day, and for the next two days, melted all of the ice - at least until the next cold, windy day on Lake Michigan.

Reaching the End of the Pier

The First Look at the Light

Once the ice was chopped away from the railing, allowing us to climb over safely - more importantly to climb back over to safety, I was greeted by the sun-bathed ice against a deep blue sky. The lighthouse tower is 35 feet tall, and the catwalk was built to protect lighthouse keepers and workers from the dangerous waves of Lake Michigan.  It's easy to see by the ice formations, that the catwalk would do little to prevent workers from getting soaked by the spray, and possibly washed over the rail.

Outer Light Northeast

A freeze like this so early in the season is unusual, and welcomed.  The deck of the pier is only wet, as the waves of Lake Michigan pour over it. The water is just above freezing, so it kept the ice from forming on the deck, allowing safe passage without the worry of slipping into the cold water. In a few more weeks, the water will freeze almost instantly on the deck, creating very dangerous conditions for visitors.