There was no doubt in my mind that my son Brad was in heaven shooting ice sculptures created by mineral-colored water running down and seeping through the rocky cliffs of Grand Island. The massive ice walls that created this cave extended more than 100 feet up the rocky cliff walls. We were experiencing beauty beyond belief after hiking about a mile across ice-covered Lake Superior at the mouth of Munising Bay, a bay frozen solid by one of the coldest winters in decades. This “Don’t do this at home” expedition in March 2014 still stands as one of my most exhilarating, rewarding and memorable photography shoots. I am grateful to God for safe passage for Brad and me and three friends from the Charlevoix Camera Club, safe shooting inside the ice caves and for the beauty we found there. Upon our arrival at the island, Brad, Mike Schlitt, Bill Dietrich, Wally Barkley and I each went exploring various caves on our own, and we all came away with wonderful images; how could we not have since the sights we were privileged to be witnessing were so incredible—and incredibly challenging to reach. As harsh as Michigan Upper Peninsula winters always are, it takes an unusually long stretch of frigid weather for there to be enough ice to get to and from the island. Authorities and a couple of longtime local ice fishermen advised us against trying, but a local photographer and a local outdoorsman who had trekked there in past years said that if ever there was a good time, this was it. Several photographers had posted images from the Grand Island caves on Facebook a week earlier, but there had been a short warmup after that. The good news was that the thermometer had plummeted for the past several days prior to our arrival. Having been a certified ice rescuer in the Coast Guard, I understood the risk involved. A shift in the wind could quickly create open water gaps in the ice. Currents coming in and out of Munising Bay might have created or could create weak spots in the ice. I kept in mind the number one rule of ice rescue that I was taught in the Coast Guard: “No ice is safe ice.” I knew that if we got in trouble in this remote location, professional rescuers were most likely going to be far away and a long time coming. Survival time in the ice-cold waters of Lake Superior in winter would be short. We had prepared for the worst before leaving home. We brought a large, light ice fishing sled with two long quick-release lines attached to us to pull it with while staying far apart. This kept us linked to the sled and each other in case one or the other went in. We wore our life jackets snugged tight for extra hypothermia protection. We secured dry bags to the sled with dry clothing inside. I carried a rescue heaving line throw bag. Fortunately, we were able to accomplish our photographers’ bucket list mission without incident or need for rescue gear. There was comfort and wisdom in following the Coast Guard motto of being “Always Ready.”

Artist In Heaven

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