Sandstone Ice Festival 2017

I tried left, then right, but kept striking rock. The frost feathers holding me up, it became apparent, were maybe five inches thick and had the structural integrity of stale corn bread. Below was thirty-seven hundred feet of air, and I was balanced on a house of cards. – Jon Krakauer, Into The Wild


The Year of Exploration

2017 is to be a year of exploration. Not so much inward and personal, that was the past 6 years, but a physical and outward exploration. Less than half a year ago, after much debating, Jackie and I decided that we make the Twin Cities our home. We thought about moving south to warmer climates, or maybe back out west where our relationship had started, or maybe to the southwest. But we realized in the end that we had made some amazing friends in Minnesota and the state was a hotbed of outdoor enthusiasts and home to a variety of landscapes to explore. In order to make the most of our decision, we have decided that we will make 2017 all about searching for something interesting to do outdoors every single weekend. That’s 52 weeks to explore the upper midwest. On top of that, to feed my passion of creating videos and photos, we will make a video of each weekend’s adventure to remember it by.

So that brings us to this weekend. Leading up to the weekend I still didn’t have a concrete plan of where we were going to go or what we were going to do. Then our friend Lauren reached out to us and asked if we wanted to check out the Sandstone Ice Festival. What is that I wondered? After a quick interweb search, I came across images of a playground of rock and ice with climbers scaling the faces vertically. After just finishing the book Into the Wild and reading the chapter that is quoted at the beginning of this post about the author Jon Krakauer’s experience ice climbing the Stikine Ice Cap, I was intrigued. Jackie and I love rock climbing and with the long cold winter of Minnesota upon us, why not explore what ice climbing is all about?

Weekend Mission: Visit the 2017 Sandstone Ice Festival

Weather Forecast: High of 6ºF, low of -12ºF.

Description from the Icefest website: A Warm Welcome to All from the Sandstone Ice Festival – Celebrating our 12th year of winter fun. The vibrant festival celebrates the best of winter adventure sports from ice climbing to skinny skiing, winter camping and snow shoeing. It is a gathering of kindred spirits who share a love for all things cold. The Sandstone Ice Festival reaches winter lovers from around the Midwest and Canada. We look forward to this year’s festival, to reuniting with old friends and to making new climbing partners.


With our weekend mission in front of us, Jackie, Lauren and I grab all the warm clothing we can find, load up the van and head north from the cities to see what the Sandstone Ice Festival is all about. As we start driving north we notice our first taste of the cold when it becomes obvious that the heat in the van has failed to turn on. With futile efforts of moving the temp dials around and lightly tapping the heater, we accept our situation and continue. After an hour and a half of frigid driving, my toes numb and my fingers frozen to the wheel, we pull into Sandstone, Minnesota and hit the first bar we can find to warm up. The old bar we walk into is named The Gas Light, and we are greeted by a friendly woman behind the bar, beautiful old tin tiles on the walls and ceiling, and drinks to warm our cold bodies. This is how I like to start off a trip!

After our visit to the tavern, our tires crunch through the snow covered parking lot at Robinson Park and we are greeted by dozens of people wearing brightly colored coats from the makes of Patagonia, The North Face, Mountain Hardware, etc. with crampons on their boots and harnesses around their waists. We are in the right place! I pull over, we pile on warm gear, grab the camera bag and enter the brisk winter event.


CLINK, CLINK, CRASH! Ice is falling from the ice covered walls as climbers work their way up to the top of each climb while onlookers gather around a warm fire greeting one another and talking about their experiences. It is a sight to be seen. It is Jackie, Lauren and I’s first experience watching ice climbing and we are impressed. The climbers are are excited and happy to be there. The view of the ice covered rocks is beautiful and the addition of enthusiasts working their way up and down the wall adds a level of excitement to the already amazing atmosphere. It is obvious that a spectrum of climbing abilities and experience covers the ice walls as new climbers filled with adrenaline chatter about the climb and experienced climbers soak in the event.


After watching the climbers a bit we start to explore the park. Taking a hike around to see what we can see, we find a stretch of clean rock reaching up to the sky and discuss plans for a summer trip back to do some rock climbing (something we have more experience with). As we continue, we come across an old train bridge stretching across the Kettle River, miles of trails, rocks, and trees. Every time I stop to take a photo or video, the girls start to jog in place to stay warm. Damn it’s cold!


After a couple hours of exploration, we decided to head back to town for dinner. We headed to Amy’s Country Cafe where we throughly stuffed ourselves, then headed back to the outdoor ice climbing playground. The sun had set, the temperatures had continued to drop, and we found ourselves alone by the fire while the climbers all headed to an event and dinner held by the festival in another location. The first thing we noticed as we walked back to the ice wall was the blue and green lights illuminating a route from behind the ice! We sat close to the fire and brewed some coffee while we soaked in the experience. A little later a few climbers made their way back and started up the route. It was a surreal thing to see. A single climber was silhouetted by the light radiating from the ice in front of him as he dug his toes and ice tool into the frozen water in front of him lit also by the headlamp on his helmet. To me, sipping coffee with people I care about while being warmed by a fire next to this scene is way better than being sunk into a couch mindlessly starring at a t.v. back home.


So kill your t.v., get outside and see what the world around you has to offer!

I never really had interest in ice climbing until this weekend. Next year we will be on the ice face with the others! I can’t wait to see you there!


-Dan McCreight







Krakauer, Jon. “The Stikine Ice Cap.” Into the Wild. New York: Anchor, 1997. 143. Print.

“Ice Fest #12.” Sandstone Ice Festival. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Jan. 2017.