A moment with pro ice climber Paul Mcsorley

Photo+courtesy+of+Paul+Mcsorley%0APRO+CLIMBING%E2%80%94+An+ice+climber+takes+a+breath+during+an+ice+climb+in+Munising%2C+Michigan.+January+through+March+are+typically+the+best+times+to+ice+climb+in+the+U.P.

Photo courtesy of Paul Mcsorley PRO CLIMBING— An ice climber takes a breath during an ice climb in Munising, Michigan. January through March are typically the best times to ice climb in the U.P.

Peter Smedley

The choice to have Michigan Ice Fest did not come easily for many of the climbers involved. Ice climbing provides a unique, temporary means of climbing that can only be done during certain times of the year. Munising, Michigan thrives off of the sport, drawing in many climbers, professional and amateur. Although the event has gone virtual due to COVID-19, many of the climbers still attended and gave virtual presentations.

Professional climber Paul Mcsorley, originating from Toronto, Ontario was disappointed at the change of events, but his love for climbing and exploration into untrammeled paths persisted. Mcsorley holds a keen determination for seeking new routes and expanding the climbing world. He found his love for climbing at a young age.

“We skipped off of school which was pretty hard to do at that time. I’ve always been into nature; I was fortunate enough to have my parents. They weren’t big wilderness freaks but they took us out camping and I was into canoe tripping and things like that, as you do in that part of the world. But yeah we went out to the Niagara escarpment and my life changed that day. I was about 14 years old, maybe 13 and I knew that I had found my mission in life. I’m now 46 so I’ve been doing it for about 33 years,” Mcsorley said.

Mcsorley has done several first ascents, being the first climber to ascend a specific route and pave the way for others. 

“When I was first learning to climb, a buddy of mine showed me out to put in protection and as soon as he showed it to me, I was like, so you’re telling me I just put this in and I can go up?” Mcsorley said. “It’s just the adventure ya know? It’s nice to be first. I hate to make it sound competitive and traditionally motivated but it’s not; it’s really the exploration which always leads to adventure and usually with good buddies in a wild place.”

Although Mcsorley enjoys setting new paths out for others, he finds the natural world around him and time with friends to be what keeps him coming back. The immersion of natural life, being surrounded by forest, chipmunks, the sounds of birds and other creatures, while having friends to experience it with is what life is for, according to Mcsorley.

Rock climbing may be an enduring sport, but Mcsorley stated that his hardest climb was not due to the route itself, but the journey there and back.

“We had to hike into a valley, camp, hike over a pass, climb over a pass, camp, climb at midnight, camp and hike out. It was a four or five day mission that just was kind of non-stop with the whole end goal of getting back to town where the beers were,” Mcsorley said.

Climbing is much less about the hardships, and more about excitement for Mcsorley.

 “For a lot of people climbing is “hey, how hard do you climb?” but it’s more than that. It’s about the adventure, the camaraderie, the nature experience and being in wild places as opposed to just achieving a certain level. Is there such a thing as the best climber? Alex Lowe, who was an American from Montana, he’s deceased now, but he said the best climber in the world is the one having the most fun,” Mcsorley said.

Winter in the U.P. loans itself to beautiful structures of ice, often originating from waterfalls. These pillars and walls of ice are ripe during the frozen beginnings of a year. Originally a rock climber, Mcsorley took a year away from college and traveled west where he learned to ice climb.

“It’s kinda special, the ice, it’s ephemeral. Just ten days ago there’s no ice and boom, it just comes out of nowhere. It’s temporary but it’s a special thing,” Mcsorley said.

Ice climbing offers new climbs yearly with newly reformed structure, unlike rock climbing. Yet ice axes and crampons yield serious risks for climbers if used improperly, or if a climber falls.

“You gotta be prepared for lead climbing and if you fall with these big spikey things attached to ya, if you take a big fall you’re likely going to get seriously hurt or worse. It’s a thing of beauty too, these formations are just gorgeous. They form differently every single year. That climb you did is going to look different next year,” Mcsorley said.

Mcsorley encourages everyone who enjoys climbing to not be afraid of exploring and being around others. He compares the social structures of surfing and climbing as very different environments.

“Maybe there’s some meritocracy, there is kinda a pecking order but climbing is funny. You can go to the Michigan Ice Festival and climb beside Conrad Anker and he’s a total dude, and he’s one of the greatest climbers of all time. You’re not gonna get into a lineup with Kelly slater; you’d be like ‘oh my god’. It’s a different vibe,” Mcsorley said.

To become a better climber Mcsorley suggests finding a mentor who is experienced, but to keep in mind why climbing is exciting. The sport itself is surprisingly inclusive, with people of many ages able to climb, permitting they learned properly.

“I had a friend who passed away a few years ago, he was 96 years old. We would wheel him out to the cliffs in his wheelchair. He couldn’t walk very well but when he got on the climb he could make his way up. You can do this your whole life; this isn’t this extreme sport you have to be young and virile for. It’s something you can enjoy your whole life if you do it safely,” Mcsorley said.
More information about ice climbing can be found at the Michigan Ice Fest website. Learn more about Paul Mcsorley at Arc’Teryx.