As a zany way to celebrate the new year, Gokul and I set out for a winter ascent of Ship Rock. Several of these castellated sandstone mounds jut from the otherwise flat terrain in central and western Wisconsin. Many are visible from I-94; this one is located off of highway 21, near Coloma.
We climbed Ship Rock once last summer, but with lots of snow on the ground and the temperature at a chilly six degrees Fahrenheit, we didn't know what to expect. Would it be snowy? Icy? Climbing shoes would be out of the question at this temperature; how climbable would it be in boots?
We pulled off of the highway and got our first look. There was a bit of snow on Ship Rock, but otherwise it looked the same as it had last summer: ice-free and covered in graffiti. We got dressed, roped up and started climbing. Even wearing my bulky mountaineering boots and gloves, the first pitch seemed easier than it had last summer. I probably just had the route better memorized this time around. I took off my gloves for the most technical moves and my fingers went numb within seconds of touching the rock.
With both of us standing on a flat spot halfway up, we warmed our hands and adjusted our anchor for the second pitch. I remembered the traverse around the back of the rock being easy, but now it was covered in about six inches of snow. Gokul was unsure of where he could safely step. A fall to the deck at this point would probably mean broken bones. He took it really slow. Once he made it to the top, he set up an anchor and I seconded. I had the advantage of seeing Gokul's footprints in the snow, so I was able to move quicker, only stopping to regain feeling in my fingers.
The summit had a stiff breeze, so we rappelled to the ground without wasting much time. Even though Ship Rock is an easy climb, it's about as close as you can get to an alpine ascent in Wisconsin. And climbing in winter has given Gokul and me some valuable teamwork experience for our future – and far more ambitious – endeavors.
More Ship Rock photos (courtesy of Teresa Miller and Gokul Gopal)
Wisconsin Historical Markers Website, which claims that Ship Rock is the 57,027th highest mountain in the United States. Woo Hoo!