Updated: Nov 16, 2021
Written by: Ray & Jackie Hope
All photos provided by : Ray & Jackie Hope and Robyn Roman
For the February long weekend (February 16th-19th), six climbers (from the Manitoba and St.Boniface sections) hit the road to Sandstone, MN Ice Park for a weekend of camaraderie, adventure and of course ice climbing!
Most of us left Winnipeg Friday afternoon driving through Emerson to Fargo, then hitting the I-94 to St. Cloud, then east on Hwy 23 to Hinckley, MN. After a several hours of driving, it was a nice change to be relaxing Friday night at the hotel. Saturday morning we fueled up on a (slightly disappointing) continental breakfast and headed to our playground.
Robinson Quarry Ice Park, historically a quarry for – you guessed it – Sandstone, is located just off interstate highway 35. The Ice Park is a short, 10-minute drive north of Hinckley. It is also free to climb, thanks to the City of Sandstone, the Minnesota Climbers Association, and volunteer climbers who help to flood and maintain the park. Plumbing installed above the cliff ensures climbable ice from mid-December to mid-March. The ability to park cars right next to the cliff, along with abundant picnic tables and a few fire pits (thanks to Thérèse, our fire-starter) made hanging out between climbs fun and relaxing. Lunches were potluck, and grocery stores and restaurants in Sandstone made buying provisions easy.
The Ice Park is host to amazing blue ice with climbs up to 90feet high! Have a picnic and enjoy the view.
Setting anchors at the park is not for the faint of heart. The access route (crampons necessary) rises quickly from a forest path to a sketchy-at-times stroll along the cliff edge. Here, you need to watch your feet to avoid tripping on your crampons – and on the webbing stretched across the path by other climbers.
Saturday was busy, with guided trips for adults and kids by the local Hardwater Sports (awesome peeps) and university (or should I say college) groups from Minneapolis. We arrived around 9:30 am, and though there were lots of interesting people to chat with, the late start meant that many of the choice routes were already claimed. We set up three routes, which turned out to be just fine, and later in the day, new routes opened up and we could move our ropes to other areas.
Ice climbing routes range up to 90 feet, with a few steep routes, but there were climbs for every level and rap rings set up for one route. Theoretically, there is space in Sandstone for about 30 top ropes, though this year, some routes were not available due to an incident with the plumbing system earlier in the flooding season. There are a few bolted routes, but with the ice a bit thinner here than in past years, we decided to climb primarily in areas with anchors built using sturdy trees and rocks. We climbed mainly in the historic stage, and main flow areas, plus one other “school” area which doesn’t appear on the map. For both bolted and tree/rock belays, plan for lots of anchor material, as even the top anchors are placed a distance from the cliff edge.
As for Sunday, having learned our lessons from the so-so hotel breakfast and late start, we hit the road earlier and arrived at Amy’s Country Kitchen in Sandstone at 7:00 am, which didn’t disappoint (where a few in our group enjoyed the largest-ever-seen Eggs Benedict), and we arrived at the cliff by 8:30 am. We had our choice of routes, including a sustained, 90-foot pillar that was a fun challenge that we climbed throughout the day. This is a favourite spot for photographers, so a few of us got our 15 minutes of fame.
Ray Hope posing for the paparazzi!
There are other options for accommodations, both in Sandstone and Hinckley, but the Days Inn Hinckley has a pool and hot tub that were great to relax tired muscles after a full day of climbing, and have a few sips of vino. The hotel is also conveniently located across from Tobies – which we lovingly call “Tobies Everything Emporium”, as it contains a gas bar, bakery, car wash, restaurant, and bar – how could the Manitoban’s resist?
Monday morning, we headed into blizzard conditions for about an hour to St. Cloud, then it was smooth sailing back to Winnipeg, with a quick shop stop in Fargo, of course.
We hope you’ll join us next February long weekend for the 2019 ACC trip to Sandstone!