Ice Climber Who Fell Into Lake Superior Presumed Dead; Search Suspended

Authorities have presumed that James Bake, of Gaylord, Mich., died after falling into Lake Superior off Michigan’s Upper Peninsula on Tuesday afternoon.

The 31-year-old was ice climbing with a partner near Miners Castle Rock, a popular overlook on the northernmost Great Lake, when a heavy wave caused him to lose his purchase. Bake’s partner reported him missing at 5:15 pm, and search-and-rescue efforts followed.

miners castle rock on lake superior, michigan

Miners Castle Rock. Photo: National Park Service


Unfortunately, rescuers could not locate Bake in the icy water. Worsening conditions cut off their efforts late that evening.

Susan Reece, public outreach officer for Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, described the incident and ensuing recovery efforts.

“Bake fell into Lake Superior once, then pulled himself partially back out onto the ice,” she said. “He was then knocked back in, and appeared unconscious to his climbing partner, and then disappeared into the lake.”

Reece said the surface of the lake was choppy that night, with frigid, two-meter waves crashing against the shoreline. With the water temperature hovering around the freezing point, rescuers needed to act quickly.

The National Park Service (NPS), U.S. Coast Guard, Superior High Angle Rescue Professionals, and Alger Country Rescue 21 all reported to the area. The teams used boats, floodlights, and a Coast Guard helicopter to search for Bake until bad conditions prevented further efforts.

After several hours in the frigid lake with no wetsuit or other cold water gear, Bake’s survival had become next to an impossibility.

“Initially it’s a rescue operation,” Reece said. But after hours of searching, the group’s task amounted to body recovery.

Reece noted that the NPS later resumed the search, but by then, Lake Superior’s deeps had very likely claimed Bake’s body. Because it’s so cold, Lake Superior does not harbor the same bacteria as many other freshwater lakes. Rather than surfacing after decomposition and bloating, remains tend to sink.

Officials are now “monitoring” the area for any signs of Bake’s body, Reece said, but active searching has ended. She expressed condolences to Bake’s family.

“Obviously for the family’s sake, we really want to find him,” she said, “but with the ice conditions, it’s not active searching right now.”

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson takes any writing assignments he can talk his way into while intermittently traveling the American West and Mexico in search of margaritas — er, adventure. He parlayed a decade of roving trade work into a life of fair-weather rock climbing and truck dwelling before (to his parents’ evident relief) finding a way to put his BA in English to use. Sam loves animals, sleeping outdoors, campfire refreshments and a good story.