The most spectacular, and may I add, the only spectacular natural icefall in Minnesota. Grade may vary depending on conditions but the top section is most often WI 4. Nightfall is relatively wide so several variations exist. The climb may be done on top-rope or on lead and it is fun either way. It is usually led in two pitches. For a one pitch lead a pair of 60m ropes is required (70m is better) and long runners are needed to minimize drag.
Pitch 1: Start from the river bank and climb over a short steep section leading into a wider snowy bowl at the bottom of the main flow. Ice conditions rarely permit to set up a belay at the bottom of the bowl (best fo avoiding being hit by falling ice.) Most of the time you need to suck it up and set up an anchor where the ice gets steeper. Pitch 2: Go up the steep flow. Fixed sling anchor on top. Use your own slings to back it up.
Reference: "Ice Climbs of the Lake Superior Region", Granite Publishing
From Grand Marais drive north on Hwy 61 for about 2 miles until you see the bridge over Devil Track River (sign). Drive roughly 100 yards past the bridge and park on the right side of the highway. Make sure you parked well past the last mailbox. Walk back towards the bridge. If the river is frozen follow it into the canyon for about 1 mile. Nightfall flows down the cliff on the left side of the river.
If the river is not frozen, you could walk back additional 100 yards along the highway, turn right into a private driveway leading to a log cabin. To get into the state forest you need to cross private land past the cabin. Do not cross the private property without owners permission. In the forest locate the well-maintained snowmobile trail which roughly follows the cliffline. Hike the trail until it gets closest to the edge of the canyon. You should clearly see reddish cliffs on the other side from that point. Locate the snow gully on top of the climb and scramble down to the sling anchors around the trees. Set up a top rope or rap to the bottom of the canyon. A pair of 60 meter ropes barely makes it to base of the climb.
Kevin, because of the large bowl in the first one third of the climb, after the initial 30ft, it is actually easier to do it in two pitches. It is possible to do it in one pitch but that involves placing very long slings (so long that you could actually deck) at the start of the vertical section right after the bowl to avoid rope drag.
Tried to access this one via the private property west side of the river and it seems the two residents are not at all pleased with climbers that have been using that trail without permission. We spoke with each household on the driveway for half an hour but claims of climbers running off when questioned about going through their yards apparently leaving trash(which I doubt) has seemingly ruined this access point for everyone else. The man also stated that if he sees people going through he will call the cops so do know that...
Climbed it on Friday, 2/8. Ice was great until the top, pretty thin, but climbable (not really protectable). Last 20ish feet is really unprotectable but climbs fine. We did have a dinner plate come down and hit my partner in the arm. Be sure you set up the second belay on the steep section to avoid this,...lesson learned. Because he wasn't able to climb I had to repel from the top to him so there are two v threads set up (one at 25 meter from top, the other 30M from bottom). I did drop a petzl screw from the top....my last screw,...so the top was interesting. We checked around at the bottom and didn't find it. If someone does find it, I'll be indebted to them if they're kind enough to let me know.