Correction to this location. It is Starved Rock state park. Ice climbing 'legally' began here in Feb, 1980. Many ice climbs were done before that on the sly I've been told. At the start, we had access to any kind of ice we could find, in numerous canyons. Due to changes in park regulations and removal of many key trails, staircases and bridges, all the other canyons are closed now to climbing. Only LaSalle, Ottowa, Tonti, Wildcat and French are left. Most have only one formation in the canyon. Hennepin, Kickapoo, Sac, Aurora, Pontiac, Lone Tree, Basswood Canyons are locations of other ice formations. Illinois Canyon is still closed to climbing, and had up to 6 ice formations there with names like Warbonnet, Chief Illiniwek, Indian Princess, the Arrow, etc. It was a popular destination until the trails and stairs were removed during the 'boardwalk' building phase the park went through in the late 90s. Water flow throughout the park seems to have changed much in the last 15 years, leaving us with much less ice than the winters of 70's-80's provided.
Jack Gorby got the ball rolling for legal ice climbing in the park, in 1979, 80, had to carry a sigh saying ice climbing dangers, should only done with proper gear, and all climbs were legal, but Hennepin, then the Photographer's started to complain about the climber,s destroying the ice, so that's why, St Louis canyon was closed to climbing, the fattest ice in the park, twice as wide as Wild Cat, now it looks like we lost a lot more climbs, there's still skunk falls canyon, outside of the park, an a very short sport route, there, private property?
Yeah that sign was a trip. You hauled this thick wood sign; 'to inform others about the sport' we were told, along with like this huge angle iron 30 lb tripod to put it on. They had 2 sign-in locations then, and a sign at each one. If you came late enough for the day, you got out of the sign hauling duty. Often we would just take it and pitch it for the day under some snow in the woods, then pick it up on the way back to sign out at end of the day. We had ANY and ALL the ice we chose back then. Hennepin only required a team of 4 and knowledge of first aid. There were very few of us, fewer restrictions, and we climbed in fine style (wool knickers and such at times),,considering the crap tools available back then. Alot of smashed up knuckles with no curved tools, that's for sure.
Really cool area and well worth the drive from Madison. Over the last two weeks I got a chance get on just about everything that was legal. It has been my impression that this has been a good year for ice here, we got on The Virgin which apparently rarely comes in and the right pillar at Ottawa Canyon, which is rare as well?
Yes, for some reason there is good ice this season. You never know how the flow will go for water runoff. I'm sure there are some other rare formations in too, but they are all illegal to climb these days. But since I'm seeing 8 or 10 sign-in's for 'Wildcat' yet only 4 bodies, I'm guessing there is some illegal access taking place unannounced. I envy them, but fear the consequences if someone gets caught. Kudos on the Virgin and the also rare Ottowa right side. Haven't seen that one since the 80's for sure.
Yes, apparently due to the forecast of warm temps, they closed up the park as of March 1st...although some knuckleheaded 20somethings from Chicago came down to hike and ended up using ropes to 'rappel or lower themselves over ice formations in LaSalle and/or other small canyons. Posted it up online. Stuff like that will get US, the climbers, kicked out some day in the years ahead. When I warned them of the legalities and effects on climbers, their leader got snotty with me all about it online later that week. Just can't take the city out of the a-hole I guess. There is still huge ice left, the kind of stuff we have climbed before in much worse condition and much much later in the season, but with the new limitations that have been enforced for over a decade for climbing, early closures due to weather are becomming the norm. See you at climbingcentral updates next year.
Most scared I've ever been- following the closed trail that ran along then up the riverside bluff. "Closed? Hah- we're experience mountaineers!" I can remember sketchy mantel upon sketchy mantel on icy, snow covered, rounded sandstone bulges WAY above the river with ice floes banging ominously on the dam gates below. Of course we wouldn't rope up on what had been a summer hiking trail. Of course we were way off route in the snow.
Second coldest I've ever been- Starved Rock soloing LaSalle. The end of my pick broke off about halfway up. Top-quality Welsh metallurgy- a Curver axe from the early 80's- better for bar fights than steep ice.