Jeanette Gibson outdoors column: Slip into ice climbing

·3 min read

When I think of things to do outdoors in the winter time, my first thought is always of ice skating. Where I grew up, there was always perfect ice on the nearby pond, and all of the kids in the neighborhood had a pair of ice skates.

Another winter outdoor activity is ice climbing. Much like rock climbing, but colder - and as you can imagine, much more slippery.


Why would anyone want to climb on ice? The answers to that question are guaranteed to be just as variable as the people who enjoy this or any other winter sport.

Ice climbing probably evolved as a sport out of necessity. When rock climbing at higher altitudes, areas of icy terrain are encountered and it is necessary to learn how to cross over these areas.

Gear for ice climbing evolved by trial and error from rock climbing equipment that was modified and ideas expanded upon to suit the specifics of being on ice rather than rock.

Having rope, riggings, ice cleats, crampons, ice picks and a helmet are considered the barest of necessities for ice climbing.

Eventually, rather than just breaking out the specialized gear when they came across ice, climbers began seeking specific ice to climb on.

Frozen waterfalls are a favorite of ice climbers. Here in Illinois, Starved Rock State Park has been a popular destination for experienced ice climbers since the 1980’s.

There are three “ice falls” (frozen waterfalls) at Starved Rock State Park which, this season, are considered suitable for climbing; LaSalle Canyon, Ottawa Canyon and Wildcat Canyon.

LaSalle Canyon is considered to be the “mildest” fall for climbing, as it is a long curtain-style fall.

Ottawa Canyon contains one of the earliest falls formed once the weather turns cold enough. It is also considered to be one of the widest.

Wildcat Canyon is the ice fall that lures the most climbers, as it is the tallest fall in the park available for climbing.

As is true with any adventure on the ice, safety is always a first priority. Ice falls are subject to change in the “ice quality”, and must be tested before climbing.

Climbers at Starved Rock are required to bring their own equipment and have prior climbing experience or have a chartered experienced guide before attempting their climb on one of the three available ice falls.

Ice climbing is permitted between the hours of 7 a.m. and dusk. All climbers must be off the trail before dark and must climb with at least one partner.

Because the canyon formations at the park are made of “incredibly fragile” sandstone, mixed surface climbing (rock and ice together) is prohibited, as it is unsuitable and damaging to canyon walls.

There is an abundance of information available about ice climbing on everything from Youtube to Tiktok these days.

More information about ice climbing at Starved Rock State Park can be found on their website. There is also information on beginner ice climbing lessons and gear rental.

This article originally appeared on Star Courier: Jeanette Gibson outdoors column: Slip into ice climbing

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