Ice Climbing in Starved Rock, Illinois - Feb. 2004

Ice Climbing in Starved Rock, Illinois - Feb. 2004

Matt Clifton, our fearless trip leader, suggested that a 3:00am departure to Starved Rock for our ice climbing trip. This sounded crazy but this was a sound and logical plan since midwestern ice climbing, an oxymoron at best, tends to attract alot of crowds. This was the first time in a couple years the ice has formed and so there definitely going to be people converging on the area. We wanted to be first in line.

We arrived at the park around 7:30 am with little mishap. We also picked up Tracey (peefer-t), a POC alumnus, on the way there. So our total group included Joel, Matt Clifton, Tracey, the Spainard (dang, I wish I knew your name! wait! it's Xavier or Javier but I like 'the Spainard' much better), Matt Hall, Heather, Nate, and myself. Once we got there and had changed clothes Matt and Joel went off to set the top-rope and I led the rest of us the long way to the bottom of the crag. We were pretty much first in line at Tonty, the canyon where the falls were. There was another crew that had a line on the same fall as ours but we had a better spot *wink*. The falls are rated roughly around WI 3 if you are into those sorts of things. :)

Joel and Matt set up the top and then rapped down. Joel was first to go up the route - his exclamation of "I want rock!" alluded to the fact that he thought this was tough work. Joel made it to the top with good style and was lowered. Subsequently, Matt Hall, Heather, Tracey, Javier, all went up. They all had a good time (it was their first ice climbing) but everyone agreed that ice climbing is a whole bunch of work. Also, it's alot different from regular rock climbing. Matt Clifton also stepped into his crampons and went up. Matt was the only one of us with real ice experience and he did it with great form. Matt impressed all of with his speed and style.

Oh! Before I got to climb we had to deal with the Crazy Psycho. There were a couple guys there from Chicago-area and they had the worst climbing etiquette I had ever seen and also they were very unsafe. They had some crazy ideas about what they wanted to climb so listen to this...

The ice falls had formed a pillar so you could walk around the back of the pillar and ascend maybe 20-25 feet of ice before you would have to come around the front because otherwise you would hit your head a rock roof. Now this guy had plans to start climbing up the back of the pillar, traverse across the back of the ice curtain (you can see the curtain on the right of the pillar in the pics - it has huge chandeliers), hack a man-sized hold in the back of the curtain, climb on to the front of the pillar, and then climb to the top - then he would belay his partner from the top in the same manner, through the hole and such.

Needless to say this is a pretty nutty idea. Matt and Joel saw while they were top-roping that there was a large horizontal crease stretching across the top of the curtain which means that the integrity of the curtain is questionable. While the Crazy Psycho was leading up the climb Matt mentioned this to the belayer who was relatively nonchalant about the matter. All of the other climbers that were hanging out at the crag agreed that hacking a hole in the ice was a pretty stupid idea - not only does it take time, minimizes safety for the leader and belayer, it also creates a large hole that the freezing and thawing processes behind a waterfall becoming an ice climb cannot repair. The hole will be an unsightly scar for other climbers and tourists who visit the area.

So, even though it was my turn to climb I was pretty sketched by these guys. The belayer wasn't wearing a helmet, the guy who was leading the climb fell twice on the same screw (this isn't sport climbing, people!), they had already knocked quite a bit of ice off the falls, and were generally loud and boisterous. We waited around on the ground for a good hour (maybe longer?) until the leader was off. No one wanted to be on while he was climbing. Once the leader was at the top I decided to hop on the climb real quick to get my pitch in. I was pretty unnerved by these guys but I decided to stick with it until I was about 20 ft up and the leader decided to throw his helmet down to his belayer. Whizz! That went by and hit the ground with at thud. Next he tied his ice axes to the rope and tossed those about 15 feet until he lowered them down to his belayer. Now, while I understand the need to lower gear/equipment/etc down to belayer tossing axes and helmets while I'm five feet away on the climb doesn't jive too well. I was off the climb in a hurry.

Anyway, once the belayer went up and they were off the climb we felt it was good to go (too bad it was late in the day by now). A couple more POCers went back up for a repeat trip while the rest of us hung around and tried sliding on our butts on a nearby snow-covered mound. There was a nice slide going but after I tried teaching Heather how to brake on the slide she busted her knee (again). She was hurt pretty bad so her and a couple guys began a long hike out of the canyon and back to the car. The rest of us waited for the toprope to get deconstructed and then we headed back to the car.

All in all it was a good trip. The ice climbing was great and other than the Crazy Psycho and Heather getting hurt we all felt like the day was well worth getting up at 3:00am. Thanks to Matt for leading and hopefully we can go again next winter!

Now, who's up for Ouray!!!???

Pictures from this trip

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