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Meeting the Ice Climbers of Starved Rock State Park, IL

The stories, challenges, and tips of two experienced Starved Rock icefall climbers.
Wes Black Climbing Wildcat Canyon at Starved Rock
Wes Black Climbing Wildcat Canyon at Starved Rock

The ice is in and the climbers are out! Ice climbers from all over the Midwest are able to scale frozen waterfalls at Starved Rock State Park. If you are attending the park this winter, you may have the chance to see them climbing at Ottawa, Wildcat, and LaSalle Canyons! We've asked two experienced Starved Rock ice climbers Wes Black and Dave Everson, to share their experiences, challenges, and tips for those interested in learning more about ice climbing.


Getting into Climbing

It's known that climbing requires a high degree of physical activity. However, ice climbing is also very difficulty from a mental perspective as well. Wes Black, an a mathematics instructor at Illinois Valley Community College, started climbing in 2016. Black stated,

"My adventure racing teammate, Chad Hannon, invited me to watch some ice climbers at Ottawa Canyon. When I got there, another climber, Tom Grow, encouraged me to start since we were all about the same size. I then put on my harness, boots, crampons, grabbed tools and gave it a shot! As a terrified but adventurous 43 yr old, I jumped at the chance."

Dave Everson, a lifelong ice climber, discovered his passion for ice climbing during his sophomore year of high school. His brother was stationed in the United States Coast Guard in Alaska, and his brother invited Dave for a summer of adventures which included rock scrambling, hiking mountain trails, and even climbing the renowned Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Everson stated,

"It was an immediate addiction to the great outdoors."

Biggest Challenges of Ice Climbing

As with most sports, ice climbing presents some unique challenges, but they might not be what you would expect. Everson shares some challenges below that many climbers face.

"I see ice climbing as a skill needed for alpine mountaineering. Some of my greatest challenges were dodging a slope that avalanched all night long. We climbed a rock face to a small but safe ledge. Altitude presents a whole different kind of challenge. Recently on Mexico's highest peak, Pico de Orizaba at 18,400 ft. breathing was a challenge, thinking was as clear as mud and a 15 hour summit day is a mental and physical challenge."

Ice Climbing at Starved Rock State Park, IL.

While experienced ice climbers are allowed to climb at Wildcat, Ottawa, and LaSalle Canyons, there are many additional rules that apply. For example, The Illinois Department of Natural Resources does not test the integrity of the ice, so it is up to the climbers description on whether or not they are safe to climb. Climbers also must sign in and out and are not allowed to climb alone. More information for climbers can be found here.

When Black was asked which of the falls was his favorite to climb, he stated the following.

"Do you know the feeling of finishing a marathon? Getting to the top of Wildcat has that same feeling for me. It took me 3hrs 26min to run the Starved Rock Marathon, it takes me about 8-10 minutes to climb the Starved Rock Wildcat icefall. I think my heart beat totals were the same for both feats. I also love when hikers come into my favorite icefall, Wildcat Canyon, and look at me ice climbing like I would look at Tom Brady win another super bowl."

Want to Try Ice Climbing?

Those looking to try ice climbing themselves should not be deterred. There are many great options within the Midwest to try out ice climbing. Everson recommends the following.

"There are places to learn, rent equipment and see if this is really your thing. Chicago Ice Tower, Winona, MN. Ice Climbing or the Michigan Ice Fest through Downwind Sports, all can rent gear and offer instruction."

We hope these winter hiking tips will help you out on your next snowy adventure! Don’t forget to tag us and use the hashtag starvedrockhikers when sharing all your winter hiking memories! We’ll also do our best to keep hikers informed via our Hikers group on Facebook. Click here to join for free. See you on the trail!

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Every time you purchase a product from Starved Rock Hikers, you are also helping the park. A portion of our annual proceeds are donated to the Starved Rock Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports Starved Rock & Matthiessen through educational programs, guided hikes, exhibit updates, and more.

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