In this Feb. 9, 2014 photo, David Siemk of Morton Grove, Ill., uses hatchets and spiked shoes called "crampons" while ice climbing at the more than 100-foot-tall Wildcat Canyon icefall at Starved Rock State Park new Utica, Ill. The shoes are generally composed of 10 steel spikes pointing down for traction and two pointing forward to stab and hold in vertical ice. (AP Photo/NewsTribune, Scott Anderson)

In this Feb. 9, 2014 photo, David Siemk of Morton Grove, Ill., uses hatchets and spiked shoes called "crampons" while ice climbing at the more than 100-foot-tall Wildcat Canyon icefall at Starved Rock State Park new Utica, Ill. The shoes are generally composed of 10 steel spikes pointing down for traction and two pointing forward to stab and hold in vertical ice. (AP Photo/NewsTribune, Scott Anderson)

Perfect conditions for perfect climbing

UTICA, Ill. (AP) — Year-round tourist attraction Starved Rock State Park does not attract mountaineers every year.

But an extremely cold December, January and February, with plenty of snow and just the right amount of thawing created ideal conditions for experienced ice climbers in recent weeks.

“It doesn’t form every year. This year is phenomenal in terms of the weather. It’s been cold for so long,” said Jacek Witkos, an Elmwood Park English Language Learner teacher who was climbing the more than 100-foot-tall Wildcat Canyon icefall with three fellow Chicago Mountaineering Club members this past weekend. Eight other climbers were taking advantage of Wildcat’s ice Sunday.

Witkos, who started “scrambling” up mountains when he grew up in Poland, has been ice climbing for the past seven years.

Feb. 9 was his first climb at Starved Rock, although he visits frequently with his family in summer for hiking and to enjoy the “beautiful, warm and cozy” lodge. Along with friends and club members, he goes on an annual winter trip to the Michigan Ice Festival in Munising, Mich., where the wide “ice curtains” that cling to a Lake Superior bluff provide climbers with multiple lines to climb.

He also climbed the frozen Cascade River falls on Minnesota’s North Shore of Lake Superior this winter, and climbed Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, The Needles in South Dakota and Mount Wheeler in New Mexico last summer.

All canyons have ice falls this year.

Icefalls formed in all 18 canyons at Starved Rock State Park this winter, according to park staff.

The park allows climbing in Tonti, La Salle and Ottawa canyons, too. “Ice climbing is prime right now, and this is the best year we’ve had in several, because the previous years, the conditions just weren’t right,” said Jolyn Wise, natural resources coordinator for Starved Rock State Park. She said climbers from all over Illinois often show up more than one time per winter.

“When conditions are right, they usually just last a short period. So they’re out here as often as they can,” Wise said.

The park never allows climbing on the soft, sandstone cliffs, because of instability and therefore life-threatening danger.

In this Feb. 9, 2014 photo, an ice climber's gear sits beside a log at the bottom of the icefall inside Wildcat Canyon at Starved Rock State Park new Utica, Ill. Climbers pack snacks, water and ropes that are up to 500 feet long. The ropes are made especially for ice climbing, and climbers only use them one time, due to fraying and tension. (AP Photo/NewsTribune, Scott Anderson)

In this Feb. 9, 2014 photo, an ice climber’s gear sits beside a log at the bottom of the icefall inside Wildcat Canyon at Starved Rock State Park new Utica, Ill. Climbers pack snacks, water and ropes that are up to 500 feet long. The ropes are made especially for ice climbing, and climbers only use them one time, due to fraying and tension. (AP Photo/NewsTribune, Scott Anderson)

More in Life

Hip-Hop students practice their routines for Forever Christmas on Monday, Nov. 28, 2022, at Forever Dance in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Forever Dance rings in the holidays with variety show

The show serves as a fun holiday tradition and an opportunity to get on stage early in the season

Image courtesy 20th Century 
Ralph Fiennes is Chef Julien Slowik and Anya Taylor-Joy is Margot in “The Menu”
On the Screen: ‘The Menu’ serves up fun twists and earnest commentary

I was plenty interested in the film I saw in the trailers, but the one I saw at the theater was so much more

Golden Soup mixes cauliflower, onions and apples and can be made in one pot. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Golden soup offers a healthy reprieve after holiday indulgence

On the off days between the trips and celebrations I find it necessary to eat strategically

Photo courtesy of the National Archives 
This photo and information from a “prison book” at San Quentin state prison in California shows Arthur Vernon Watson when he entered the prison at age 23.
Justice wasn’t elementary, Watson, Part 2

Well before he shot and killed a man in Soldotna in 1961, Arthur Vernon Watson was considered trouble

Virginia Walters (Courtesy photo)
Life in the Pedestrian Lane: Thanksgiving

We at least have a good idea of what our political future looks like.

This is Arthur Vernon Watson at age 39, when he was transferred from the federal prison in Atlanta to the penitentiary on Alcatraz Island near San Francisco. (Photo courtesy of the National Archives)
Justice wasn’t elementary, Watson, Part 3

Anchorage probation officer Roy V. Norquist was monitoring Arthur’s movements and reported that he was pleased with what he saw

Cranberry sauce made from scratch with hand-picked berries makes a special holiday treat. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Foraging with love and gratitude

Gathered and prepared by hand, cranberries brighten a Thanksgiving feast

File
Minister’s Message: When the going gets tough…

Suffering as a Christian is not always a popular preaching topic.

Letitia Wright as Shuri in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” (Image courtesy Marvel Studios)
On the Screen: ‘Wakanda Forever’ picks up the pieces

“Black Panther” sequel grapples with grief and hope after franchise loses its star

Most Read