Living in Illinois and being a climber I am constantly being asked where I climb. If you were too look at a topographic map of the area in which I live you would probably wonder if the makers of the map forgot to put the elevation lines on it. Its just very flat here. But there is climbing not too terribly far from here in which to climb. Most winters though, we stop venturing those two hours and head to the climbing gym instead. Its normally cold and wet during the winter. There isn't much to do outside this time of year. It is rare that we get snow and if we do it is normally gone in a week. The temperatures fluctuate so much this time of year that it can be 10 degrees one day and the next 45. This poses another problem for climbers, finding good days to get out and climb. Well last year, I realized a way to get around this.
Late one day last winter I went to Jackson Falls to get a few pitches in. While walking to the climbs, I noticed that there was still a lot of ice on some of the walls that didn't get much sun. I started talking to a friend who is more of a local than I am and he informed me that there was quite a bit of ice that had formed up down there. So I started scheming of ways in which I could get some ice climbing gear in preparation for the next year. I already had a pair of boots. I had bought them used in Colorado two years earlier when I went out there with my friends Dave and Scott to go ice climbing. On that trip I learned how to ice climb and fell in love. We were able to spend three days in Ouray, CO climbing all day at the ice park there. For those of you who don't know, on the edge of Ouray there is a canyon in which they have set up a water system to make waterfalls. In the winter they spray that water over the canyon walls and form ice climbs. There are climbs every 10-15 feet for around 3/4 of a mile. This park is one of the premier places to ice climb because of the shear number of climbs. Since this trip, I have been wanting to get on some ice.
This past year, I was finally able to afford some gear. I bought a pair of Petzl M10 crampons late this summer. Then a few weeks ago I purchased a pair of Black Diamond Vipers. Now I was ready to climb some ice. While I was taking WFR course in Carbondale, I went to Jackson Falls on my day off to possibly climb some ice with Jacob if anything was in. A few days prior, Jacob hung a rope to get one water fall to form up quicker. This isn't common practice in most places but since the temperature varies so much in winter we may only have a few days window in which to climb a formation. Unfortunately that day it hadn't formed enough. We were afraid that if we climbed it that day that it would be destroyed. So we elected to wait until another day, if it stayed cold.
Finally, yesterday was my chance to use all this new gear and climb some ice. I went down to southern IL with Jon and Russ. Russ had been down to Jackson Falls the day before and said the formation was amazing. So I was stoked. But before we went to Jackson, we were gonna check out some water falls that Jon knew of on some private property and see if they were in. After hiking around for a while we didn't find anything that was formed up enough to climb, but did see some potential for some amazing routes. We then set our sights on the falls at Jackson Falls. For those who have been to Jackson Falls before you soon know why it has that name. There are multiple water falls in that canyon. Most people know of the waterfall that is closest to the main campground. It is probably the one that has the most water go over it. We did not climb that. It probably wasn't anywhere close to being climbable. Instead we set our sights on the route that had the rope hung on it to help it form up.
This formation was given the name Pussy Cat due to the large amount of bobcat tracks in the area. It was given the rating of WI5. It is maybe around 30 feet tall. It might be a bit taller. I am horrible at determining the height of things. Either way, it is sustained the entire way. So we hike to the route and quickly set up a top rope on it. None of us own and ice screws so leading is out the window. We each got about 3 laps in on it when we started want to do something else for a bit. In between burns, I ended up hiking up the hill to this short slab (maybe 15-20 feet tall) that had a thin layer of ice on it. I get up there look at it, clean my crampons off (they had collected a lot of snow and leaves), then starts climbing it without a rope. Starting this route was rather difficult. I had gotten one good stick with my right axe but was unable to get anything for my feet. Every time that I kicked, the ice just fell off the wall. I then decided to stick my left crampon on a slightly less vertical spot and pull myself up. After a few feet, I was able to get my right crampon on some ice that didn't fall apart. As I began climbing, I started to realize that some of the ice is good and some is completely horrible. At one point a section of ice that i lightly swung into came off. This scared the crap out of me. This was the first time I had ever gone up ice without a top rope. Crap, I didn't even have a rope for this climb. Eventually, I made it to the top, breathed a breathe of relief then went back to the base of Pussy Cat super excited about my first ice free solo. Russ just gave me a look like I am crazy when I came back. He watched as the ice fell apart while I climbed it.
After this, Jon decided he wanted to do some rock climbing. He had found a 5.12 sport route about 40 yards from the waterfall. So we head over there and he gives it a shot. On his first go he worked out a lot of the beta then made it to the top. After that I decided to try it on top rope. I didn't bring any rock shoes so I resorted to trying it in my boots. I made it to the first bolt but no further. I didn't care though. I came down to climb ice not rock. Russ then gave it a quick run, finding some beta for the crux section. Then Jon decided to try and red point it. The crux shut him down through and we decided to stick with ice for the rest of the day. We then went back to Pussy Cat, got one more lap in then packed our stuff up and moved to another waterfall.