Breathtaking ice canyons are closer than you might think

The echoes of footsteps resonate through Starved Rock State Park in Oglesby, Illinois. As four friends hike more than a mile through snow covered trails only to defy the human body’s boundaries and climb “The Wildcat”.

The ice canyon towers more than 120 feet tall. It’s a stairway to the sky.

“It’s probably the most physically and mentally challenging thing I have ever done,” said Dave Everson, who has been ice climbing for more than 20 years.

One of Everson’s partners, Joel Taylor, straps himself to a large tree for support as he glances down the 120 foot drop.

“Just being able to get in the ice and get my tool and feet in and accomplishing a climb is what makes me feel good,” said Taylor.

And with one swing of an ice pick, it begins.

“The ice is perfect up here today,” one of Taylor’s partners yells while hanging from the canyon.

It takes roughly seven minutes for the climbers to reach the top of the canyon. They wear spikes on the bottom of their shoes called crampons to help dig their feet into the solid ice. Each time they swing their ice pick, they pull themselves up until they reach the top which is no easy task.

“It doesn’t matter if you go to the gym or not, there is nothing to condition you for this,” said Taylor as he makes his way up the canyon.

And practicing for ice climbing is a rare opportunity in Illinois. This winter was ideal for climbers because of the consistently cold temperatures. And climbers at Starved Rock say they haven’t seen the canyons such great shape in several years.

The harsh winter for many, was a blessing for climbers.

And one thing is certain; these climbers will take advantage of winter’s glorious gift.

“We are not going to stop until we physically cannot do what we are doing anymore,” said Taylor.

As Taylor and his fellow climbers take their last slash at the ice, they know the window for this sport is closing. The winter season will be over soon. But the memories that this group of friends left at Starved Rock State Park will remain for years to come.

Follow Shane on Twitter @wqadshane and like him on Facebook.

To watch News 8 Reporter Shane Simmons and Photojournalist Travis Kershaw attempt the ice canyon, click the video below.

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