Callout weekend got rescheduled due to rain, so I (Marshal Herrmann), Shao, Ansel, and Melanie checked out Illinois’ newest crag on Sunday, April 23. Summarized into quick facts, the good, the bad, the (driving) beta, the verdict, and an outline of our day.
Quick facts about the park
The (driving) beta
Google Maps gave me 3 pretty different routes with virtually the same driving time. Taking I 72 past Springfield would definitely be the fastest way – you could go 90 mph if you wanted (pretty empty country roads). I57 and I70 is much more scenic however (follows Mississippi River, see something other than cows and cornfields); pictures below. This route also passes through Alton, IL which is a bigger tourist town on the river just past the park. Alton has a variety of restaurants and other accommodations. We took the quicker way in and the scenic way out, which is my recommendation.
The climbing lot actually shows up on Google Maps - click here for link. It is unmarked in person. If you look at satellite mode, you’ll notice there’s a much larger parking lot just down the road (it has a sign saying “Day Use Parking” – probably an extra minute hike).
We stopped at O Jans Fish Stand, a sketchy fish stand along the river with big portions for cheap! If you like greasy food and no frills, come here. Otherwise, drive into Alton for more restaurant options (fast food, ethnic, diners, burger stands, nicer places, etc).
You could do 75% of the park in a day with a 10c leader, a 35m rope, and 6 quickdraws. Maybe 95% if you bring a trad rack. It’s probably best for bringing newbs or single day trips. I would not recommend spending more than a day here, but it’s worth checking out if you can only climb for 1 day. The routes are fun and have some variety – it’s certainly a change of pace from Jackson.
I picked everyone up at 5am, and off we went! We arrived at the crag around 8am with just 1 other group already there. I had a GoPro I rented from the library to play with, and will probably add the video as an addendum to this later. We first walked into the Meadow Slab wall and warmed up on a 5.6 and 5.7+. I was feeling adventurous and along with Ansel, free soloed a 5.2. We found a solo climber with 2 dogs; coincidentally, also a UIUC student. We climbed with him for the majority of the day.
After this area, we kept following the trail and kept finding bolts. So we kept climbing! I didn’t keep good track of what we climbed, or what we liked, because well we climbed almost everything the place had. Shao estimates he climbed 14 routes (and we left with 2 hours of daylight left!). I can’t provide any recommendations on routes, just do all of them.
We were getting a bit confused about which route was what since there is no guidebook (but not a huge deal since everything sans a few routes are 10s or lower). The routes are well depicted and logged on Mountain Project though; any confusion was definitely user error. Case in point: Shao led a 5.11d, The Father's Gift, without knowing the grade until afterwards. Other people did tell us it was the best route in the park. I followed it on top rope like a true champ, so there’s my recommendation afterall: climb this route.
Shao clipping a bolt on The Father’s Gift, 5.11d, “best route in the park.” It traverses left near the top. Ansel on the right climbing Vista, 5.10c. Both at Ryan’s Balcony wall.
The last wall we visited was pretty crowded, but because of the short routes, it cleared out pretty quick (routes have high turnover). This area also has a nice picnic area.
A little busy at this wall, but cleared out soon after
We left fairly early since we experienced most of what the park offers (5pm or so, my guess). While the crag was very clean, the highway is full of litter: we packed out half a trash bag of cans and bottles on the way to the parking lot.
We voted on fish for dinner, and headed to the aforementioned O Jans Fish Stand (5 minutes from the crag). This place epitomizes no frills. I asked the lady at the counter what she recommended. She laughed at me, quipping that she eats everything. It didn’t help narrow down the menu options, but gave me a laugh. The lady was very obese and I can see why: the fish stand serves up huge portions of greasy fish for cheap! It would be dangerous living near here, and especially working here. To keep a balanced climber’s diet, you can round out the fat and protein from the fried fish with some carbs from their huge variety of pies. Somehow I managed to avoid that sugary goodness temptation. You better climb hard to earn dinner at this place.
Yes, they serve you in cardboard boxes that they reuse. And yes, those 2 big fish filets are a part of one $4.50 sandwich.
Afterwards we were on the road again. We took a 3 minute detour (calculated by Google at the time) and followed the Mississippi River for a bit eastward instead of heading straight north. Pretty nice views, breaks up the traditional Illinois interstate monotony. We were home by 10pm.
Beats the Interstate
Be sure to check out Melanie’s quality photo album (featuring high res pics and not stills from a GoPro, like my report). My GoPro video montage to be released at a later date (gotta make it gnarly!)
Marshal Hermann - April 2017
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