Early Break Up

Break Up

A warm end to February has accelerated the break up of the shelf ice along the shore of Lake Michigan. What is left of the shelf ice, clings to the shore in only about a foot of water, yet the waves keep trying to build more and more ice mounds.

Generally a dangerous and even deadly practice, walking on this ice was safe - the only danger was stepping into about a foot of very cold water. The pounding waves attempt to pile up more ice, but they also tear apart what was previously built. The process is nearly endless until spring.

 Hints of Spring

The waves and cold breeze didn't scare everyone away from the lake, and a couple of people even walked out to the end of the pier as we walked the beach. I'm sure we'll see more cold weather in the coming weeks, but it's doubtful we'll see enough to build more shelf ice.

Crumbling Falls of LaSalle Canyon

Crumbling Falls

With the warm weather lately, the frozen waterfalls of Starved Rock State Park are transforming by the hour.  In some cases, the warm weather can help the icefalls grow, as the snow melts, it sends water down the streams that feed the falls.

Chunks of ice break loose and fall to the ground, then additional water freezes on and around them. In the early winter, this icefall was thin, and the light came through, making a colorful frozen wall hikers could walk behind.  Now, the falls have thickened, blocking out the light, and other pieces have broken off, making this icefall narrow again.

The water that continues to fall over the canyon wall, forms intricate shapes and patterns on the exterior of the frozen ice column. These are often the first parts of the ice to break off, so they must be enjoyed while they last.

Ice Formations

Climbing Tonti Falls

Climbing Tonti

Winter often creates beautiful frozen waterfalls in the canyons of Illinois' Starved Rock State Park, and once they're tall enough to reach the canyon floor, they can often support climbers.  With the supervision of park staff, climbers can take on a variety of ice climbing challenges.

Climbing Tonti Falls

French Canyon and Wildcat Canyon falls are the frozen waterfalls I've seen climbed the most often, but on this warm winter afternoon, the climbers were in Tonti Canyon. This canyon is a lot farther from the visitor's center, so it requires quite a hike to and from, and is less frequently visited by casual hikers.

Of the two falls in Tonti Canyon, only this waterfall was complete and thick enough to climb this year. It's amazing how tall these ice falls are, and how difficult they must be to climb. Not only the physical climb, but keeping your arms above your head for the entire climb, in the cold, with freezing water dripping down constantly.  It could certainly wear out a climber in a matter of minutes.

Reaching for the Top

From the perspective of the climber, a good path to the top of the falls must be much more difficult than it appears to the observer on the ground. Listening to the climber and the support people on the ground, I realized how hard it must be to negotiate the twists and turns of the ice with your face just inches away.

Contemplating the Next Move

Contemplating the next move while supported only by ice axes and crampons, this climber attempts to look up for the best way to the top.

Decending the Falls

Once at the top of the falls, the climbers can rest a bit before their decent down the falls, back to the canyon floor.  The decent seemed a lot easier, yet one must be careful of falling ice, and dropping to the ground too quickly.

The past two days have seen temperatures above 50 degrees, so these falls are most likely history, but another week or so of cold weather can create more of these interesting ice falls.

Wintering Eagles

American Bald Eagle
On our latest trip through the canyons of Starved Rock State Park, we encountered a few American Bald Eagles along the river trail. This area is known as a winter spot for eagles - the dam across the Illinois River prevents ice from forming on the water in this area, allowing the eagles to fish all winter long.

The recent warm weather has opened up quite a bit more of the river, so the eagles were not as concentrated in this area as they were earlier in the winter.  At times, I've seen 30 eagles on the trees of Plumb Island, just out of reach of most cameras. Occasionally, as they fish, they come close enough to photograph and view. They also rest in the trees away from the busy hiking trails.


I was rather surprised at how few hikers noticed this eagle resting in the nearby trees, but then, most people in this area were hiking the canyons, not looking to photograph or view eagles.  The bird watchers normally congregate on the Starved Rock bluff, or other viewing decks, so we had a perfect viewing area to ourselves.

A Blanket of Snow

Blanket of Snow

The Chicago area was hit with a snowstorm yesterday. While it certainly wasn't a record setting blizzard, it did dump around 12 inches of snow in my suburb. This storm only brought snow, no wind, so the snow fell upon everything evenly, and it also built up on objects creating interesting visuals all around us.

A cherub statue on a bench appeared to be wrapped in a blanket - a blanket of snow. The bench itself is about 18 inches tall, giving an idea of how much snow fell around the garden.

Snow Capped

A birdhouse made by my son many years ago, sits in one of the trees in our yard. It collected a cone of snow on the roof that measures more than the birdhouse itself. The birds might just feel a bit warmer with the added insulation on the roof.