The Frozen Waterfall of Ottawa Canyon

Visiting Ottawa Canyon 
 It's officially winter once the waterfalls of Starved Rock State Park freeze. We've had a couple of runs of very cold weather, and it only takes 32 degrees to begin freezing the trickling waterfalls of this part of the county.
Located in a blind canyon, the waterfall of Ottawa Canyon dramatically reveals itself as you walk down the canyon. This year was probably the most crowded I've ever experienced the canyons in winter. It was certainly a nice day for winter - temperatures in the 20's and sun - and it was a weekend. I generally visit these canyons on weekdays to avoid so many people, but it's really nice to see families visiting natural sites instead of looking at them on the internet.

  Behind Ottawa Falls 

I met a few visitors who said they were at the park for the very first time, while others mentioned it was their first winter visit. What a great day for this to be your first time at the park. All of the waterfalls were fully frozen, it wasn't too cold, and there were lots of people to ask questions if you were lost, and even take a family photo with your phone. 

 Ottawa canyon is one of the waterfalls you can walk behind in summer and winter. The ice cascades from an overhang, allowing plenty of room to explore the back of the falls. This fall is often the choice of climbers because it's an almost vertical shaft which is quite challenging to scale. We didn't see any climbers on this icefall today, but we did run into a few an another icefall.

  Under the Falls

This photo gives an idea of how much room there is behind the icefall. A few other falls allow you to walk behind, but in winter, the ice sometimes extends to the canyon wall making it difficult or impossible to walk behind. In many other cases, the ice hangs free from the canyon, and you wouldn't want to be anywhere beneath that in the event it lets go of the canyon wall and falls. Hundreds or even thousands of pounds of ice falling to the canyon floor would certainly cause serious damage. 

 Even though the weather has been cold for a while, I still don't trust walking on the ice around the falls. I do see plenty of footprints, so I can assume the ice can support the weight of people, but I have heard stories of people falling through the ice around some of these icefalls, and one in particular fell into a 4 foot deep pool. He said it was a long, cold walk back to the car, and a very uncomfortable drive home. 

Today I watched a couple walk down the center of the stream all the way out to the Illinois River where they kept walking for a bit. They were about 50 feet from the bank - I couldn't watch any longer, I hope they made it safely back to land. Falling through the ice in the creek is uncomfortable, falling through the river ice is a recovery - you fall through and the current takes you downstream with little hope of finding your way back to the small hole you fell through. 

 Plenty more photos to come from the trip to see seven frozen waterfalls.

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