Jon Glassberg - So ILL

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

By: Jon Glassberg

When boulders seem to materialize out of farmland and prairie you know you’re not in Kansas anymore… You have just entered into Southern Illinois and you are about to experience some of the most untainted sandstone the country has to offer. I was mystified that boulders lay in the forest along the country road we were barreling down much less some of the most pure, independent, and hard lines found on any sandstone in the East.

I have never been to Southern Illinois to boulder but I had heard the legend of colossal slopers and highballs that had leaked out of the So Ill scene and I had to have a look for myself. 

The intention of the trip was to bask in the sun and soak up some top quality blocs to get a real feel for what the area had to offer, nothing crazy, just wild friends and great rock climbing. The fickle weather sent us to the Holy Boulders, located just a quick drive south of Carbondale. The Holy’s are found right off an enormous power-line clearing offset up the hillside in a sparsely vegetated forest. The boulders emerge from the woods like bubbling monsters and yield some truly inspiring climbing. Our first stop was the impeccable Jungle Book (V8) that blasts off of a slab into a blunt arête that sends you rocketing off into space if you miss the crux campus move. The problem is capped with a tall top out on dicey slopers that keep the blood pumping and the adrenaline high.
Located just to the right of Jungle Book lies the legendary Kehl test piece, The New Zero (V13). Straight out of a Dr. Seuss book, The New Zero stands proudly as the most obvious line and a must do with a wild bulging top out and a tree that appears to be desperately trying to escape into the light. After a bit of sustained effort I was able to get the fourth ascent of this beautiful rock climb and I felt lucky to have been at the right place at the right time. The temps were perfect, the atmosphere was exactly right and the problem was my style so the perfect storm resulted in a send and I couldn’t have been more pleased.
The Holy Boulders hosts a collection of hard problems ranging from V8-V13 with most lines topping out above the 15 foot mark. There did not seem to be a lot of moderates but the problems we warmed up on were beautiful and proud. The Holy Boulders are on National Forest land but border private property so be mindful of the locals when wandering because no one wants to run into a shotgun toting landowner…

Our crew of eight went into Carbondale for dinner that evening to rest and recharge for the next day at Jackson Falls and Drapers. Carbondale comes across as a giant wayside to the interstate with restaurants, malls, and gas stations strewn across the main drag.

We laid low for the night with good weather on the horizon and woke up to sunny skies and excitement at the prospect of piles of boulder problems ripe for the plucking. We headed East near the town of Ozark, Illinois in search of Jackson Falls and Drapers Bluff.

There is a small guide made for Jackson Falls and the surrounding smaller areas so we began touring the boulder field and plucking the gems; Body Karate (V9), Footwiser (V8), OBD (V6), and David & Goliath (V8) were standout lines that the group really enjoyed. The boulders at Jackson Falls are located below a horseshoe shaped cliff line with waterfalls that spill into green pools and the atmosphere is calm and relaxing to climb in.

We got our fill of Jackson Falls and finished off the day with a quick trip to Drapers Bluff in search of Matt Bliss’s Guns and Roses. Ironically enough, the parking and the boulders are located on climber owned property and the parking lot is guarded with a fence that states: “Climbers only, non-climbers general public prohibited without permission.”

No smoking signs adorn the trees on the approach to the cliff and wide grassy paths lead up to giant boulders resting below the cliff. The sandstone at Drapers is sandy and less traveled than the other areas and after a few burns on the highballs we headed back to the car to start our long journey home.
The movement on the sandstone of So Ill is very gymnastic and sequences seem to come together like gym sessions producing wildly dynamic movement, campusing and the occasional mono. The season was in its prime when we visited in early March with highs in the low 30’s and temperature is a must when groveling up inconspicuous features. Our small group toured the most common areas and we were able to lay hand to many classics but that is only the tip of the iceberg. The forests are littered with cliff lines and boulders that hold the secrets of many gorgeous first ascents that never made headlines.

Eight hours, eight inches of snow, and a time change later I was back in North Carolina and back to the daily grind of school and work. Fleeting thoughts of the fairly tale boulders of Southern Illinois still have me wondering what I missed and when I will be back to find new inspiration. Two days of climbing didn’t do the rock justice and I am left itching for more…










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