Here in the Chicago area, it appears we live in a climbing wasteland, with few bluffs or crags that are appropriate to climb. The nearest quality climbing that I can find (though I’m not quitting my search) is 5+ hours away, heading North or South. I was pretty excited to come across the mention of Lehigh Park, a supposed bouldering area down near one of my favorite local outdoor places, Starved Rock State Park. It was kind of sketchy though, as there was minimal information on the Mountain Project page, and all the forums were plans to go and no beta, requests for photos, and so on. Last week, with a day off for Veterans Day, I decided to find out for myself.
Lehigh Park is an unassuming place, located in the small town of Oglesby, Illinois. There’s a lot of cement plants in the area and apparently Oglesby grew up around one, though it is now shuttered. It’s a beautiful place and you can see the photos I took on my Facebook page. Parking across the street from the park, I bypassed the band shell and entered the woods.
The trails appear to be maintained by mountain bikers and plunge steeply in several locations. Heading down one such trail, you find yourself under some bluffs, amid trees and scattered boulders. Nirvana? unfortunately, not. I probably spent 30-45 minutes walking the woods and found one, yes one, boulder that was suitable for climbing. Even though the stone was crumbly, I had a little fun playing around on it, just careful to test each hold before trusting it.
More promising is the wall of bluffs above, with plenty of interesting problems to solve. The only problem I see is that the base of the bluffs go right into a steep slope, so there is no room for crash pads and a fall would send you screaming down the hill. A dedicated local could spend some time leveling the area under promising routes, which would then possibly make this a worthwhile destination.
If you’re headed to Starved Rock State or Matthiessen Parks, this is a short detour that might be worth taking. It is a beautiful walk in the woods and, for better climbers than me, the bluffs offer some great looking options. Bring your mountain bike and get a twofer, if you’re so inclined.