Thrills and Chills
Winter brings a special kind of climbing challenge: ice. We’re not talking here about avoiding it, we’re talking about climbing it. Imagine ascending a frozen waterfall and you’ve got the idea. And one of the best places to do it is in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado.
Since 1995 the Ouray Ice Park in the Uncompahgre Gorge has offered free ice climbing, and this year it opened on Dec. 16. Or if you want to wait until after the new year, January brings the park’s annual Ouray Ice Festival, which is also its main fund-raising event. The festival features exhibition climbing, free clinics, seminars, slide shows, and gear demos.
Routes are never a problem as the park has a couple of miles of piping and can send water down the face of any rock that needs fresh ice. "With cold temperatures it really takes only two or three days,” says Erin Eddy, president of Ouray Ice Park Inc.
In some ways climbing ice follows the same rules as climbing rock.
“I think safety is the first thing,” Eddy says. “Know your knots. Know your limitations. Get competent instruction if you need it.”
But ice climbing also takes some special equipment such as ice tools and crampons. “You can write a $1,000 check pretty easily,” says Eddy, but the equipment can last for years.
For a taste of the ice fest, check out the series of videos at http://climbing.onsight-media.com
But there are back-country routes in the region as well, and plenty of private guides to take you there. Bridal Veil Falls and Ingram Falls are within sight of the town of Telluride. The town of Ames has it’s own Ames Falls to climb, along with some smaller ones. Markham Connolly, director of operations for Touchstone, lived in Telluride for 10 years and call Bridal Veil and Ames the two classics. Bridal Veil is the largest waterfall in Colorado. Ingram rarely freezes into a single waterfall from top to bottom, however.
“When I did it, we had to do it in two stages,” he says. Because those two and Ames are all close to one another, some people try to do all three in a single day. “But that’s pretty ambitious,” Connolly says.
For people just getting into ice, Ouray may be a better bet. “It’s safe, easy -- just like climbing in a gym, but it’s outside,” Connolly says.
If you do head out into untended territory, Eddy recommends getting a guide. That’s avalanche country out there, and you want to be with someone who knows the terrain. Within the ice park, though, the environment is easier and friendlier, and all the bolts are already in place.
As Telluride and Ouray are only a 45-minute drive apart, you may have time to try both.
Labels: climbing, hot spots, Markham Connolly