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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Ice Climbing at Ouray, Colorado

I recently spent a week ice climbing in the little mountain town of Ouray, Colorado. It's nearest big-name neighbors are Telluride and Silverton. I skied at both neighboring towns. Ouray is the national hotspot for the niche sport in the outdoor community: ice climbing. What is ice climbing? Picture a giant waterfall frozen solid, now put two sharp axes in your hands, and strap 24 steel spikes to your feet, start climbing. It's fun! Ice climbing is a unique form of climbing requiring a different set of skills than other disciplines of climbing or mountaineering. Ice climbing is delicate; requiring precise pick placements, yet enough strength to penetrate the ice. It's spooky to climb a medium that is constantly growing, cracking, melting, and falling down on top of you. A helmet is required equipment. It's not just for safety, it keeps the ice chunks you inevitably let fly from nailing you in the head. Unfortunately helmets (save a few ice specific ones) don't protect your face, leading to more than a few bloody faces, including mine and my partners.
We climbed primarily at the Ouray Ice Park, as the snowpack in the backcountry was avalanche prone due to the recent, heavy snowfall. The Ouray Ice Park is a public climbing area owned by the city of Ouray that allows free access to an entire canyon full of steep fresh ice. The main city water line runs along the top rim of the canyon, and strategically placed water nozzles spray the cliffside at night. After a few months of freezing temperatures and running water, the Ouray Ice Park comes to life. The rumoured beginning of the Ouray Ice Park is that a local with powerdrill drilled a hole in the main city water line, and let it run until an ice climb was formed. Ouray, Silverton, and Telluride are home to countless quality backcountry ice climbs as well. Unfortunately we didn't get on many of them because of the deep snow, but deep snow usually means good skiing instead.
Nice View in Ouray

Looking into the canyon from the upper bridge

Ice tools, carabiners, and an ice screw for anchoring

Of course, it's cold! I swear I'm smiling under all that

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