You are hereDestinations: Ice Climbing in Ouray, Colorado

Destinations: Ice Climbing in Ouray, Colorado

Written by Rick Booth October, 2002 

There you are at the November PCS meeting and the up coming ice climbing season is being discussed.† Suddenly you notice a
new member attending the meeting and at first glance it is he/she/it/non-gender
specific attractive person/barnyard animal/whatever of your dreams.† You decide
to take the opportunity to impress he/she/it/non-gender specific attractive
person/barnyard animal/whatever (got to keep this politically correctÖ) with
a discussion of ice climbing and a possible invitation to the first ice trip
of the season in December.

    "Öso we have to hike up into Lee Vining Canyon in the morningÖ", you say.

    "Is it cold?", he/she/it/non-gender specific attractive person/barnyard animal/whatever† interrupts.

    "Um, well, it can be sorta chillyÖ"

    "Well, can we at least get warm later by going out dancing and partying afterwards?"

    "Um, er, no, it is Lee ViningÖ"

    "How about a cool place to eat, at least?"

    "Aaaaaaaah, there is Nicely'sÖ."

    "Nicely'sÖ.o-mi-gawdÖ.where do you stay at night?"

    "Well, we sometimes camp out in the visitor center parking lotÖ"


    "Öwell, we can end up in the motelÖ"

    "No way in hell am I spending a night in a motel with you."

    "Öand about four other morons, stacks of drying ropes, dripping wet ice gear, smelly clothing.Ö" and off goes he/she/it/non-gender
    specific attractive person/barnyard animal/whatever to the snacks table to scoop
    up some diet water and a stack of diet rice cakes and some diet hummus.† Well,
    that does it.† And you didn't even get to the best part where you explain that
    Tami Knight draws ice climbers in her cartoons using barbwire for butt wipe.

It doesn't have to be this way.† How does a warm
motel room within an easy 100 yard walking distance of endless sheets of ice
sound?† How about a warm hot tub for the evening?† How about a public hot springs
where you can either sit or swim?† How about a couple of reasonably decent restaurants
including a happening Mexican place?† How about a local climbing shop right
in town?† How about local skiing about 40 miles away if you decide ice isn't
for you?† That is all nice but let's get to the point: how about lots of local
ice that is easily top roped, can be lead if desired, lots of frozen water falls
and all without it being biting cold?† How about the Ice Park and environs in
Ouray, Colorado.

The Ice Park in Ouray, Colorado is probably unique
in the United States, if not in the world.† Ouray is a sleepy ex mining town
up against the Rockies in western Colorado.† A quick look around town and it
is clear there is no skiing here such as may be found in the well-heeled town
of Telluride, which is about 40 miles away.† The main business of Ouray is catering
to summer hikers, mountain bikers, and four wheelers.† Unique to Ouray, however,
is a nice steep sided canyon called the Uncompahgre Gorge running right through
town with a creek at the bottom.

This gorge is the basis for the Ice Park.† Several
years ago enterprising locals installed a sprinkler system at the top of this
gorge.† The sprinklers are turned on late in the day and after a period of time
with the nightly freeze ice forms on the walls of the gorge.† Accessing this
gorge is quit easy.† It is within walking distance of downtown Ouray and there
is lots of parking near the gorge if you choose to drive.† Heading for the southeast
end of the gorge you will eventually get to the end of the ice and be able to
hike down to the creek bed area, which should be frozen over.† This is the Schoolroom
and has about ten (10) top rope anchors for practicing on the ice there.† The
difficulty of the routes in this area ranges from WI (water ice) 2, which is
considered easy, to WI 4, which is reasonably hard.† If you can climb 5.9 then
WI 4 should be within your range.† Heading downstream towards town the routes
get progressively harder, ranging from WI 4 to WI 5+.† This includes several
mixed routes.† All the routes in this part of the gorge may be top roped from
the walkway on the water pipe at the top of the gorge.

For the routes here a 60 meter rope works for top rope
belaying from the creek bed in the Schoolroom.† Further down stream a longer
rope will likely be required if you choose to belay from the creek bed.† The
usual slings, carabiners, and one or two ice screws will help in making all
the top rope anchors solid.† Most of the anchors are bolted but be prepared
to tie off trees.† In this area all of the routes are recommended.† In particular,
try Roosterís Roost, Schoolroom Pillar, Verminator, Duncanís Delight, Pic Oí
the Vic, and Tangled Up in Blue.† The routes further downstream are also excellent
but somewhat harder.† Be careful of climbing near overhanging icicles when the
sun is beating on the top of them.

After getting a little used to climbing on the ice near downtown Ouray then
it is interesting to visit the many areas outside of town.† Just outside of
town heading to the north (back towards Montrose and Grand Junction) is Dexter
Creek Slabs, WI 3, which is a great introduction to back country waterfall climbing.†
On the south side of Ouray, also within easy driving distance and hiking distance,
is Horsetail Falls, WI 4 to 5.† Further away in the town of Silverton is the
excellent Stairway to Heaven, WI 4, which is likely the quintessential alpine
ice route at that grade in the area.† Also outside of town within easy driving
distance is the Skylight Area.† All of the routes here are one or two pitches.†
Finally, for hard dudes and dudettes, is the Ames Ice Hose route near the town
of Ames.† It is amazing. †This is a 600 foot tall frozen waterfall and is usually
rated solid WI 5 and that is when the first pitch is 100% ice without the ìincidentalî 5.9 mixed move on rock.† †Needless to say, I have
not climbed this one.

The best time to go to Ouray seems to be during January and February. The ice
season here is shorter than one would hope for but it may be climbable in December
and March but for the last few years it has been too warm in early March.† The
local weather is typical of Colorado, the days are usually quite clear and sunny
and the nights quite cold.† Perhaps the daytime sunshine contributes to the
short season, however, the area is dry so the chances of bad weather are small
but not zero!† Be forewarned that in spite of the clear dry weather it can be
very cold.† When Ron Karpel and I headed off to climb Stairway to Heaven this
last February it was ñ17 degrees F.† That is dang cold.

Two major events are held in Ouray during the winter.† The first is the Ouray
Ice Festival, which brings all the worlds hot shot ice climbers together to
compete.† The second event is far more interesting.† It is the annual ìChicks
with Picksî ice climbing seminars.† This is the brainchild of Kim Reynolds,
no shrinking violet as an ice climber in her own right, and is a first class
seminar intended to interest and train women in the activity of ice climbing.†
Kim has arranged for many of the best women ice climbers to help her with these
seminars.† The participants are separated into groups of approximately the same
level and the intent is to learn ice climbing.† The top level of difficulty
involves training in mixed rock and ice and is taught by the very best women
ice climbers in North America.† For a woman, I cannot think of a better training
ground (or ice).† First, the weather and temperature are far more moderate than
the icebox in Lee Vining Canyon.† Second, instruction is from women and all
the participants are women.† Third, there is a huge selection of equipment donated
by all the top manufacturers available to try.† Finally, there is a chance to
meet like-minded ice climbing women. †The opportunity to try
out a selection of ice climbing equipment is extremely useful.† Most ice tools behave differently
and swinging a selection of ice tools can give a beginner a good choice in ice
tools if she decides to participate further.† It turns out the length of the
tool and the odd vibrations each tool seems to generate are all different.†
A good deal of confidence can be gained by arriving at a comfortable tool.

It is too bad there is not an equivalent for men, however, I
am not sure I want the T shirt with the name of the seminar on it.† Think about
it.† At any rate,† ìChicks with Picksî is a winner.† A nice benefit for both
men and women is the slide shows that are given.† Three years ago Ron and I
saw a great show by Annie Whitehouse and last years show was by Kim Czismazia,
who is arguably North Americaís best female ice climber.† Other slide shows
have been given by Kitty Calhoun, a world-class alpine climber and this years slide show
was given by Catherine Destiville.† For more information go to† Kim Reynolds can
be reached at or at (970) 626-4424.

Ouray, Colorado is located in western Colorado on state route 550 and is about
40 miles from Telluride.† The closest airport is in Montrose, Colorado, however,
the air flight selection and prices should be better flying in to Grand Junction.†
It is approximately two and one half hours drive to Ouray from Grand Junction.†
There are many motels in Ouray but most of them seem to be closed for the winter.†
The popular motels for ice climbers are the Ouray Victorian Inn, 50 Third Avenue,
(970) 325-7222 and the Box Canyon Lodge and Hot Springs, 45 3rd Ave, (970) 325-4981.†
The owners of the Victorian Inn are ice climbers and are part of the driving
force behind the Ice Park.† The ìChicks with Picksî group also operates from
the Victorian Inn.† As a consequence the Vic may be booked.† These two motels
are the closest to the ice park.† About a block away is the very nice Circle
M, 120 6th Ave, (970) 325-4394, which is a good deal quieter since it is off
the beaten path.

Eating in Ouray can be problematic.† While there are several good choices for
dinners, the options for breakfast are somewhat bleak.† The Vic supplies a continental
breakfast, which consists of cold cereal, marginal coffee and orange juice and
the worlds slowest egg cookers for hard boiled eggs only.† I am not sure what
the Box Springs Lodge offers.† There used to be an excellent breakfast spot
in town but the woman running it has decided to sell fudge instead.† Fudge.†
There may be other options but as of this time I am not aware of them.† For
lunches you are pretty much on your own.† There is a modest but adequately supplied
market in town but it closes early so if you absolutely must buy food in Ouray
be sure to check the closing time.† The best place for purchasing food supplies
is back in Montrose or Grand Junction.† For dinner the most popular restaurant
seems to be the Mexican Buen Tiempo.† Others include The Outlaw, a place for
steaks, burgers, beers, and surly waitresses, and the Italian restaurant Bon
Ton, which is located in the St. Elmo hotel.

The local climbing and outdoors sports store is the Ouray Mountain Sports,
722 Main Street, (970) 325-4284.† The proprietor is Bill Leo, another Ice Park
supporter, and he can be reached at† The staff at Ouray Mountain
Sports all seem to be reasonably knowledgeable about conditions in the area
so this is a good source of information for the local conditions.† In the event that you might be interested in using
a local guide service to try something harder than your abilities or happen
to be solo in the area, try San Juan Mountain Guides,
P.O. Box 895,
, CO 81427, or by phone
at (970)-325-4925
San Juan Mountain Guides has a website with more information at† Have fun!

Guide Books: Colorado Ice Climberís Guide, Cameron M. Burns, Chockstone Press, 1997, ISBN: 1-57540-086-3 and
Colorado Ice, Jack Roberts, Polar Star Communications, 1998, ISBN: 0-9656109-0-X.†
Ouray seems to be getting some press in the climbing magazines so there may
be more information there.