Three cheers for ice cragging!
If you don’t already know about the Ouray Ice Park, you’re about to. The Park sits nestle in the Uncompahgre Gorge in southwestern Colorado. It is here that self-proclaimed “ice farmers”, aided by a system of penstocks and spigots, cultivate an extensive man-made ice crop.
Myself climbing Prow (WI4) in the New Funtier (photo by Matt Davis).
The best part about the Ouray Ice Park is that it is 100% free and there are bolted anchors for each of the climbs. This affords beginners (like myself) a unique opportunity to dip their toes into the ice climbing world with relative safety and ease. Though, you should definitely bring an extra cordelette for extending your anchors …
Whew, that’s an extended anchor. Two double-length slings, a cordelette, six lockers, two single-length slings, and five non-lockers later …
Before I attended the Ouray Ice Festival last year in 2017, I thought I would never be interested in ice climbing … I’m a rock climber after all. Who would want to subject themselves to the screaming barfies, constant ice fall, and cumbersome crampons anyway? Turns out: I would (much to my surprise).
In Lynn Hill’s autobiography, “Climbing Free”, she talks about how she identifies more strongly with climbing rock instead of ice because it is some much more tactile for the climber. You can feel all the ripples with your fingers, you know just how hard you can pull, and how the rock will react. Ice is certainly a different animal. It does not feel as “organic”, if you will. You have tools between you and the medium you are climbing. If you tried to use your fingers, they would would certainly turn purple and fall off.
But ice climbing has one big advantage over rock climbing: the community. Rock climbing has become increasingly popular over the years – and while it still qualifies as a more fringe sport, there is no denying the community has grown dramatically. The sport of ice climbing is also growing, but it still remains just a little further out of reach. I’m not saying ice climbing is an exclusive “club” by any means. Just that, we don’t yet have ice climbing gyms (Ouray is the closest to this).
As a result of this smaller community, you have a unique opportunity to interact with the superheros (aka sponsored athletes) of the ice climbing/mountaineering world. Want to take an ice climbing clinic from Dawn Glanc? How about Saturday at 12:30pm. Care for some glove advice from Margot Talbot? Head over to the Outdoor Research tent. Hoping to ask Conrad Anker about his trip to Antartica? He’s in the coffee line over there.
Because, if given the chance, who wouldn’t want to learn from the patriarchs of the sport whose literal job is ice climbing?
Margo Talbot showing us how it is done in an Intro to Ice for Women clinic at the School Room wall.
Suffice it to say, you need to make the trip to the Ouray Ice Festival: whether you’re a beginner or a professional (or anything in between). Just make sure you go to Wiesbaden Hot Springs while you’re there … trust me on that one.
Our crew on the last (very snowy) day of the Festival.