Monday, January 23, 2012

Climbing in the Ouray Ice Park

A Note from the Administrative Staff at AAI:

The following is a short article from Mike Pond about the absolutely awesome ice climbing found in the Ouray Ice Park.  But before you read it, we wanted to let you know that we have a SALE running on all courses and private trips in Ouray this season.

Climb Ouray with us in January or February 
and get a 20% discount.

Now onto Mike's article:

Dear Ice Climbers,

I am the AAI instructor/guide for Ouray, Colorado. I’ve climbed in a lot of places, and have never seen anything that quite matches up to the Ouray Ice Park. While there is a lot of great ice and mixed routes in the Ouray backcountry, the ice park is where it’s at for honing your winter climbing skills. The park’s history is interesting in itself, which I’ll leave for another day. It’s great to be back for another winter of ice and mixed climbing here in Colorado!

The Ouray Ice Park from the entrance.

Just one piece of the mile-long ice playground.

The stats: Ouray, Colorado. Elevation 7800 ft. Population 800. A charming small mountain town with  (developed) hot springs and a disproportionate amount of ice and mixed climbers given its small stature.

The Ouray Ice Park is right on the edge of town. Literally, I walk ten minutes from my house and I am in the park. The park itself is a slot canyon that has about one mile of ice climbing in it.

How, you may ask, would ice form for a continuous mile?

Well, the good people here in Ouray have a sort of mad scientist approach to ice climbing and have installed a piping system on the canyon rim, from which hoses spray water every night. This water flows over terrain of various angles to create a mega playground for ice climbers.

It is truly incredible. There are hundreds of ice climbs and dozens of mixed climbs. There is literally something for everyone here, with low-angle practice walls, fat flows, moderate-angle flows, steep flows, pillars, daggers, bolted mixed climbs from M6 (similar to 5.7) to M 10 (like 5.12), and even a few trad mixed climbs. Oh yeah. It is one of the best places in the world to learn how to climb ice and mixed. And, with an extensive backcountry at your doorstep, there is heaps of alpine climbing and longer ice routes to apply the skills learned in the park. 

Climbing a fat, blue ice flow. Oh, Colorado.

Despite some wacky unseasonably warm weather that’s been hitting the country, the ice is happening here, full force. Even when it’s warm weather in the medium-high country, the ice park itself never seems to get much above freezing. Literally, yesterday I was in the backcountry in a protected, sun-drenched area in a t-shirt for most of the day. Talking with other climbers, it was perfectly chilly down in the park. While this may seem intimidating, it’s not bad down there. It’s well protected from high winds and inclement weather (it’s a slot canyon) and hey, freezing is good for ice! And ice, after all, is what we’re here for.

The ice park is a great place to learn how to mixed climb, combining rock and ice in the same pitch.

The author getting psyched for the next lead.

As the season progresses, I'll plan on adding more photos, videos, and stories from one of the country's best ice climbing areas in its prime season. Happy winter!
--Mike Pond, Instructor and Guide


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