Monday, February 6, 2012

Ouray Ice Conditions

I scream, you scream, we all scream for.... ice climbing! 

So I am the AAI guide here in Ouray, Colorado, what is often lauded as the "epicenter of American ice climbing." While I  don't need to make any overstatements, the place is amazing. Sure, there's the ice park, with over one mile of ice of all shapes and sizes (see recent blog entries from 1/23, and 1/31). But let's talk backcountry ice. Though, every other place in the world "backcountry" ice is simply "ice," but I digress.

Now, there is a ton of ice in and around Ouray, Silverton, Telluride, and the rest of the San Juans (Western Colorado). But within just a few miles of the town of Ouray, there's a host of ice and mixed climbing to be had. The past few weeks, I have been trying to get out to the local crags and get some climbing in. Here's what I've found this week as far as conditions go...

Camp Bird Road: Good. This venue is about two miles from Ouray. All the usual flows on the road proper are in, fat. Skylight is in, but a bit, er, showery. I recommend climbing this classic route in the early morning after cold night. I saw a party coming down in the afternoon, while the Skylight was in full flow. While they looked like they got a clean rinse, they looked a bit soggy and cold. The dry-tooling routes are in, as always, and make for a great workout. I'll post a blog entry next week about mixed climbing and dry-tooling in Ouray. Fun stuff!

While the fat flows by the road are in, The Ribbon, which is across the valley, looks bony for the first pitch. Typically, this climb is fatter early on, and tends to dry up as the season progresses. I climbed it a few years ago in the current condition, and the first pitch was scary!  The hard climbs, like the Racing Stripes and Bird Brain Boulevard look thin. But, Bird Brain is always in, because it's never really in, so it doesn't have to be in to be in. (If that made any sense, you have probably climbed Bird Brain). As far as places to go, this is where it's at for local ice and mixed climbing.

Here's some pictures of the Camp Bird area:

The Skylight. The first pitch is in the foreground. The second pitch (WI 5) is a steep flow inside of a giant chasm. It's steep, but many times, you can stem or chimney across the gap in the rocks, and get a no-hands rest. What a cool climb! (The second pitch was quite wet in the afternoon).

Choppo's Chimney (WI 4/5)

Two fat flows: on the left: Slip, Slide, and Away (WI 3 to 4+)
On the right: Tourist Trap WI5 M6

Local Boys Done Good (M7). A bolted choss pile for dry-tooling. Fortunately, this route is always in condition, as it has absolutely no ice on it.

Silverton: Dangerous. I have not been over this way yet this month due to high avalanche hazard. The San Juans are notorious for dangerous snowpack, and this year is turning out to be no exception. The climbs in the Eureeka area (just outside of Silverton) have big snow bowls above them, and have been getting loaded with recent snowfall. As a result, I have been a bit hesitant to go up there and swing the picks. Too bad, there's a lot of great climbing up there. At least there's a lot to choose from around here!

Skiing: Okay...if you're selective. The recent storms have brought avalanche hazard to the region. In general, Northern aspects are the most hazardous, where Southern aspects are safer. Due South is the best, at or below treeline. That said, there have been numerous natural, human-triggered, and explosive-triggered avalanches recently, and with a new storm this week, conditions are a bit grim to do the big North Face ski descents. Best to stick to mellow terrain, and avoid avalanche runout zones. Here's more info from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

Alright, well, that's a brief synopsis of some of the backcountry opportunities in the Ouray area. If you don't believe me, seeing is believing - come on down to Ouray and see for yourself!

--Mike Pond, Instructor and Guide.

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