(all pictures are high res, for low res click here)
The end of January brought my annual trip to Ouray, Colorado, home of the Ouray Ice Festival and the Chicks With Picks Festival. Last year, I climbed with George Dunn, however after the fiasco I experienced in the Alps, I decided to climb with a company I was more comfortable with, Skyward Mountaineering. I was looking forward to climbing with Vince Anderson, a well established ice climber, but he took a nasty fall earlier in the year and had broken his foot. Vince hooked us up with a great replacement, Sven Krebs.
Day 1, Sven took us to South Park, a relatively new area of the ice park. Joining me on this trip was my girlfriend Ellen , who had never been ice climbing before. To begin, Sven taught Ellen the basics of ice climbing, which became a great refresher course for me. Our first pitches were quite easy and required us to climb without tools, so that we could work on our footwork. Ellen picked this up really, well, so we quickly progressed to adding one tool. Remarkably, Ellen picked up the toolwork fairly well too, even though the tools were leashless! I had always heard that it was easier to learn ice climbing with leashless tools, but I never believed it. After climbing this week with Grivel Top Wing w/ trigger finger and the Charlet Moser Ergo I became a true believer. I'll never climb with leashed tools again. Anyway, we stopped for some lunch , after which we moved to a slightly harder route. . Elle really seemed to be doing good on this route, so it was time for me to take a whack at it. (video) . All videos take a long time to download - be patient! - and you'll need either WindowsXP or QuickTime to watch them. After doing a couple fun laps on this route, Sven took us up one final route so that he could show Ellen how to repel. After doing a couple repels, day 1 was complete. Elle and I went back to the Vic for a well deserved soak in a hot tub and a couple beers.
The next day we found ourselves climbing in the sun of the higher gorge (video). It was an absolutely perfect day, and Elle and I took a couple laps on an easy route. , meanwhile there were a couple climbers doing harder routes next to us (video) . Once we had dialed in the easy route, we took a crack at the harder route to our right. This route had some vertical ice (Class 4/5- ) which became our first real test of the trip. You'll see me here (video) getting ready to tackle the vertical section. I successfully topped out, then Ellen took a stab. This was by far the hardest climb she had so far. . This became a real tester for her, as she took her first fall of the week (video), but she hung in there and topped out. All in all, this was a great morning of climbing - here's a final picture of the 2 routes we climbed. One of the perks of climbing in Ouray, is that you can leave the park at anytime and grab lunch which is what we did on the second day. After a nice big burger, we repelled into to the schoolroom area to practice multipitch climbing. Here's a couple shots I took from the belay station halfway up the route. After topping out on this route, we called it a day.
The last day we headed to Skylights to do some climbing on real waterfalls. The first route, Skylight, was a multipitch route - probably around 4 pitches, but because of the ice conditions, we chose to only climb the first two pitches. Here's the view from the top of the first pitch (video) . Elle had a challenge going up the chimney , but at least she didn't get hit in the head by falling ice (OUCH!). After we both topped out (and I had blood dripping from my face), we repelled to the bottom, ate some lunch and prepared for another route. At this point, we were both pretty tired from 3 days of climbing, so we picked an easier pitch that gave us plenty of options. For my final pitch, I thought I'd take everything I had learned over the three days and try some mixed climbing . This forced me to drytool part of the pitch and really concentrate on my technique. I successfully topped out on this pitch (video) and was extremely happy. That became the final pitch for both of us, and we called it a day. We both learned a ton on this trip and improved immensely.
We both can't wait to do this trip again next year! Kudos to Sven and Skyward Mountaineering. If you plan on going climbing anytime soon, I'd highly recommend going with them!