The Ouray Ice Festival, one of the highlights of the ice climbing season, is in full swing this weekend. It blasted off Thursday night with slide shows from Caroline George and Andres Marin. By all reports Caroline’s show was great and Andres' was hysterically funny. Tonight myself and Majka Burhardt go on at 8:30pm with Majka starting off with clips from her new film Waypoint Nambia. I’ll be presenting my talk I’ve done throughout the tour for my book, Beyond the Mountain and hosting book signings at the local community center from 5:30-7:30 both Friday and Saturday night.
Today dawned bright and cold with a biting temperature of just +4 in town. (This afternoon it warmed up to a balmy 34.) Once it warmed up I threw a pair of Micro Puff Pants over my jeans and grabbed a DAS Parka and went out to visit several couple climbing clinics that were going on. These clinics pair a top climber with a local guide and cover topics from beginning ice climbing to advanced mixed climbing. It’s a great way to both spend a few hours with some of the stars of climbing as well as get some professional instruction in the intriguing sport of ice climbing. In fact I am teaching two clinics over the weekend: one on moderate mixed climbing and another on advanced ice techniques.
[An unidentified climber tries his/her hand at mixed climbing in one of the many climbing clinics offered at the Ouray Ice Festival. All photos courtesy of Steve House]
[An unidentified ice climber in the Ouray Ice Park. All of this ice is manufactured through an elaborate system of pipes and showerheads which are turned on every night throughout the winter, creating an amazing variety of top-rope accessible ice climbs that are just a ten-minute walk from downtown Ouray. There is also an area of the canyon dedicated to lead-climbing where you can practice your leading skills.]
[A slack-line walker entertains the crowd, just below and right of him you can see two climbers in the shade wearing orange helmets.]
Next I dropped by the Patagonia booth and visited with Patagonia ambassador Mark Wilford who was on-duty giving away lip balm, stickers, and catalogs. Clothing was also available to demo, but most of it had gone out with the morning’s clinics. Events coordinator Kristo Torgersen, who normally takes care of things here, was off at the first Mugs Stump Award meeting to decide which 2010 expeditions will receive funding from that prestigious prize.
[Mark Wilford, with babe-magnet Scarlet, at the Patagonia booth.]
Ouray is perhaps most famous for its man-made ice park, the likes of which are unique in the climbing world. However it is important not to forget that there are miles of natural ice lines around. I had a chance to sample two of these climbs yesterday. My partner and I got a late start (the coffee shop doesn’t open until seven), got the rental car stuck in a snowbank (we borrowed a shovel from some climbers bivied in the back of their pickup) and finally had to resign ourselves to walking the last two miles of icy road. And so a great day was born. We did finally start climbing at ten and managed to do two routes for a total of ten pitches. Add these diverse climbing resources to a charming position in the northern San Juan Mountains, abundant natural hot springs, and perfect cold, sunny winter days and you have a winter climber’s paradise.
[My climbing partner finishing up the first pitch of the three-pitch classic ice route, The Ribbon, on Thursday. This is one of many classic natural-ice lines around Ouray Colorado. Normally, this route is much fatter (more ice) but this year the ice is thin and challenging, which is just the way I like it.]
[Ouray offers an abundance of natural ice lines beyond the park. Here I am on Thursday (working hard) climbing a naturally occurring ice route called The Ribbon just a few miles outside of Ouray.]
[My climbing partner leading the final pitch of The Ribbon on Thursday.]
[My climbing partner on Thursday climbing the Birdbrain Boulevard, a classic seven pitch mixed route next to The Ribbon.]
[Me leading one of the classic mixed pitches of Birdbrain Boulevard on Thursday.]
It’s an event every climber will want to experience once in their climbing careers. Hope to see all of you out here next year.
Sunny skies and blue ice,
Steve House from Ouray, Colorado