Ice Climbing

While Grammie and Pappy were visiting and babysitting (thank you! thank you!), Dave and I were in Ouray ice climbing. It was our tenth Ouray Ice Climbing Festival, and we had a great time, as always. Every year I expect it to be too cold or not fun for some reason, and every year it’s one of my favorite trips. Our friends Andy and Gretchen agreed to drive so that we could leave our car with Grammie and Pappy, so on Friday, January 7, we met them in the Barnes & Noble parking lot at 1:00 p.m. We had already enjoyed lunch at Noodles with Grammie, Pappy, and Phoebe, who really likes to share Daddy’s macaroni and cheese with chicken. Andy and Gretchen have been carpooling with us long enough to know that it’s more sensible to just let Dave repack everything, so they got some lunch at Whole Foods while Dave packed up their Outback. When he finished, Andy could still see out the back window! You wouldn’t believe how much stuff four people need for a weekend…and we’re not even camping. Grammie took credit for Dave’s packing ability and Don and I just got out of the way. I said goodbye to our little peanut, realizing how much I was going to miss her.

Andy drove straight through to Ouray with only a couple of gas and bathroom stops, so we got there in plenty of time to check into our hotel room before the first slideshow of the weekend. We always get the same room—maybe it’s the only one with two bedrooms and one bathroom—so we’re pretty familiar with it.

Gretchen in the living room.
Gretchen in the living room.

Creatures of habit, we put our stuff into the same rooms and places we have for years and then headed over to the theater (next to the post office) for the slideshow.

You pay your money, and you drink your beer.

The Ouray Ice Park is, remarkably, free to use. Including more than 100 waterfall ice climbs, it’s the largest ice park in the world. Liability issues mean that the town can’t charge climbers, so most of the money for day-to-day operation of the park is made during the festival. Each slideshow costs $15 per person, but comes with all the beer you can drink. Not a bad deal!

Zoe Hart spoke first, and was completely delightful and inspiring. She calls herself an “Ice Princess” and part of her story was about meeting her prince…a French Canadian mountaineer who didn’t know what was in store for him. Her talk was particularly great for those of us who get scared in the mountains; she owned up to being really scared plenty of times. Mind you, she was climbing in the Himalayas! I get scared on the Flatirons. Next was Emily Harrington, whose talk centered on a really strange and kind of cool art film she participated in as a rock climber. An artist named Matthew Barney was making a modern art film that needed a woman climbing the inside of a museum, and he thought Emily fit the part. She agreed, and showed us a “making of” presentation. The movie is really strange…but even stranger is that European climbers fall into stacks of cardboard boxes! Finally, Sam Elias talked about his life, moving from skiing to rock and ice climbing to traveling the world to climb. I tried not to feel old and lame. We headed “home” to watch crappy TV and get a little bit of sleep before climbing the next day.

On Saturday, we got a late start after sleeping in and bumming around town to get some breakfast and coffee. Dave and I headed up the canyon and checked out the exhibitor tents and ice sculptures before climbing up to South Park (part of the ice park) to find a climb.

Ouray Ice Festival sculpture.
Ouray Ice Festival sculpture.
What could be better than an ice-cold beer?
What could be better than an ice-cold beer?

It used to be that you couldn’t get a climb unless you were ready early in the day, but the festival has become somewhat less popular and the ice park keeps getting bigger, so we were able to find a route, although it was pretty close to the end of the canyon. Dave set up our toprope and I walked down the walkdown to let him know if the spot looked good. It looked really good! Pretty hard, with some fun mixed climbing possibilities.

Dave on the route.
Dave on the route.
Jess trying the easier side.
Jess trying the easier side.

(Mixed climbing is when you climb both rock and ice in one route.) Remember that I hadn’t climbed in two years…a year ago, I was pregnant, so I was the photographer instead. While I waited for Dave to join me at the bottom, I talked to the couple who were climbing on the rope next to ours. They had recently moved to Telluride from the Midwest and were rock climbing like crazy. They each took a turn on our rope and sailed up the rock to an ice pillar like professionals. It was the woman’s second climb ever! Dave met Andy and Gretchen on the way down, so they all arrived at once. I got on our rope and tried my best on the rock, but I was weak and out of practice. I ended up getting mad and throwing my gloves, but I calmed down enough to enjoy the rest of the day. We all took several turns climbing, trying to pull off some sick moves (mostly to no avail). It was really fun to be back on the ice, though. At the end of the day, I climbed up the walkdown and helped clean up the gear. We walked back down to town and made a reservation for a 6:30 dinner at the Outlaw—our favorite steak restaurant. As always, it was delicious. The show that night was a movie by Conrad Anker that Dave and I saw last year on our fabulous vacation to the Banff Mountain Film Festival. We decided to go anyway, but got in line too late and couldn’t fit into the theater. Too bad for Andy, who wanted to see it! We thought about going to the zombie party that was being held that night, but decided that we were too tired. (I’m not much for zombies, but Dave is a big fan!)

The next morning was snowy, so we took it easy getting ready, figuring that it would be warmer later in the day. Dave and I had a delicious breakfast; my potato boat was so unhealthy that I could only justify it by its deliciousness and the fact that I was going to hike up the canyon and climb that day. We decided to try to find a climb in New Funteer and found it only half full of climbers. We put up a rope and when Andy and Gretchen arrived, they put one up too. I rappelled down ours (I love rappelling!) and checked out the climb. It looked much easier than Saturday’s. I love being down at the bottom by myself…it’s so quiet and pretty. I discovered that Andy’s rope hadn’t made it down, so I tried to yell up, but couldn’t catch him.

Our rope.
Our rope.
Andy's rope.
Andy's rope.

I got on rope first, climbed about halfway up our climb, and then traversed out to the left to try to free Andy’s rope. I spent ages trying to unknot it, but I eventually had to give up. I topped out on our climb and went to try to pull their rope up and fix it. I pulled it up, but every time I threw it again, it got stuck and knotted again. Dave eventually climbed up our climb and helped me with their rope, but it was still stuck on a ledge. He ended up rappelling down to fix it, and I came down after him. That was the first time I’d ever been warm that long! All that moving around really helped, despite the snow. We all climbed on both ropes for a while and then had to leave to get back in time for the awards ceremony and slideshow. We decided to climb out. I was last, and Andy belayed me from the top. He did a great job, but man, was I exhausted! He helped haul me up a bit at the top, and when I finally topped out, I had the screaming barfies. I shook my hands a while to warm them up and recovered.

Back in town, we had to head straight over to the theater. They handed out awards for the climbing competition, auctioned off the “Got Stump” t-shirt to raise money for current projects at the park, and then Barry Blanchard gave a terrific talk about his long career as a mountaineer. We got some chocolates from Mouse’s and ate the chili that had been cooking in the crock pot all day. We had already decided not to try to climb on Monday so that we could get back in time to have dinner with Grammie, Pappy, and Phoebe, so we did a little bit of packing and hit the sack. Despite the snow, the drive home was uneventful. I had been hoping that Phoebe would be so excited to see us that she’d flap her arms like crazy, and she didn’t disappoint. I had really missed her! But it was great to be able to do whatever, whenever, without worrying about when she would need to eat/be changed/nap/play. Hooray for the ice festival! Hooray for long-distance babysitters! Now we just have to have some other good adventures between now and next year’s festival.

The view from our hotel.
The view from our hotel.
Downtown Ouray on Monday; it was a gorgeous, sunny day.
Downtown Ouray on Monday; it was a gorgeous, sunny day.
Ouray finally has a brew pub!
Ouray finally has a brew pub!
Even Barbie's ready to hit the outdoors!
Even Barbie's ready to hit the outdoors!

2 thoughts on “Ice Climbing”

  1. So good to see you guys climbing at Ouray! (And wishing I was there with you…) I’ve been getting out in the Catskills some on ice, top roping some shorter but steep, pumpy stuff, and leading longer but more more moderate waterfalls. All in all, it’s been a great ice season here so far. Hoping it continues… Talk to you soon!

    Love,
    Pete

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