Ouray Ice Festival 2010

Jess showing why she can't fit into a harness.
Jess showing why she can't fit into a harness.

As you all know by now, we start every year by attending the Ouray Ice Festival with our friends Andy and Gretchen. We’ve often climbed a bit of ice around town before the festival, but this November and December were just crazy with other trips, and I can’t climb because I can’t wear my harness (or afford to fall). So this was our first ice of the season.

Andy and Gretchen came over for dinner on Friday—one of my favorite crock pot recipes, three sisters corn chowder. It’s both spicy and creamy, full of vegetables. We loaded up the car, ate dinner, and got on the road around 6:15 p.m. Dave and I got to sit in the back and nap, which is always nice for a change (especially after several long road trips!). The only thing that slowed us down was being pulled over by a police officer because one of Andy’s headlights was out: sort of a theme, since our running taillights were out on the way to Ouray last year! We got into town around 12:30 p.m. and hauled all of our stuff into our suite at the Alpenglow. We learned several years ago that it’s worth the extra money to get a room with a kitchen and two bedrooms; it’s yummy and thrifty to cook breakfast and at least one dinner at “home,” and a true vacation includes sleeping well without hearing each other turn over and breathe in the middle of the night.

Gretchen climbing some ice in Ouray.
Gretchen climbing some ice in Ouray.

We got up kind of late on Saturday and Gretchen made eggs for breakfast. By the time we had put on all our gear, it was late morning. Gretchen wanted to go buy some new gaiters, and Dave and I wanted a cup of coffee. So we decided to leave our heavy packs in the room and skip the climbing on Saturday. We always wish we could see more of the climbing competition, which only occurs on that one day. We spent some time looking around at the tools and clothes at the exhibitor tents and then watched several climbers attempt the competition route. It was such a beautiful day! Blue sky and warm sun. We didn’t see anyone complete the route, and in fact only two people ended up getting to the top. But we did get to watch Will Mayo, who came in third among the men, and my heroine Ines Papert, who came in first among the women. She missed the top by just a couple of placements, and was clearly frustrated! She had plenty of time. (It’s a very difficult mixed route that has to be completed in twenty minutes.)

A climber near the top of the comp route.
The upper belay stand and all important ice axe retriever on the comp route.

Dave was going to enter the ice axe throwing competition, but they had run out of prizes, so we clomped down the hill back to the hotel and I cooked dinner (coconut shrimp) while the others watched TV. After dinner we went to the live auction, where we were surprised to have to pay $20 apiece to get in! (All the events cost money, which goes to the ice park, but that seemed a little steep. It turned out that you got a lasagna dinner for that fee, so everyone else ate dinner #2. I don’t have enough room in my stomach these days! We did get souvenir/reusable cups for beer, which helped with the environmental impact of the festival, as they could be used at later events.) We watched a box jump competition—how many times could a competitor jump up onto a tall box, get down, do a pushup, stand up, and jump back up, in sixty seconds. We watched the whole auction, which had some great gear and a few pieces of original artwork. Then we watched a hilarious slideshow by Timmy O’Neill—five trips to five continents in five minutes. On the way back to our room, I stopped at Mouse’s for a Magic bar. (I’m a sucker for bar cookies.) Then we went to the premiere of a German movie called Nordwand. Before the main feature, they showed a short of images from the previous fifteen years of ice festivals. We had actually seen a couple of the competition climbs, which was cool. It was fun to see the old video of people climbing with leashes on their tools and double-walled boots (which I still wear, but they don’t!). We read about the movie online and it sounded kind of dumb, but it turned out to be pretty engaging as long as you weren’t too concerned with the historicity of the Nazi connection to climbing the north face of the Eiger.

Dave rigging up a top rope anchor for some ice climbing.
Dave rigging up a top rope anchor for some ice climbing.

Back to sleep and up kind of late again on Sunday. More eggs for breakfast. Pulled on our gear and picked up our backpacks. Another beautiful day. We hiked up the hill all the way to South Park, where it was really quiet. Attendance was certainly down; I don’t know if it’s the economy or just that the festival isn’t really a novelty anymore, but it was nice for us. We found a great climb right away and roped it up. I headed down into the canyon, kind of bummed that I couldn’t rappel. Everyone else followed and climbed for a while while I took photos and bouldered around the bottom of the climbs. Luckily, it was a beautiful day again, so I wasn’t too cold. The climb next to us, Cartmen Gets an Anal Probe, was open, so I climbed out with Dave (he went over the top; I hiked up the roped

Dave doing some easy mixed climbing.
Dave looking up at some ice tools after slipping. He managed to climb back up bare-handed to retrieve the tools

downclimb) to drop Andy’s rope. They did some great mixed climbing while I took photos and video. It was a good day in the canyon! We got back to the hotel thinking that we had plenty of time to get ready for a 9:00 p.m. show. After showering, I looked at the program and discovered that the awards show was actually at 5:30 p.m.—fifteen minutes away! We dashed over to the theater, but the ice festival keeps Latin American hours, so we didn’t miss a thing. The awards ceremony was followed by a really interesting slideshow by Dave Nettle, who brought actual slides! He had several really interesting exhibitions in Alaska to show us. Everyone but Dave agreed that mountaineering and its perils is not for us.

Jess doing some ice "bouldering" in the gorge.
Jess doing some ice "bouldering" in the gorge.

On Monday we got up and packed our stuff for climbing. We also packed the car and checked out of the hotel. Back up the hill, but this time we climbed in the schoolroom. The downclimb was a bit on the sketchy side, and Andy bailed halfway down. It was a cool climb, nice and steep with a couple of interesting variations near the bottom. Andy finally rapped down and everybody did some nice climbing. I took more photos and practiced my footwork and tool switchovers. We left town around 3:30 p.m. after a stop at Mouse’s for coffee and toffee. On the way home, we stopped at the Glenwood Springs Brew Pub for dinner, and Dave and I got home at 10:30 p.m. or so. What a nice way to start the year! Great weather, great ice climbing, great food, and the combination of interesting scheduled events with sleeping flexibility—my favorite kind of vacation.

Oh Canada!

The mountains from downtown Banff (the town) in Banff (the Park) in Alberta, Canada
The mountains from downtown Banff (the town) in Banff (the Park) in Alberta, Canada

After crossing the border into Canada (see the previous post), we headed north past several small towns. Interestingly, many are much cleaner and more affluent in appearance then their counterparts just south of the border. I wonder if the Canadians think of this part of Canada as the “Deep South”? At any rate, we continued north towards Calgary. Jess commented that the roads were in fabulous shape. For the most part, she was totally correct. I wonder why?

Along the way, we had to pick up gas at the Gas Bar (an interesting Canadian fuel service center). The price was about $0.954 a liter (1 US gallon is about 3.8 liters) which comes to around $3.61 a gallon! I’m sure most of this is in additional taxes. In Canada, the fuel tax rate is province dependent just like it is state dependent in the US. According to Petro-Canada, Alberta currently charges $0.19 + 5% (GST) per liter of gas while Colorado, in comparison, charges around $0.404 per gallon (state and federal) + any applicable local taxes. Again, putting these into consistent units gives a ratio of $0.722 to $0.404 for the fixed taxes. That’s about 32 cents per gallon more in Canada than in the US and doesn’t include the 5% GST charge. While that may not seem like a lot, based on 2008 gasoline consumption in the US (137,800,488,000 gallons),  total state and federal taxes for 2008 should have totaled almost $55.7 billion. If Canadian consumption was equal to US consumption (of course it wasn’t) they’d have collected some $43.8 billion in federal and provincial taxes. Since the Canadian and US dollars are almost equal, I won’t bother with exchange rates, which muddy the discussion.

Road damage or wear is roughly proportional to use, and use is determined by miles driven and vehicle weight—both of which directly influence fuel consumption. The actual Canadian fuel consumption isn’t critical because consumption and wear are roughly proportional. All that matters is the effective tax rate per unit volume of transportation fuel. Based on these numbers, it’s clear that more funds are collected per mile driven than in the US. Assuming the bulk of these funds are earmarked for road construction/maintenance it makes sense that the roads should be in better shape. Just think what an extra 40 billion per year might due to improve federal roads in the US!

Back on the road to Banff, we encountered some rush-hour traffic around Calgary. For some reason it had not occurred to us that the map of Alberta in our big Rand McNally atlas of North America might not be sufficient. Our pathetic attempts to route around Calgary to the southwest instead put us right downtown at 17:00 (Canada-style time). We arrived in Banff with just enough time to drive up to the Mountain Culture Center for the first evening’s talks. On the agenda were climber Chris Sharma, conservationist Mike Fay, and the book awards.

Lake Louise from the trail to the Lake Agnes Teahouse in Banff (the park).
Lake Louise from the trail to the Lake Agnes Teahouse in Banff (the park).

Chris spoke first and discussed his life growing up in the climbing community and his two most recent accomplishments. The first was a new route on a beautiful arch near Mallorca, Spain, called Es Pontas (9b). It’s been called the most difficult deep-water solo in the world, and it’s likely the most beautiful as well. Next up was Sharma’s new route called Jumbo Love (5.15b) on Clark Mountain near the Nevada-California border. Both routes are currently unrepeated, and the latest success is documented in a new film by Peter Mortimer of Sender Films called First Ascent: The Impossible Climb. After Chris’s talk, they announced the book awards from the concurrent Book Festival. Several sounded quite good, including a nonfiction book about geology with climbers as the main audience. Flakes, Jugs, and Splitters by Sarah Garlick (Globe Pequot Press) might actually help me achieve my full Cliff Clavin potential. After Sharma’s talk and the book awards were announced we bailed, as we hadn’t had time to eat beforehand and Jess was getting especially hungry.

Friday morning was our only sight-seeing opportunity of the trip. We were scheduled to watch some more speakers and films that night, and with full days of films on Saturday and Sunday, we really had to make the most of this opening. We hopped back into the car and drove the hour or so from Banff (the town) to Lake Louise. The weather wasn’t spectacular from a picture-taking perspective. The skies were overcast and cloudy with intermittent light snowfall all day. The lake was also mostly frozen, but we did get a chance to see the spectacular blue water from the hike up to the Lake Agnes Teahouse. The teahouse was also closed for the season (remember the theme from the last post), but we did expect as much. Nevertheless, it was a nice hike of about 14 km (round trip) and fit perfectly into our schedule. We had a little fun on the ride home as the roads iced up after the sun set, but the speed limit in Banff (the park) is low enough that it didn’t make much of a difference. We got back just in time to get a little dinner before the night’s speaker.

Dave in front of the Lake Agnes Teahouse. I don't know why they weren't open. We made the hike in just over an hour despite the snow. Canadians are weak!
Dave in front of the Lake Agnes Teahouse. I don't know why they weren't open. We made the hike in just over an hour despite the snow. Canadians are weak!

At 7:30 we settled into our assigned seats and listened to Ueli Steck tell us about his unbelievable, record-setting speed ascents of the Eiger-, Grandes Jorasses-, and Matterhorn-Nordwand (North Face). Local hero Will Gadd introduced Ueli and told us a fun story about how he passed the mountain guide tests in Alberta without speaking English. Ueli started his talk by assuring us his English was much improved. He explained how he became inspired to try speed climbing on the Eiger in the first place, and ultimately the training regime he employed to pull off the summit in under 3 hours. He even told us about finding a British climber’s crampon on his first solo attempt. The climber eventually heard about Ueli’s ascent and e-mailed to thank him for the crampon. I guess having a few soloists around makes everyone safer!

Saturday we spent almost the entire day watching films. We misread the schedule and got out of bed a little late for the first film, but otherwise we made it to every screening, for a total of 9 different films. The films were all quite good and featured the film about Chris Sharma’s ascent of Jumbo Love, which someone in line described as better than Chris Sharma in person. I guess that’s about the best compliment a filmmaker could receive, and I kinda agree. There were a couple of films about Yellowstone. A spectacular feature about life in the park during winter and another short featured an interesting member of the previous film’s crew. He likes to swim the Yellowstone River, and the film documented both his unique pastime and the plight of the endangered Cutthroat Trout of Yellowstone. We also watched Solo, the heart-wrenching tale of Andrew McAuley’s attempt to become the first person to kayak across the ferocious Tasman Sea from Australian to New Zealand. It’s staggering what he persevered through on his 1600 km voyage only to die within sight of the coast of New Zealand.

The Saturday night speaker was ultra-marathoner Dean Karnazes. He’s recently published an experiential book about running 50 marathons in 50 days and he’s been on David Letterman. As you might expect, he’s got an awful lot of energy. Among other things, we learned what he eats while running. It includes just about anything he can get his hands on, including whole pizzas delivered to intersections at pre-arranged times by a very trusting San Francisco pizzeria. Dean explained that you order them un-cut, roll them up like a burrito, and gnaw away as you run. In a recent 200 mile relay that he ran solo, he monitored all of the calories he ate. After 72+ hours and thousands of calories, he still lost 4 pounds. He joked that an ultramarathon diet books was in the works. In all seriousness, he’s now planning to run a marathon in every officially recognized country in a single calendar year. Wikipedia lists 193 generally recognized states and 204 if you include de facto or de jure states. Either way, that’s a nearly 4 marathons a week for an entire year or a whopping 5057–5345 miles! I think even my co-worker Jim “Wildman” Fisher would call that crazy.

Sunday we settled in for another day of film watching. This time we got up early enough to not only see the day’s first film (A NOVA special called Extreme Ice that documented changes in global ice) but also get some of the comfy armchairs. Actually the Sunday morning session in the Max Bell Auditorium wasn’t as heavily attended as the Saturday sessions. Perhaps people were skiing or attending church. Either way, they missed some  excellent films. My favorite from the morning was footage of an elusive Snow Leopard and her “kitten” in Pakistan. The movie also featured probably 95+ percent of all of the extant footage of these animals in the wild. Also documented were some incredibly sure-footed mountain goats butting each other on improbably-steep slopes. Despite the crazy violence, the goats all managed to avoid toppling down the hillside as they vied for mating superiority. The leopard was no slouch on the slopes either. I know more than a few climbers that would be envious of how she moved across the rocks.

In total, we watched 21 films, listened to 3 different speakers, and enjoyed a simulcast on free soloing called “Party of One: Leaving the Rope at Home” with Peter Croft, Matt Maddaloni, Royal Robbins, Ueli Steck, and Peter Mortimer while eating lunch. We had a great time, despite all the driving, and we highly recommend attending the festival if you ever have the chance. As an alternative, you should at least plan to attend a local screening of the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour if it’s coming to your area. If you like either films or mountain culture, you’ll like what you see. I know we’ll be going to at least one of the showings in Boulder, because we didn’t see anything from the Radical Reels night and we need our mountain biking/whitewater kayaking/extreme snow sports/mountain unicycling/base jumping/rock climbing fix.

P.S. from Jess: On the way home, we stopped at my new favorite coffee shop in Bozeman for some dessert in lieu of dinner and WiFi. We got back into town at 5:45 a.m. and slept until 7:15 or so, before heading off to work. There’s no rule that says you have to be rested at the end of a great vacation!

The Emperor’s New Shoes

Dave recounts the details leading up to a good-karma moment at REI where he recently purchased a new pair of rock climbing shoes. Let’s hope this purchase sates his rampant gear lust for at least a week or two.

After giving Jess a hard time about letting her old rock shoes get too worn out for a resoling, I turned around and did the exact same thing. I’d had my old shoes resoled once a couple of years ago, and the new rubber certainly made a difference, but somehow I neglected things until one day I discovered a hole worn all the way through the rand and into the leather beneath. It looks like someone needs a spoonful of his own medicine. The shoes are still functional, of course, but now another resole is right out.

The worn La Sportiva Cliffs alongside the venerable La Sportiva Mythos in uninspired brown-colored leather. Notice the small holes in both toes of the blue Cliffs.
The worn La Sportiva Cliffs alongside the venerable La Sportiva Mythos in uninspired brown-colored leather. Notice the small holes in both toes of the blue Cliffs.

This is a real bummer because rock shoes are notoriously difficult to fit, and I really like the fit of my old La Sportiva Cliffs. They fit like a glove, and unfortunately, they smell a bit like a locker room. At least there’s one benefit to a new pair of shoes. I’ve been apprehensive about getting a new pair for some time, as my first pair of climbing shoes was a complete disaster. They were a pair of size 5.5 Boreal Lasers that induced immediate bouts of hammer toe. They climbed quite well, for about 2 minutes, until the pain became so unbearable I couldn’t stand on anything. Of course I tried every trick in the book to coax just a bit more stretch out of the unlined leather shoes, but there are limits to everything. I eventually gave them away to one of Jess’ co-workers for her daughter to use. It’s no wonder my next pair was a flat-footed comfy shoe. While the Cliffs aren’t a high-performance shoe, they are certainly comfy, and they’ve served me well for almost 10 years! I can only hope this new pair lasts as well as the Cliffs.

We’ve been sitting on a 20% off coupon from REI and our annual dividend since they came out last month. The dividend isn’t all that big because we like to buy our outdoor gear from a variety of different stores, but it’s nice to take advantage of the two together when you plan to buy something expensive. I’m a bit miserly regarding some purchases, and I definately think $130.00 for some shoes a bit ridiculous. After trying on quite a few different shoes and sizes, I’d settled on the Mythos from La Sportiva. The fit is actually a bit similar to my old Cliffs with a slightly different toe box. I kept trying on slightly smaller sizes looking for just the right fit until REI ran out of shoes. The size 40 (euro sizes) was the smallest the salesman could find. It felt pretty good, but I would have preferred trying on the next smaller size in order to really make certain that the 40 was the right size for me. I also discovered that my right foot is a bit larger than my left foot. I don’t recall this being the case in the past, so maybe it’s a side effect from the bad sprain I suffered last year from a climbing fall. (Read the blog post here.)

Oddly, another guy was looking at the same shoes, and was complaining that he really needed a bigger shoe for his left foot than his right. We had about the same size feet, so when a pair of 39.5 Mythos appeared in the women’s section, we took turns trying on both sets of shoes. Ultimately Steve and I ended up swapping the left and right shoes from the two pairs. It’s a pretty good fit; very snug, but not at all painful with just a tiny bit of space near one of my little toes. After trying on both pairs in rapid succession, I got to the point where I had to look at the label to tell them apart. The laces are so adjustable, I felt more difference from adjusting the laces than I did from the shoe. I bit the bullet and purchased a mixed pair of 39.5/40 Mythos that I hope will fit even better in the future than they did at the store. When all of the various discounts and credits were applied, I got the shoes for about $85.00 (tax included). Not too bad for a new pair of rock shoes. Of course, the real test will be unleashing them on a climb and seeing just how well they fit after a little break-in period, so I’ll have to post an update in a few weeks.

Snow Day! (plus catch-up)

So Dave tells me that you guys don’t want to read long messages about much of anything, especially Twilight. (Except Emily. Thanks, Emily! I know you’re asking yourself why I’m blogging and not finishing Breaking Dawn. Never fear—I’ll get there.) Anyway, let me catch you up on our lives, in reverse chronological order. With as few comments as possible.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The city of Boulder is closed. Roads are closed. It took Dave and me an hour and a half to get home from work at 1:00 p.m. this afternoon. Blizzard!

Dave shoveling.
Dave shoveling.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Dave and I went rock climbing in the Flatirons. Almost everyone we know headed to the Flatirons that day—something about a beautiful Saturday at the beginning of spring in Boulder that draws you up there. We climbed part of the first flatiron. One pitch was enough for me, for starters. Dave led wonderfully and it was lovely to be outside and healthy again!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I got sick on Tuesday, March 10, and finally stayed home from work to go to the doctor on March 16. She prescribed two inhalers and a Z pack of antibiotics. My voice went wacky and I could sing a whole octave lower than usual. (Cool!) Although I wasn’t healed on my birthday, I was well enough to really enjoy opening presents (thanks, family!) and eating dinner. Dave sweetly agreed to help cook homemade noodles, homemade spaghetti sauce, and homemade chocolate cake with chocolate butter cream icing. Yum!

Dave cuts noodles.
Dave cuts noodles.
Sauce atop noodles.
Sauce atop noodles.
Is that spaghetti sauce in the corners of my mouth?
Is that spaghetti sauce in the corners of my mouth?

Friday, March 13, 2009

We’re playing music from the Leonard Bernstein opera Candide in band, so I went with my friend Jehanne to see the CU Opera performance. It was terrific! What talented people. The orchestra was wonderful and the set was both creative and very functional. The singing was amazing. I had always wanted to eat at Khow Thai, on the hill, which we did beforehand. Yum! I had green curry with tofu.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Dave went to Fault Cave with a few other people from our grotto. I stayed home to work on the Parish Visitor.

Graffiti in Fault Cave.
Graffiti in Fault Cave.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Church, followed by a baby shower for our friends Erica and Adam, followed by a book group that Dave and I have both joined with several other couples from church. Our first book was Reluctant Saint: The Life of Francis of Assisi, by Donald Spoto. It was terrific and we had a great discussion, so we’re reading another Spoto book for April: The Hidden Jesus: A New Life.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

We went caving down near Colorado Springs, to a cave called Huccacove. Dave and I had been there before—in fact, we attended a cave rescue seminar there. It’s a fun, kind of sporting cave without a lot of decorations. It was a beautiful day outside, although it did snow a bit while we were driving from Cave of the Winds to Huccy’s and then again a little bit when we got out of the cave.

Dave in the cave.
Dave in the cave.
Pretty formations.
Pretty formations.
Cave bacon!
Cave bacon!

Saturday, February 28, 2009

We headed to Ouray again with Gretchen and Andy for our last ice climbing trip of the season. I always miss it when it turns into spring, even though I’m always looking forward to mountain biking. We were afraid it was going to be too warm to climb! It was warm, but the ice was still solid. That made for a wonderful trip!

Dave climbing a hard, thin, mixed route.
Dave climbing a hard, thin, mixed route.
Jess belaying with the river raging (okay, flowing) behind her.
Jess belaying with the river raging (okay, flowing) behind her.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Mid-February, but warm enough to go mountain biking! We headed up to Heil Ranch. It was so fun to be back out on the trails, although it didn’t take too long for me to poop out. It was a lovely day in Lyons, but kind of overcast with a chilly breeze on our side of the mountain. Still, the first mountain bike ride of the season puts a grin on my face.

Dave’s Sprained Ankle

Sprained Ankle, The First Night
Sprained Ankle, The First Night

I’m learning a lot about what an actual ankle injury is really like. After a fun, if short, ice climbing season, Jess and I were climbing at The Spot, our local bouldering gym, when I fell from near the top of one of the boulders. It was a pretty typical fall and shouldn’t have resulted in an injury, but I managed to land on the very corner of one of the big crash pads. Instead of landing on my amply-padded butt, my right foot stuck to the mat and twisted underneath me as I rolled off to the side. It was immediately clear that this was way more than your typical twisted ankle.

I took some Advil after getting back home and put some ice on my ankle, but it was obvious the next morning that I couldn’t go to work. I couldn’t even put any weight onto my ankle. Instead I hopped around the house as I tried to make an appointment to see an orthopedist. Jess was able to pick me up in the afternoon and drive me into Boulder where I hopped up the stairs and into the doctor’s office. After a little ribbing about not having crutches, nor having been to the ER the night before, they x-rayed my leg to look for breaks. As it turns out, I was free of broken bones, but I’d clearly badly injured my ankle. The doctor prescribed this brace for three weeks followed by a few weeks of physical therapy.

After about 6-8 weeks, I was finally moving around pretty well, but the ankle is still a little weak and prone to aggravation. It’s a little sad that the injury resulted from such a mundane fall, but I guess some stories just aren’t as good as others.