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.
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.)
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.
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
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.
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.