I feel more than a wee bit guilty spending a long weekend in Lake City while Jess is home with a snuffly little girl, but it hasn’t made the climbing any less fun. In fact, the climbing has been pretty darn good. Andy and Gretchen picked me up on Saturday morning at a little past 7:00, and we were on the road shortly thereafter. Although there was snow in the forecast, we got over Monarch Pass and all the way to Lake City with pretty much dry pavement and arrived by about 12:30. We checked into our room at the Matterhorn Motel (same place Pete and I stayed last year) and grabbed some lunch at one of the two open eateries. By the time we sauntered over to the ice park, things were well underway. The top rope and and lead climbing comps were set up in the same spots as last year, and the ice appeared a bit thinner. Andy and Gretchen walked up to the top to set up a top rope on a short little climb just to the left of the little mixed cave in the park while I relaxed below watching the comp and waiting to give advice (only if necessary, of course) in regards to rope placement. We spent a couple of hours taking turns doing laps on the climb in what was a consistent snow that soaked just about everything we had. Just as we were packing things up, someone got clobbered by a large piece of ice from an adjacent climber. It looked for a while as though he may have dislocated a shoulder, or worse, but he managed to regroup and finish the climb after a few minutes of what appeared to be intense pain. We didn’t end up with any pictures and had to hang up the ropes and gear to dry in the closet, but we had a fun time. Later that evening we made the 2-minute walk down the hill to the Packer Grill for a little ice festival afterparty and some beer. Sadly, there was no live band this year, but they did have the skills competition from the weekends NBA All Star Gala on the tube. Although the Packer Grill might be named for Lake City’s famous cannibal, I tried not to hold the decorations from Wisconsin’s famed football team against them.
The next morning we slept in a bit, as things are pretty laid back in Lake City. I made it out the door first and trekked to the coffee shop for a mocha and a bagel. A few minutes later, I was joined by the rest of the team. We chatted a bit with the proprietor before heading back to the room to grab our gear. A few minutes later and we were back in the ice park contemplating our options. This time Andy and I hiked up to the top and we ended up setting up a toprope on what was the lead comp route the day before. Since the climbs are fairly long, we used some cordalettes and a bit of static line to extend the anchor about 40-50 feet from the post glued into the ground until it reached over the lip. It ended up working well with both ends of the 60-meter cord reaching the ground and no rope drag. This was especially nice as there was about 6 inches of fresh snow along the top of the climb.
We managed about 3-4 laps each of the former comp route. It seemed to get easier with each lap despite the growing fatigue in my forearms, so either I was climbing more efficiently as the day went on, finding more of the hooks left from a constant barrage of assaults the day before (quite likely as we were slowly cleaning the snow from the route), or just making more big holes with each ascent. Regardless, we had a splendid time on the ice and thoroughly enjoyed beating ourselves to a pulp. Andy managed to clobber himself in the chin with a decent-sized hunk of ice (there wasn’t really any blood, so it ranks as fairly minor) and I got a little bruise on one knee.
After another night of bar hopping (Lake City has 3 functional bars in the winter), I’m comfortably back in the motel room able to share these pics from the weekend and planning out tomorrow’s climbing. As was the case last year, the festival was a fun low-key weekend in a city full of fun and welcoming people that seemed legitimately glad to have us in town, and just like last year, I’ll be heading back to the front range tomorrow certain that I’ll return next year. Maybe next year Jess and Phoebe will be able to come.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
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.
Our friend Katie commented that Phoebe sure is fast, in response to Jess’s recent Step Climbing post, and she’s absolutely right. Too fast in fact for her poor parents to keep up with all of her new tricks. Yesterday was my, gasp, 34th birthday. I got a bunch of wonderful presents. Jess and Phoebe decided to go with a couple of pairs of well selected socks (Phoebe picked, see the video below for an example) instead of the jazz CDs I received last year. Although Phoebe seems to be enjoying music reasonably well, and she sat through an entire band concert in the afternoon without a peep, I think it’ll be at least another year before she can assist in proper CD vetting.
I also got a cool new bit of Apple bling. Jess got me one of the new Apple TV things so that in addition to streaming Netflix straight from the Internet, we can pull up videos and photos from the desktop upstairs—visitors be warned! I also finally broke down and ordered a cheap wall mount for the TV from Amazon, so next weekend’s project will be a mix of Christmas preparations and now long-overdue baby-proofing. I’m hoping that with the TV firmly mounted to the wall, at least one small fear will subside.
In the interest of keeping everything in proper retrograde motion, I’ll proceed to our recent Thanksgiving trip. As many of you likely know, we have a bit of a tradition where we trade off with our friends Jennifer and Lee (and Alexander of course) traveling for the holiday. We started the tradition almost a decade ago, and it’s still going strong. A couple of years ago, it was Jennifer and Lee who got to experience the joys of traveling with a little baby; now this year it was our turn. We’d been monitoring the airplane prices for a couple of months, but since we got a new car back in July, I think both Jess and I were itching for a proper road trip (Phoebe, perhaps not so much). Being as it’s a long drive from Colorado to Michigan, we knew our only hope of success would be to drive all night when Phoebe is generally asleep anyway. As an added benefit, she’s still at an age where the car tends to knock her out, so we weren’t too apprehensive.
Just before hitting the road, I met Jess in Boulder to pick up the car after getting some new snow tires installed. Of course we left this task to literally the eleventh hour, but it all worked out just fine. We got to daycare in time to pick up Phoebe and ultimately hit the road at about 7:00 after getting the little lady fed and changed. She fell asleep almost immediately, and we settled in for a long car ride. Despite some bitter cold temperatures and some wicked wind across Nebraska (A.K.A. nothing unusual), we had lovely, clear, empty-road driving all the way to Chicagoland where we picked up some heavy rain. We also managed to avoid any close encounters of the law enforcement kind this time around. The drive was a bit longer than usual due to some extended out-of-car-seat stops, but not too bad.
We had a lovely, albeit short, visit with the Ott family. Alexander is a little ball of energy, and I think he has more toys than an F.A.O. Schwartz. We missed all of the parades and most of the football games, but we weren’t exactly excited about any of the match-ups anyway. Just after arriving, dinner was ready, so we pigged out and then goofed off a bit in the basement until everybody crashed.
After just a little over a day of hanging out with our friends, we piled back into the car and headed towards Coldwater, Michigan, for a quick visit with one set of Phoebe’s great-grandparents. The Hoots hadn’t met her yet, and seeing how close they are to Saint Joseph, it seemed a perfect opportunity. We decided to grab a sub for lunch with Jennifer and Lee (Alexander doesn’t care for them yet) and stopped at a nearby gas station along the way. When we fired up Luna again after the refueling, the check engine light came on and the cruise control indicator began to flash. Needless to say, this was not a reassuring sight! It also made for an unpleasant and nervous lunch. Jess and I both had BLTs from the Jimmy Johns and Lee explained how to get onto the highway heading towards South Bend. After lunch, we said goodbye and shared a round of hugs. Alexander didn’t want a hug, but I grabbed him from behind and gave him one anyway. He laughed, so I think it was all good.
Back in the car, the various indicator lamps all acted up again when we started the engine, so we discussed our options as we made progress towards the great-grandparents. Neither of us was keen on driving all the way back to Colorado with the prospect of imminent automobile failure (Taco was more than capable of providing us with those kinds of experiences and, quite frankly, the reason we had to get Luna as a replacement). After a few different sections of the manual were consulted, we learned two interesting things about the Subaru. First, a check engine light pretty much indicates an issue somewhere within the emission control system, and second, the issue can be as simple as a loose fuel cap. We pulled off to the side of the road, and I hopped out (after turning off the car) to check the cap. Honestly I couldn’t tell if it was on properly or not, so I removed it and replaced it just to be sure. Of course, the lights all came back on or flashed repeatedly as had been the case, but I was willing to drive to Colorado if the only issue was a little loss of fuel efficiency and a wee bit more CO or NOx emissions. The manual also mentioned that it might take a few trips before the lights stopped illuminating after tightening the fuel cap, but somehow we’d forgotten that aspect. Jess fixated on the alternative suggestion that you could turn the key to ACC and then re-start the engine to clear the error messages. When we stopped briefly a few minutes later to use a restroom at one of the Indian Tool Road’s rest areas, I appeased Jess by doing precisely this and, wouldn’t you know it, the error messages disappeared. Now we’ll never know for sure if it was the ACC position or just waiting long enough for the gas cap tightening to be noticed by the internal sensor. Regardless we were much happier.
On an interesting side note, an earlier glance through the Subaru manual educated me to the unusual procedures recommended for dealing with flat tires. According to Subaru, in order to avoid damaging the symmetrical all wheel drive system, you must never tow the car (this might be why there are so many flat bed tow-trucks in Colorado), and when deploying the spare tire, you must place it on one of the rear wheels (which can mean a lot of extra jacking and lug-nutting if the flat is in the front,) and pull the all-wheel drive fuse to disable the system before driving. I’ve mentioned this to several long-term Subaru owners and it’s been news to all of them. I guess I’m the only loser reading car manuals.
After a little over an hour, we arrived. It was great to get to visit with everyone. We were able to get some video of Phoebe with both of her great grandparents and everybody seemed to have a great time. We had a nice dinner and then relaxed for a couple of hours. We were grilled over our choice of a foreign automobile, but we explained that a Subaru is a requirement for living in Colorado. Somehow that seemed to help. Although a very short visit, it was a good distraction before heading back to Colorado, and dinner allowed us to fully de-stress from the automobile false alarm. The ride home was as uneventful as the trip out, with a similar dose of wind across Nebraska, but much nicer temps. We even arrived home with enough time to relax and take a walk before getting ready to return to work and going to bed.
Going yet a bit further back in time, Phoebe recently started “swimming” lessons. I say “swimming” because splashing or even floating would be better descriptions, but that’s not what they’re calling it at the Burger center. I went to the first lesson in order to get take some photos and shoot a little video of Phoebe’s first time swimming. In general it was pretty fun, but Phoebe and several other little swimmers were getting cold by the end of the half-hour lesson, and Jess was a little apprehensive of the ping pong ball they were supposed to toss out and let the babies “swim” towards and grab. I must agree that it would make a pretty spectacular choking hazard. Happily nobody choked on anything and Phoebe seemed to have a great time except for a brief moment when she lost her balance from a sitting position in the extremely shallow end and slipped underwater. To her credit, Mom was fast, and I’m not sure Phoebe even knew what happened.
This morning Pete and I headed out to Lake City to sample some of the new ice in the Lake City Ice Park. It’s not a very large park, at least compared to Ouray, but it’s a very chill setting. When we arrived in town at about noon, there was absolutely nobody out on the ice. We had a relaxing afternoon and still managed to get at it before anyone showed up. We set up a top rope on the far right hand side of the park (climber’s perspective) and ended up placing a couple of screws for the belay as my 60-meter rope wasn’t even close to long enough to reach the bottom.
Later in the afternoon, we met up with Craig—one of the park’s main volunteers. He gave us some of the rundown regarding both the park and the town. We had a blast hanging out with some of the locals at the Packer (named for the cannibal, but sporting some number 4 memorabilia as well) Saloon. We’re thoroughly looking forward to tomorrow’s festivities.
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.