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Since getting into mountaineering, ice climbing has always been this far off dream of mine to someday attempt.  The desire probably stems from the media showing elite athletes ascending vertical ice en route to the summit, something which seems nearly impossible from the outside.  Ouray, CO is known for some of the best man made ice in the world which brings us to IceFest 2015!!!  That’s right, three exclamation marks!



Nestled in the mountains this small town with a population just over 1k contains an ice park whose sole purpose is to provide perfect ice for all who wish to give it their best shot.  I should probably explain what an ice park is.  Or at least how ouray is, I’m sure there are many others, each with a different setup.  Ouray is essentially a series of ravines or gorges where the park has setup a misting pipeline at the top which runs for months on end forming ice down the rock walls.  Presumably the water is just being re-routed from the source into the gorge, otherwise I can’t see how the event would be free.  An excerpt from the Ouray park site describes the ice formation:

The Ouray Ice Park is not only a recreational ice climbing venue but also an engineering effort, combining natural and manmade elements. In addition to the hard work of many dedicated people, the world-renowned Ouray Ice Park exists thanks to an overflow of excess water from the City of Ouray’s spring-fed supply tank; a clever layout of irrigation pipe; more than a hundred garden-variety shower heads; a little knowledge of fluid mechanics; and the perfectly located deep, shady, and cold Uncompahgre Gorge.

Onto the trip!  Adam had got an uber and picked me up en route to the airport.

Uber (and other similar services) are the future of taxis.  And I think my parents would agree after spending a week in the city in the summer of 2014, using uber as a primary means to get around the city.  Basically, the idea is that the customer creates an account with the company and when a taxi is needed they request one via a smartphone app.  Upfront one is able to see the cost of the trip, talk to the driver, text the driver, choose to make it a carpool and cut the cost, etc …  More features are being added monthly it seems.  The drivers then show up in their own car or a newly bought ones which a group of uber employees might have went in on.  At the end of the trip no physical cash is exchanged, a bill is sent to the credit card on file and that’s it!  The drivers are all very friendly and the vehicle fleet ranges from Honda’s to Land Rovers.

The driver seemed somewhat in awe of meeting people that did “extreme” sports.  I had to chuckle to myself thinking that this is how I go out in life… this is what ends it…. should’ve just got a one-way ticket to Denver and saved a few bucks.  At this point I really had no idea of what I was getting myself into but supposedly the IceFest is one of the safest environments to give one of the most extreme sports a try.  After a good discussion with the driver she dropped us off at the airport while Adam was still on his work conference call… silicon valley… you’re killing me, and others.  On the plane Adam and I were split up but something rather hilarious was happening in the front of the plane by Adam.  An older veteran sporting a cane was trying to buy the girls around Adam drinks during the flight and they weren’t having it so he gave up and proceeded to buy Adam three drinks over the course of our 2.5 hour flight.  Hold tight, this is also relevant later on 🙂  After picking up our checked bags we headed straight for some chip/salsa and a beer as we waiting on Cathy to deplane.

With not a single lost bag and all flights on time, Henry, which lives in Denver, came by to pick us up and head out to drop gear off at his house as well as grab some dinner.  While chilling at Henry’s house I got to see the new Lytro Professional camera (Cathy, works for Lytro) which is quite badass I’ve gotta say.  It’s frickin’ gigantic but pretty sweet.  I swear someone could retrofit the lens “barrel” with a surface-to-air missile launcher.  Would be interesting to see their take on a long-range lens 🙂  That said, I can’t wait to see how their technology progresses.

Chillin' at Henry's and checking out the Lytro camera.

Chillin’ at Henry’s and checking out the Lytro camera.

While at dinner most of the burning man crowd from 2014 joined us, Jordan, Tiffany, and Gavin which was awesome.  Felt like a mini-reunion.  Had a fantastic burger and then it was time to hit the road for a 5.5/6 hour drive to Ouray, CO.  Luckily Henry and Ali switched off driving through the night so the slackers in the back, us, got some sleep.  Well, as much sleep as one can get in the back of a car.

We arrived in Ouray with impeccable timing, about 2hrs before the event started.  It was time to load up on some food and get a prime spot at the gear outposts to ensure that we were able to get ice axes (called tools) and crampons (those spiky things on peoples boots).  Thats right, virtually no sleep and definitely no sleep for the drivers, straight to climbing we go!  It’s not uncommon for the gear suppliers to run out of demo gear so getting a prime spot is of utmost importance and everyone was well prepared for this mad rush with no sleep.  I’m the newbie in this crowd of IceFest goers.  After grabbing the gear we set out to start climbing.  With the park essentially being a series of ravines you are starting at the top where the anchors will be fixed then rappelling down the wall to where you’ll be spending most of the day climbing.  Since I have a phobia of heights and rappelling off an unexplored ridge scares me to death I decided to hike down to the bottom floor, takes longer but my nerves are at ease.  For a description of what Ice Climbing is I’ll turn you to wikipedia.

For a quick comparison.  On the left is a traditional ice axe used for mountaineering and on the right are the tools used for ice climbing.


The climbing was unreal.  I don’t do much traditional climbing as it is but ice was frickin’ awesome.  In traditional rock climbing the rock formations dictate where your hands/feet can be placed whereas in Ice you can almost cling to whatever you want given the tools being used.  I felt like spiderman clinging to the wall moving freely as I wished.  In the few routes I did a few things did interfere with tool placement.  One being concave formations, they would just shatter when hit with the tool, no bueno.  And the other being icicles or overhangs which don’t provide any placement for the feet.  I’m sure with fitness those are doable but not in my current condition 🙂  Overall it was a lot of fun and not as physically exhausting as I thought it might be.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard, but I was anticipating only making it up a few feet and back down.  Goal exceeded!


Making my way to the top!


Back at the hotel about half of the people were exhausted, myself included, and the other half were rallying for the night.  I wish I could find the key to endless amounts of energy.  We decided to hit-up a hot spring down the road which was the best idea ever after a day of climbing.  In Ridgeway, CO there exists Orvis hot springs which I have to say is the nicest hot springs I’ve ever visited.  We relaxed there a bit then headed out for dinner at a Mexican restaurant.  Im shocked we didn’t get kicked out of the place due to our overly loud and rather offensive conversation.  So the people of Ouray, CO are cool 🙂

Logistically the next day was a bit easier since we just had to roll out of bed somewhat early and get up to the park before the crowd hit.  Saturday is the big day which draws in the greater majority of people so it was in our best interest to get there before it opened.  With gear in hand I started migrating to the cliffs and came across Jarrel and a huge plastic purple tub.  Come to find out Jarrel was making breakfast for everyone and that he’d be hauling this mega-sized tub over-shoulder up the snowy trail and to the top of the canyon.  Now that’s strength.


Jarell making breakfast for the group. We got a lot of mixed reactions from groups walking by.


With our bellies full we headed down to the canyon for a fun day on the ice.  I even got to belay for the first time so thanks to Adam for letting me control his fate.  I didn’t get many routes in but was content with my progress which had far exceeded what I had in my mind leading up to this trip.  Maybe next year I’ll top out on a route or work up the courage to do something overhanging.  Once people started talking about gear failure my ambitions greatly diminished.  While dropping off gear we were greeting with shots of fireball by the marmot guys and whiskey/cider by mountain hardware … good times 🙂

We set out for the bars that night and was planning on going to the Petzl party but after arriving and it looking like a high school prom, wait … what? … yes it was prom themed for some reason which we couldn’t comprehend.  I mean this is a sport of mostly guys, mostly.  And they decided to have a prom theme?  We quickly ditched the idea of paying the $15 entry fee and headed out to the RedBull sound truck where we created our own party.  Rouge burning man street style 🙂  The Redbull guys cranked up the sound for us until the cops came around to put a damper on our fun.  While making a ruckus some dudes with professional cameras were snappin’ pictures, I sorta feel we’ll end up in Rock&Ice magazine or something similar.


See ya next year Ouray!


On the flight back Adam and I were waiting in the airport to run across, no other than, our veteran friend from the flight out.  At this point he was well into a lot of drinking and after a lot of back-n-forth with airport security they decided that he was too inebriated to board the plane. They got him some tickets for the next morning and we walked over to board the plane.

Great friends, awesome weather, and good times!

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