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alpine ice climbing on north ridge of mount baker with mountain madness

Ice Climbing, help the Ouray Ice Park, and Guides continuing education

The sounds of ice climb­ing – the plea­sur­able thwank of your pick going in with one swing, plates of ice cas­cad­ing down from brit­tle ice break­ing away, the screams of agony as your numb fin­gers warm up, your cram­pons crunch­ing and your front points thunk­ing, are as unique to ice climb­ing as the sport itself.

It was a great sea­son as always in Ouray, Col­orado this past win­ter with a full assort­ment of climbs and cours­es. We want to thank all who joined us, from Kate, who did her first mul­ti-pitch ice route; to David who con­tin­ued to pol­ish his skills for big­ger climbs in the moun­tains, and every­body else that enjoyed a great sea­son on the ice, tak­ing in the ameni­ties of Ouray, and push­ing lim­its and learn­ing new skills.

Steep ice climbing in Ouray Colorado instruction and guided climbs shutterstock 1281448048 f1605909197
Orion Ouray
anchor systems in ice climbing in Colorado

And hats off to MM guides that knocked out addi­tion­al train­ing for them­selves com­plet­ing an Amer­i­can Moun­tain Guides Asso­ci­a­tion Ice Instruc­tor Course, con­tin­u­ing the process of becom­ing the best guides in the indus­try. Jake, Kyle, Sharon, Tagg, Peter, and Alex all com­plet­ed the course — congrats!

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It was not all smooth sail­ing at the Ouray Ice Park this win­ter though. At the end of the sea­son a blow to the park came in the form of a 12,000 pound rock­fall, which knocked out a water sup­ply line and dam­aged the tres­tle, the main entrance to the area. With less than $5,000 to go of their $100,000 goal, we encour­age you to donate to help this non-prof­it Ouray Ice Park reach their goal and be able to fix the water sup­ply and the trestle. 


With funds and some hard work, the park will once again be up and run­ning for the 2021 – 22 sea­son. In the mean­time, if you did not get enough ice, or none, last win­ter, no wor­ries. Sum­mer alpine ice in the North Cas­cades this sum­mer should be ideal.


What is the difference between the frozen waterfalls of Ouray and for example, the North Ridge of Mount Baker?

Water­fall Ice:

  • It is gen­er­al­ly cold­er, some­times A LOT cold­er, deter­min­ing not only your enjoy­ment, but also the type of ice you will encounter. With temps in the 20s-30s Fahren­heit you may encounter hero ice,” which is the kind of ice pro­vides easy to get, sol­id place­ments for your tools and ice screws. But, with tem­per­a­tures in the let us say the 10 degrees above to minus 20 Fahren­heit this can change dra­mat­i­cal­ly to hard, brit­tle, or chan­de­liered ice, all which can make get­ting good place­ments that much more difficult.
  • Water­fall ice on the more tech­ni­cal sec­tions always requires two ice tools and set­ting them over­head with aggres­sive swings, what as the French call pio­let trac­tion. Cram­pon­ing is gen­er­al­ly using front points only, although occa­sion­al rest steps you are able to get more points in.
  • In sum­ma­ry, the tech­niques used on frozen water­falls is some­what dis­tinct to this medi­um when the ice is at a 50 – 90 degree angle.
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Jeremy Allyn Karen Hilton photo
Ouray Ice Park Libby Sherwood

Alpine Ice:

  • On the Cas­cades clas­sic ice routes such as the North Ridge of Mount Baker rarely are there water­fall ice con­di­tions encoun­tered. Routes like the North Face of Mount Shuk­san, or the North Face of Mount Buck­n­er or Maude, take place on ter­rain the 40 – 60 degree angle, with usu­al­ly frozen snow the medi­um. As a result, dif­fer­ent tech­niques are used and only occa­sion­al­ly will you be using your ice tools over­head in pio­let traction.
  • Cram­pon­ing tech­niques also vary from French tech­nique, which pro­vides mul­ti­ple or all points on the ice, or an Amer­i­can hybrid tech­nique using one cram­pon in French and the oth­er front pointing.
  • While there is some cross-over in tech­niques used, it can be said that alpine ice and water­fall ice tech­niques are different.
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Do you need to have skills of each type to do one or the other?

Absolute­ly not, but it always helps to have as many skills as pos­si­ble. On the North Ridge of Mount Bak­er you will tran­si­tion from alpine ice climb­ing tech­niques on about 40 degree slope to a 1 – 3 pitch sec­tion that you will use water­fall ice tech­niques as you work your way up the ice cliff sec­tion mid-route. On a route like the North Face of Mount Buck­n­er you’ll use pure alpine ice tech­niques as you ascend a con­sis­tent grade of steep­ness over the 1,000−2,000 foot route. While a rock climber may enjoy the vari­ety of moves, the alpine ice climber enjoys the rhythm, the pre­dictabil­i­ty of each move and an increased abil­i­ty to move effi­cient­ly as a result.

What to do now:

Ice is Nice!