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.
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!
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?
- 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.
- 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.
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:
- Donate to Ouray Ice Park
- Check out some of our Cascades alpine ice routes and the Alpine Ice Climbing Course
- Take advantage of the expertise of our guides.
Ice is Nice!