Ouray Ice Climbing is in!
You may hear a joke that goes something like this; “ice climbing is one person being scared and one person being cold.” While this can be the case when pushing limits, ice climbing can also be a fun and mostly comfortable way to experience the winter environment.
Written by MM guide Jesse Selwyn/photos below Selwyn collection/image above by Anna Nicole Arteaga
Glancing up high to see a frozen path cascading down a cliff band can be as exciting as any untracked bowl of powder. Following the sound and feeling of ice tools finding solid placement in blue water ice often becomes addicting for those who give it a try. Then there’s the mountain doors that open once ice climbing is added to your skillset: the North Ridge of Mt. Baker, North Face of Shuksan, the Moose’s Tooth in Alaska, Alpamayo in Peru, and many others.
Learning to ice climb does require ice and lots of it. The best place to find an abundance of ice to climb at any difficulty is in the small town of Ouray, CO. Sitting at the base of the San Juan Mountains in the southwest corner of the state, Ouray is home to the world famous Ouray Ice Park. Starting in November, the park’s mad scientists aka Ice Farmers, begin running over 250 showerheads above the Uncompahgre River Gorge to create over 150 ice climbs and is open from mid-December through mid-March every year. There is terrain in the park to suit climbers at every ability, be it their first time wearing crampons and holding an ice tool to professionals looking to test themselves on vertical ice pillars. It’s also an excellent place to spend a day brushing up on your skills before heading into the local backcountry to ascend some of the dozens of climbs that include world renown classics such as Stairway to Heaven and Whorehouse Hoses.
Some Mountain Madness courses and climbs for you in Ouray:
Courses — from beginner to advanced mixed rock and ice instruction, we have it all for you
Guided Ice Climbing — push your limits and tick off some area classics with our guides
While small, Ouray’s hot springs, chocolate shop, breweries, and restaurants provide a great apres-climb atmosphere. Then there is the Ouray Ice Festival that occurs over 4 days in the second half of January every year. This features clinics with guides and professional climbers, a mixed climbing competition, raffles, slideshows, and other ice climbing related fun.
Need we say more!
Notes from a guide:
What’s the average day look like when you come to climb in Ouray?
Most days begin around 7:30, when we’ll meet and go over gear to make sure everything fits and you’ve got enough warm layers. After that, we’ll walk into the OIP and get to climbing! This usually starts with a few laps on top-rope and basic instruction to get the blood flowing before progressing to more in depth training depending on your goals. We’ll wrap up around 3 or 4pm, then rest up for the next day!
What’s a Mountain Madness guide’s favorite route to share with guests?
There’s a local, semi-secret climb named the Charmin Tube that is hidden in a rock amphitheater just above town. It’s 2 long pitches separated by a hike in a slot canyon and a few smaller ice steps. Then we rappel back down. It’s a great intro to backcountry ice climbing!