Todd Gilles and I haven’t had a chance to climb for a few months, so at the prompting of my wife we arranged an ice climbing trip to Ouray Colorado. Todd, if you might remember, was the star athlete I coached to a 3rd place finish at Elbrus Race 2013 [Book of the same name]. We arrived late on Thursday night. Actually very early Friday morning. We stayed at one of my favorite hotels, the Twin Peaks Lodge [CLICK HERE]. If you book online you can get a huge discount. The breakfast is decent and the pool and spa are good. It’s also right at the base of the trail up the canyon.
We set the alarm for 7:30 to try and get at least a little shuteye before heading out on our ice climbing adventure. The breakfast was decent and we enjoyed watching the little tourism video playing, noting that the skiers were the only sportsmen portrayed as proficient. We packed up for a day of ice climbing. I took the rope and Todd took the bag of pro. We took off up the canyon trail. The little ice rink by the fee building was buried in snow. I was wanting to climb in the Five Fingers area, but parts of it were roped off and closed. The park was almost empty.
As we passed the Scottish Gullies we saw a few ropes and heard a few climbers. We weren’t alone after all. We walked around to the road to see the Fingers, but it looked really beat up. We decided to head up to the School Room to see what it looked like. We put on our crampons at the base of the Kids Wall. We didn’t really need them though. The path was pretty solid. The ladder down into the bottom of the School Room was closed. We saw some groups ice climbing and a few of the routes were free. Todd wanted to take me to the South Park area where he’d climbed with friends the week before.
We kept going past New Funtier, where there were a lot of people ice climbing. We got to the South Park area of the Ouray Ice Park. There had been several inches of snow the last couple of days and we were happy to see someone had dug out the bolted anchors for the route Todd wanted to do. I set up a couple of long 6-mm and 8-mm static cords and equalized them. I’ve gotten a lot faster at that over the last couple of years. Todd flaked out the rope and found the middle. I clipped that into the twin opposed lockers and Todd tossed the rope. I let him have the privilege of rappelling down first. That way I could watch the anchor and make sure it was equalized. In ice climbing you might wander a bit more than in a rock climb, since you don’t have to follow the line of the available holds. You make your own.
We climbed for several hours, pacing ourselves pretty evenly. With only two climbers it’s possible to climb too hard too fast without enough rest. We alternated turns and took an extra ten minutes to eat and drink between each set of laps. That allowed us sufficient recovery time so that we didn’t burn out on ice climbing. We walked down the canyon (North) and found another route we wanted to try with a lot of variety. I climbed out with my pack then belayed Todd out with my Petzl REVERSO set in Auto-Lock mode. It was a bit of a struggle as the bolts were on the ground so I tied in a little below the anchor so that I stood with the Reverso at about knee height.
South Park wasn’t too busy that day so we were able to get on one of the ice climbing routes we’d found from the bottom. I did a backed-up anchor on a tree with 8-mm cord and a 13-mm sling. Todd stacked the rope, then tossed it down and rappelled in while I watched. I don’t like tree anchors so much. That’s why I back them up, probably more than I need to. We had a blast climbing. Todd has only been ice climbing a little over a year, but he’s gotten really good in that time. Probably because he pays attention to good climbing and tries to emulate it.
Ice Climbing Video: Todd Gilles Tops Out in South Park
I saved for last a short stretch of slightly overhanging ice at the beginning of the route, where a curtain formed over a large rock. I climbed it in my pack on the way out. This time I belayed Todd from the tree with a Petzl Grigri, which is a lot easier to do one-handed or no-handed. I took that short video of Todd topping out once I could see him where he transitioned off the vertical ice into the narrow chute at the top between the ice-making nozzles. I love the happy look on his face.
We hiked out then after a great day of ice climbing and talked about dinner on the walk down. We decided to go to Buen Tiempo for Mexican, then head to the motel hot springs. On the way into the parking lot we saw some deer that were walking in the little dog park in the middle of the motel courtyard. That was pretty neat. Since we arrived in the middle of the night we had to go to the motel desk to recode our keys. Just to make sure it’s me I suppose. After hanging out for a few minutes we walked the few blocks to town.
Apres Ice Climbing Activities in Ouray
Buen Tiempo was closed for another half hour so we walked to Ouray Mountain Sports to see if there were any ice climbing toys that we didn’t own yet. Nope. You can dream though, right? We walked back to the restaurant and they were open. After, we went to Mouse’s for hot chocolate and a chocolate treat for a midnight snack. It was getting late and we were pretty tired. The hot spring pool was very hot and felt great after our day of ice climbing. We soaked for about a half hour. Just long enough to feel really cooked. We went back to the room and crashed.
The next day we woke to rain. We drove through the park and saw that School Room had only one rope set up in it. I’ve never seen it that empty. The routes in the Fingers area had fresh snow on them from overnight. I imagine they’ll be gone soon. In the Gullies there were horizontal cracks. The season is wrapping in the Ice Park. I think a couple weeks more at the most, depending on the weather. A few cold days should prolong it. But for me it’s over now. I won’t be going back to Ouray for ice climbing until January 2015 most likely. I will miss it until then.