Monday, January 25, 2010

Belay is on, Climbing...Climb On!

Those set of verbal instructions are key for any rock or ice climber.  It means that their partner is ready to protect them from a fall as they climb higher and higher.  Those words were used A LOT this past weekend as I joined friends at the Ouray Ice Park in Ouray, CO to climb man-made waterfalls.

Winter means cold, snow, and ice for much of Colorado but it also opens a world to climbers when the mountains are covered in snow and, on some mountains, the risk of avalanche is too great to ascend safely without extensive training, avy gear and sometimes dumb luck to avoid the avy prone areas.  This past year has been an education into rock climbing and those skills translate nicely to ice climbing as well.  Granted, the terrain is a little different, the gear is a little different, but the core of vertical climbing is the same.  Ascend safely, try to figure out the route in front of you and descend safely.

The Ouray Ice Park is world renown for its sheer number of climbable ice that is for the most part entirely man-made.  The hundreds of routes available come to life every year with cold temperatures, a little water, and an extensive irrigation system that keeps the ice climbable for months.  Friends from the Colorado Mountain Club schools I've been involved with over the years invited me to go this year and try my hand at ice climbing.  Obviously, I said yes!  Now granted my vertical climbing resume is only 2-3 years old and not too impressive compared to many, but I had the beginning skill sets to climb safely and have fun.

Our first day was spent climbing the ice falls in the "School Room" - an area for beginner and intermediate routes of various heights (see pic above of me nearing the top of an 70-80' ice fall).  As the day progressed, I became more comfortable with the frozen environment and the techniques needed to ascend the ice.  This translated into more ice climbing on Day Two at "New Funtier" and the numerous routes of yet another part of the ice park.  Towards the end of the second day, as I was climbing a route, I thought to myself the absurdity of climbing ice with sharp tools (two ice axes and sharp crampons) when one's life being protected by a climbing rope.  The thought passed quickly tho' as I quickly placed my axe into the ice to keep climbing higher.  Life is like that - you know the risks but you savor the moments.  And the moment...was...bomber!

Will I go ice climbing again - YES!  It's an experience that is almost undescribable.  For now...Climb On!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Shreddin' the Gnar...or something like that!

That dot in the picture is me "screaming" down a black diamond called "Star Fire" run at Keystone Ski Resort this past Sunday.  The 2010 Ski Reunion was great fun - catching up with old friends, skiing a lot of blue/blue-black/black diamond ski runs, having a few brews, and hearing about each others families.  Hard to believe that it had been 6+ years since the last official ski trip.  We've discussed doing it again next year...hope so!

Well winter is in full weirdness here in Colorado - or par for the course perhaps.  Last week, night time lows were sub zero with daily high's barely creeping past the high single digits.  This week, the sun is shining and the temps are hovering near 50 degrees - perfect running weather in shorts!  The 5-day forecast shows more of the same and I'm okay with that.  The bone chilling cold of last week is a little too cold for my tastes but it doesn't last forever.  I know before I moved to CO I had this preconceived idea that Colorado winters were full of snow and cold.  While true for the high country, it's not so much on the Front Range.  Granted, we've had snow on the ground for nearly 30 days but I'm seeing more grass than white.  January's are typically "dry" with regard to snow accumulation, February's are hit and miss and the lion's share of the white stuff comes in March/April/May - the spring storms.

Tonight, I received an email from a good friend in Boise who knows someone at the National Weather Service.  The forecaster is starting to notice a breakdown in the pressure systems in the Pacific Ocean and the diminishing strength of the El Nino patterns as well.  His prediction is for a ton of moisture to be streaming into California and points east.  Does that mean big storms are on the agenda for CO soon?  I hope so - I want to snowshoe in powder soon!

Anyway, enough rambling about CO weather.  Next on the agenda is a trip to ABQ to visit Karen and Ethan during the MLK holiday and then off to Ouray, CO for some ice climbing the weekend after.  Have never ice climbed before but hey, it's a chance to use my new crampons purchased Spring 2009 and to climb!  I will take lots of pictures!  Climb On my friends!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

South Carolina Reunion Tour 2010

A few months ago, U of M graduate/city planner/father of 3 boys/former Greenville-ian Wes Munzel emailed me that he had a hall pass from his wife and was interested in coming out to Colorado to ski for a weekend.  I of course said come on out!

Some backstory for you - many years ago before I moved out to Colorado permanently, I lived in South Carolina for my undergrad/grad school/1st job.  Starting in 1993, my group of friends organized a ski trip to Snowshoe, WV to ski what we thought at the time was difficult terrain.  We did this 2 years in a row and had reasonably good conditions for East Coast skiing.  In 1995, we decided to expand our horizons and fly to Colorado to ski the big mountains of Breckenridge, Vail, Beaver Creek, Keystone, and Aspen as well as Park City, UT.  The yearly groups were in the neighborhood of 6-10 folks usually and a good time was had by all.  Flash forward to 2003 - said group of friends are getting married, having children, and busy with work/life/play.  The ski trips take a hiatus for many years to follow but there was always talk of getting the gang together again.

So this weekend, flights from Ohio, Virginia and points east converge at Denver International Airport to jump into the ole reliable CRV to motor up the mountain to Breckenridge.  Ski rentals are reserved, lift tickets are to be purchased, it's snowing until Thursday PM in Breck and the forecast is for sun and highs in the mid to high 20's - perfection!  We have a condo reserved that has a hot tub I hope!  This will be my first ski trip for 2010 and a good warm up to using my 4-pack at Loveland in the next few months.  Looking forward to catching up with old friends, shreddin' the gnar, having a brew or two for apres ski, and enjoying life.

Climb On!