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!