Icy Start

Ouray Ice Climbing

And so the year the world ends begins. What better way to celebrate than by jabbing sharp metal into icicles and ascending them? The Extreme Things Adventure Club has visited the Ouray Ice Climbing Festival a few times in the past, but I have never gone. It is a bit pricier than other excursions partly because it involves transport to and lodging in Colorado. This time Erika and I decided the cost was justified.

Nine of us boarded an Allegiant Air jet Thursday morning, January 5th. I had never heard of them and they are cheap so I was a bit skeptical. They do charge for everything: beverages, snacks, seat assignments, etc. But, it was fine. I don’t have many expectations or requirements for air travel, especially for a flight under two hours. If they service areas you intend to travel, it is worth looking into their prices. We landed in Grand Junction, CO in the early afternoon and headed for a large cabin in Ridgway—right next door to Ouray (pronounced yoo-ray). The cabin was quite large: three bedrooms, two stories and a huge basement being converted into more living space. The incomplete nature of the basement made it seem rather creepy and a certain member of the group refused to enter it alone.

We had two days and a night to visit the area. This gave us enough time to visit the festival, partake of the night life, soak in an underground hot spring (known as the Vaporcave), visit Telluride and its ski resort, and meet Telluride’s local rasta. Oh, and drive through the mountains at night in a snow storm.

Thankfully, there were enough spaces available at the Ice Festival that all of us were able to try ice climbing. A few of us enrolled in a six hour seminar and had a full day of ice climbing instruction. I would later recognize one of our instructors while flipping through one of my climbing magazines—Jack Tackle. Apparently he is a bad-ass mountaineer and alpine climber. I thank him for belaying me on my first ever ice climb. Ice climbing is similar to rock climbing, yet drastically different. It uses many of the same principles, but it is entirely dependent on your abilities to wield its gear: crampons and ice tools (think pointy boots and pick axes). Although I hadn’t climbed before, I ended up in the intermediate class. This worked out well because we spent more time climbing than talking. I was able to climb six times and finished each 50-60 foot route. On my last two climbs, I did begin to feel some exhaustion in my arms. I tried a variation up a thin section of ice on my very last climb that was psychologically and physically taxing, but rewarding. I am certainly interested in climbing more ice.

Ouray is a tiny mountain town with an inviting atmosphere. We spent a fair amount of time in O’Briens Pub, but my favorite place was Mouse’s Chocolates. Their chocolates are fantastic and locally made. During the festival, Mouse’s was selling large chunks of chocolate decorated like ice climbers.

Overall, not a bad way to start a new year.


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