We spent this weekend learning how to ice-climb at the Ouray Ice Park as part of our High Altitude Mountaineering School. The purpose of the outing was to get comfortable on ice and learn the basics of climbing, mainly to prepare for harder alpine routes and anything that might have high angle ice. Everything was organized great and there was 1 instructor for every 2 students. We all stayed in the Comfort Inn, which was a nice treat after all our truck camping. Linnea was battling a bad cold, but still managed to put in a solid day.
The instructors set up a whole bunch of top-ropes early in the morning on a variety of terrain. The canyon really filled up with ropes from other climbers later, and I’m glad we got off to an early start.
After repelling into the canyon, we spent a good chunk of the morning learning the basics.
I was surprised at how fast you can progress to difficult routes, and by the middle of the day we were climbing steep, long pitches. I pumped out my arms on one route and they are still sore two days later. I think about three quarters up my innate fear of heights kicked in and I started pulling myself up with my ice-picks too much instead of getting good foot holds. I was surprised I made it to the top and there was a lot of loud grunting. It was nice that the instructors let use use their equipment, so we got a feel for different options.
We also practiced placing ice-screws for anchors and lead climbing, building v-threads and a-threads for anchors, and climbing on gently slopped ice using an ascender for self-belay, to simulate difficult alpine routes requiring solid foot-work. I thought the v-thread and a-threads were really cool. You just use an ice-screw to make and connect two holes at 60 degree angles spaced about 4 inches apart and thread some webbing or cordelette through for a very solid anchor. At the end of the day, we had a speed climbing contest which got a little rowdy. After a nice soak in the hot-tub, we all went out for dinner at local pub. I actually wasn’t two tired at the end of the day, but rather just had a whole bunch of sore muscles.
The next day a number of us went out again for more climbing. I chose to stick to more intermediate terrain. You really have to be at high attention, as there is always ice getting knocked off and falling down. Once in a while, some really big chucks get sent down. The Ouray Ice Park is amazing, and I didn’t realize how large it is. We had a great time and probably will be back or try some local routes up Clear Creak. At this point, we don’t really need another hobby, but it’s a lot of fun and really good preparation for high alpine routes where you may encounter ice.