Ouray Ice Climbing New Years!

New Years in Ouray this year was fantastic. Great climbing with awesome people. 
The Avalanche break on US 550 near Red Mountain Pass and peaks near Telluride – from my Instagram

Ouray is known for the Ice Climbing Park, a very narrow canyon with farmed ice with every varying degree of difficulty on ice and mixed climbing you could ask for. I started climbing ice here three years ago at the Ouray Ice Fest, but until this last trip I had never climbed the outstanding ice routes in the “backcountry” around Ouray. I tried to make up for that on this trip.

The view of Eureka from Whorehouse

There were six of us that went to climb Whorehouse in Eureka, outside of Silverton. Six is too many. I decided to let the other three get an hour headstart. Vincent, Karim and I hung out in the sun until we thought the first group would be most of the way up the first pitch of the climb. We arrive and the leader is only a few feet off the ground.  They took the left line, a WI4 to a short steep section. I checked out the right side: thin plate of hollow candy ice over cauliflower to overhanging and/or steep WI5 climbing. Sure, who needs a warm up?

We brought along Karim Iliya, a photographer from Hawaii who had never swung an ice tool before. But he’s pretty amazing at taking underwater and star photographs. Check out his work at www.karimphotography.com. I didn’t take any photos of the first pitch, I started climbing right away. Karim was running around like a kid in a candy store taking photos of anything and everything.

This was one of the more nerveracking climbs I’ve done. The ice was very vocal, the whole pillar groaning and growling as I climbed. Huge booms reverberated through the frozen waterfall that I only later figured out was avalanche blasting at the Silverton Ski Resort, and not the waterfall threatening to come down with me on it. I climbed fast and placed few screws. The less screws I place the faster I can get to the top. Vincent noticed a long fracture through the top 1/3 of the climb that either happened after I climbed it or I was climbing too quickly and concentrating too hard to notice.

Kristin topping out after being berated with ice 

Vincent comes down from Pitch 2

The second pitch was an easy cruise up a snow covered WI3 that lead to a fun and featured 50m WI4. The top was slightly scary. I broke through the candy shell ice, exposing that it wasn’t actually connected to the wall. In fact, it was roughly five feet away from the wall and I could stick my head through the hole and see almost all the way to the bottom of the falls.

Day 2
Vincent and I decided to climb the 7 pitch WI5/M6 classic Bird Brain Boulevard as our second of the trip. Looking at the extremely narrow chute from the parking lot is pretty intimidating. We crossed the snowfield, following faint footprints in the snow, but eventually they disappeared in avalanche debris from The Ribbon. We found ourselves wallowing through waist deep powder, debating whether we could make it to the base of the climb. Swapping leads back and forth we finally make it to base of the gully leading to the chute.

Vincent soloing up the gully, dry tooling on loose snow covered rocks 

We soloed the WI3 first pitch which is more correctly a snow climb, with only a very little bit of ice below the giant chalkstone that lumbers over the belay for pitch 2.

The bus sized chalkstone above the 2nd pitch belay

The chalkstone hovers over a soloing Vincent. 

I took the lead on the second M5 pitch, which was almost completely void of ice, using a mixture of chimneying and drytooling to ascend, finding a few sketchy trad placements. I had never really climbed anything like this and sufficiently scared myself. I was happy to hammer in a piton for an anchor to belay Vincent up.

Vincent took this of shot of the 2nd pitch before he climbed

Vincent started climbing ice in November and has advanced extremely quickly. So why not lead your first pitch on a Colorado classic WI4/M5 pitch with sketchy gear? 
Vincent lassos the hollow pillar before attacking the M5 roof sections. 

I linked the 4th and 5th pitches together, a mixture of steep WI5 ice and weird dry tooling. After hammering in another pecker (piton) for an anchor to belay Vincent I realized it was about 30 minutes till dark and we should think about bailing before the last two pitches. I saw some trees climber’s left of the gully we were in that Vincent might be able to climb over to while I had him on belay. He ended up doing a sketchy 30-40 ft traverse with a wild swing potential, only finding gear a few feet above the rapping anchor. I had to downclimb 25 or so feet of WI4 to get to the traverse, climbing in full dark. It took 5 rappels and almost 3 hours to get back on the ground.

I would definitely like to finish Bird Brain Boulevard, but what we did was definitely one of the more adventurous climbs I’ve done.

Days 3-4
We decided to ski because of some incoming snow. See my previous post, Skiing in the San Juans

Day 5
Vincent and I had to convince two other guys in the cabin we were staying in that we had called Gravity’s Rainbow (WI5) first (AKA the night before).  You can see the climb from US 550, and apparently it doesn’t always come in. The approach is short, but you better get there early to beat the sun.

Vincent leading the first pitch of Gravity’s Rainbow

The 4- first pitch climbed really well, and Vincent took his 2nd ice lead. He couldn’t find the belay anchors and ending up building a screw anchor in less than ideal ice. The 2nd pitch was a quick run up WI 4 to bolted anchors.

Topping out the 2nd pitch. If we’d had a 70m rope we could have done this in one pitch pretty easily. 

The start of the last pitch was very thin and super wet so I opted to do a sketchy traverse out to a short WI5 curtain, not placing any gear so rope drag was not atrocious, and traversing back on M3 rock. The main section was a 40 or 50 ft WI5 climb that was still quite wet, but good ice.

Panorama view from the final Anchor south towards Red Mountain Pass & Silverton

Just before I was about to rappel I fumble my Sony A6000 camera. “No! No no no no no!” It landed in the snow below the anchor and started sliding, agonizingly slow, towards the edge of the falls. I was attached to the anchor and could do nothing but hope that it miraculously stopped. I saw the small black package disappear. I just imagined it bouncing off the ice, smashing into bits on the rock below the 3rd pitch, and landing, unretrievable, in the powder snow 400+ feet below. I freaked out less than I thought I would.

We rappelled down the climb, passing a team climbing up behind us. I asked the leader if he saw anything flying down past him besides ice. He had been too concentrated on climbing to notice. I reach the bottom where the belayer is about to start simoclimbing, so the leader can reach the 2nd belay in one pitch.

“Did you see a small black package come flying down the route?”

“I did! it buried itself in the snow about 20 feet back.”

I uncovered all the indentations made by falling ice in the area he told me, and after a few minutes of digging came across my poor little A6000. The case had come off, the flash had been popped out (not broken), and it was covered in snow. I anxiously turned it on. The screen worked, the viewfinder worked, the lens, worked. Amazingly I had dropped my camera 400+ feet and it came out relatively unscathed! Immediately the shutter dial would not work, but after the camera had dried off it seemed to work fine.

I took this with my Sony A6000 that had just been recovered from dropping 400+ feet down an ice climb! 

On the Left: Vincent captures me climbing the last pitch of Gravity’s Rainbow. On the right, overview shot from my phone on the walk out. 

Some Instagram photos from the trip. the Ophir Post Office. The view from our first cabin (we might have gotten kicked out of for having too many people) and New Years Eve fireworks in Ouray

Vincent took the lead on the first pitch of Ames Ice Hose

Day 6 I skied again at Red Mountain Pass

Day 7: Ames Ice Hose
Driving south from Telluride about 10 miles you see a long ice climb on the right side of the road. This is Ames Ice Hose, a definite Colorado classic. And our Epic.

We got to the base of the climb just as two teams were coming up the gully below us. A popular route! Vincent leads the first 120ft WI4+ pitch to a set of bolted anchors. The 2nd pitch went up a steep and narrow WI5 gully. I ended up chimneying a bit off the rock.

Vincent coming up the narrow gully of the 2nd pitch

Looking up at the 3rd pitch, it looked like quite nice WI4+ climbing. It was a lot longer than it looked; 200ft of steep, unrelenting fresh Water Ice. I was surprised how pumped I got on this one, I typically and quite good at controlling my forearm pump. Overall the route climbed great! I was psyched to get another Colorado classic!

I was the rope gun, Vincent carried our second rope over 500ft. 

From the top of the Ames Ice hose looking down over 500ft. 

Where’s the epic? Wait for it.

On our first rappel we made it to a set of anchors between the 1st and 2nd pitch (allows you to climb the route in 2 pitches with a 70m rope). I had to downclimb a bit from the ends of my 60m ropes after stretching to attach my personal anchor system to the bolts. Vincent joined me at the rappel station and we pulled the rope – or tried to. It would not budge. We looked at the photos I took of Vincent at the belay to see if we were pulling the correct end of the rope. Indeed, “pull purple”. We both try pulling. We attached prusik knots and used the entirety of both our bodyweights to pull. A team that went to the 2nd pitch belay station above us tried pulling from a different angle. This rope was fully stuck.

Vincent at our cursed rappel station. We were hanging here for almost 2 hours. 

Team 3 starts up Pitch 2 (We’re still hopeful they’ll retrieve our ropes. 

The team above us decided to bail before the 3rd pitch. They rapped past us and said we could use their ropes to descend if we wanted to. They also asked party #3 if they would retrieve our stuck ropes. Team 3 said they’d pull our stuck ropes. We descended and waited for a while. Team 3 was making slow progress so we decided to go into Telluride and buy them some beers for their efforts. We hiked the hour out, drove 15 minutes to Telluride, found beer, and and drove back two hours after we left the climb. Team 3 was just starting pitch #3. We went back to Telluride for another two hours and came back, hiked the hour back to the climb, and the team was just rappelling off the final pitch.

Team 3 had failed to retrieve our ropes. They rapped on our stuck ropes instead of freeing ours and setting up their own ropes. When they tried to pull our ropes from the 2nd pitch belay, surprise surprise, our ropes were still stuck.

It was now 7pm and completely dark, and we were already supposed to be back in Boulder. We did not want to leave Ouray without our ropes, but we also didn’t want to re-climb the route in the dark. We debated what to do, but decided to walk the hour out, once again empty handed.

Luckily, our guide for skiing near Telluride lived nearby and had told us if we needed a place to crash he had plenty of couches. We needed somewhere to crash.

We had three options for getting our ropes back: 1. Reclimb the route – neither of us were psyched on this option. 2. Hike the ridge line and try to rap down to retrieve our rope – would take 2-3 hours of wading through waist deep powder. 3. Find a party of nice climbers who would be willing to attempt to retrieve our ropes from the route – the preferred method. We woke up before dawn to get to the parking lot to try and meet a party of climbers. Snow was nuking as we left Dave the Guide’s house; we worried that no climbers would be climbing Ames if it were snowing so hard.

We drove to the parking lot to find one truck covered with snow. It looked like it had been there a while and we were unsure whether it was actually a climber. I saw some faint footprints in the snow, so Vincent and I followed them till the disappeared. We ran almost halfway to the climb to see if we could cut the climbers off. All I found were my footprints from descending the night before.

We head into Telluride for a quick breakfast and go back to the face the climb, resigned to the idea of hiking the ridgeline. We were glad we brought snowshoes! We hike back up the trail, expecting a slog, but when we got to the old train tracks we found new footprints! Someone was on Ames Ice Hose! We rushed up to it to see if we could catch the climbers before they were too high to communicate with.

There were two climbing parties! The first team was just leaving the 1st pitch and we were able to ask them if they could pull our ropes. The 2nd team, Glen and Dave, became our companions for the next 5 hours (They ended up bailing off the 1st pitch because the route was showering water on them). Finally, our ropes were dropped! Vincent and I coiled two very frozen ropes and, for the 3rd time in two days, hiked out, ready to be back in Boulder.

–end skipped paragraphs–

Our new friends, Glen and Dave, climb the first pitch of Ames Ice Hose.  The 2nd pitch goes up the narrow column on the right. 

Climbing ice in Ouray is amazing. I both love and hate that it’s so far away (6hrs) and I can’t wait to go back to finish off Bridal Veil, and hopefully a few more hard lines will be in. This ice season has been incredible!