Climbing has been part of my life for a long time and living in Boulder has allowed me to explore that passion on a daily basis. One aspect of climbing that I have always been interested in but distracted from, is ice climbing. Moving climbing into the the winter realm always seemed like a natural progression. I like the bite of winters teeth on my face and how the snow makes the world peaceful and quiet. Why not go climb in it? I finally gave it a try on a trip to Ouray, Colorado. Ouray is situated between towering rock cliffs in southwest Colorado in the Uncompahgre River valley and hosts the worlds best venue to learn how to ice climb, The Ouray Ice Park.
In classic Nebraska style we arrive in Ouray at 1am and settle in for an anxious night sleep. <beep> <beep><BEEP!> The alarm instantly moves my dreams into reality. I jump out of bed to survey our adventure and am happily greeted with 2 inches of fresh snow, laid down on the bare ground of the night before. Breakfast, coffee, and new strange pointy ice climbing gear are all acquired and we are off to the ice!!
Our first glimpse of the ice filled gorge fills us with awe. Experienced climbers attacking the innocent looking ice in a desperate attempt to make it to the top, controlling their fear that the ice could at any second break away and crash into the river below. After we compose ourselves, we are off to find our own adventure and and tests of fortitude. We set up our first toprope in magnificent white swirls of falling snow and descend.
With everyone standing on a thick crust of river ice the climbing begins. The ice axes and crampons sink easily into the new climbing medium with shards of discarded ice hitting my face and chest and falling to the ground. I make it to the anchor point and am lowered with a bigger than life smile on my face and am at a loss for words to describe the experience. I am transported back to my first days of climbing where every hold and movement tickled my soul and coaxed out pure excitement. These feelings are still with me everytime I climb with close friends however just like a fine wine, these feelings are refined and cherished and reinvented with each new experience. Ice climbing. Yes, I need more.
That evening we replenished our bodies with delicious burgers and locally brewed beer at the Ouray Brewery and swiftly make our way to Orvis Hot Springs to melt away the results of physical exertion and adrenaline. The warm natural waters of the hot springs soak into our muscles and relax any hint of tension. The hot water mixing with the cold mountain air creates the feeling of being on a distant planet where steam and fog hide the worlds secrets. Trail marker lights create an eerie yet calming glow, that in any other situation would be cause for alarm. Three hours seems to be about the right amount of time for one to clear the mind, soul, and body of any unwanted toxins. That night, the sandman is welcome with open arms.
On our second day we are greeted with crystal clear blue skies, perfect temps, and a renewed feeling of direction and knowledge. Our first route was more challenging than our selections from the previous day, with more vertical terrain and a plethora of icicles to give us an additional challenge.
In between climbs we bask in the warm sun at the top of the cliff eating lunch and absorbing enough warmth to get us through the next descent into shade and cold. As the sun falls closer and closer to the horizon we start packing up, realizing that we are the last people climbing.
The drive home under a full moon through Colorado’s back roads puts a smile on my face; beautiful scenery, close friends, and new adventures. What else could you ask for?