Ouray Ice Climbing (3rd Annual Trip)

Lars climbing in the snow.
Lars climbing in the snow.

Over New Year’s two of my son’s, Lars (14) and Niels (21) joined me and my friend Kai and his son Jared on our third annual ice climbing trip to Ouray, Colorado. There is a wonderful ice park in the Uncompahgre Gorge just outside of town that sports more than 200 ice climbs. Lars first climbed ice there last year, but it was Niels’ first time ever ice climbing. We drove down from Provo on Tuesday, climbed New Year’s Eve day and New Year’s Day, then drove home on Friday.

Tools of the trade.
Tools of the trade.

We got a late start on Wednesday and found all the moderate lines already taken. It was quite a bit more crowded than we anticipated. So we ended up setting up a top rope on a line sight unseen. It turned out to be a pretty steep and difficult line. It was a cold day, in the teens, and the ice was hard and brittle. To make things more challenging, the ice on our line was chandeliered, mushroomy, and steep.

Jared on the steep, chandeliered  line.
Jared on the steep, chandeliered line.

We estimated it to be rated about WI4+ (WI=Water Ice). My first time up I was overdressed, got very hot, my glasses fogged up, and I generally flailed, then lowered off only about 2/3 the way up.

Me, partway up. Photo by Kai Larson.
Me, partway up.
Photo by Kai Larson.

Jared and Niels made good attempts, as did Lars. Both Niels and Lars got the dreaded “screaming barfies” on their attempts. Lars’ was quite a bit worse than last year, and Niels, his first painful experience with this, only had a mild case, though he was pacing around quite uncomfortable. On my second attempt I was more relaxed and confident and after popping off once, I managed to send the line. But it was tough and really took a lot out of me. My forearms were very pumped after that. Niels made it to the top on his second try as well. Kai, who has the most experience ice climbing, climbed it without much difficulty on his first try.

Niels sporting a pair of vintage Footfang crampons.
Niels sporting a pair of vintage Footfang crampons.
Lars was very cold after climbing and recovering from the barfies.
Lars was very cold after climbing and recovering from the barfies.
He had on 7 layers—long john top, micro fleece, Montbell thermawrap jacket, a Patagonia softshell, a down jacket, Kai's new Patagonia Nano-air parka, and Jared's Arcteryx belay parka.
He had on 7 layers—long john top, micro fleece, Montbell thermawrap jacket, a Patagonia softshell, a down jacket, Kai’s new Patagonia Nano-air parka, and Jared’s Arcteryx belay parka.

It was a short day of climbing, because of the late start, and the difficulty of our climb. After changing clothes at our motels, we headed to the Mexican Restaurant in town, Buen Tiempo for a New Year’s Eve dinner. We then watched a movie and were in bed by 10:30 pm, feeling pretty exhausted.

Lars and Jared watching the action.
Lars and Jared watching the action.
Ice climbing boots.
Ice climbing boots.

 

On Thursday, New Year’s Day, we were on the ice by about 9:30, and it was already crowded. We set up two ropes next to each other to give us lots of options to climb. We also met a trio from Alaska who set up a line next to us. We then rotated through the ropes giving everyone lots of different climbs. We climbed most of the day and all felt good and climbed well. We had a really good time. It was warmer, and the ice was better. It was also snowing most of the day. At the end of the day, we put on our packs and climbed up out of the gorge.

Lars, after surmounting a steep vertical section.
Lars, after surmounting a steep vertical section.
Kai on belay duty as Jared watches.
Kai on belay duty as Jared watches.
Belayers and climbers in the narrow Gorge.
Belayers and climbers in the narrow Gorge.
Niels and Lars eating a snack.
Niels and Lars eating a snack.
Jared belaying Lars.
Jared belaying Lars.

We quickly changed clothes then headed to the hot springs resort on the edge of town. They have three pools fed by natural hot springs. One was a chilly 71 degrees, another a warmish 90 or so degrees, and the last a nice 103 degrees. It was cold and snowing out, so our wet hair would freeze until crispy. It was very relaxing sitting in the hot water after two days of hard climbing. We then had dinner at Maggie’s Kitchen (greasy burgers and fries) before heading back to our motel.

Packs.
Packs.
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