To get right to the point– it hasn’t snowed in a while so we went ice climbing.
We learned long ago not to fight fickle mountain weather that doesn’t lend itself to certain activities, and to instead find things to do that are better suited to the current conditions. And right now, an overall lack of snow combined with beautiful sunny weather actually makes the conditions perfect for ice climbing. So playing the hand we were dealt, Christy and I headed down to the Ouray Ice Park.
Actually, it’s a sort of rite of winter for us to pack up the truck and get out of Aspen for a breather, typically right after the Christmas rush ends and we get some free time– to get off the mountain, out of the ski boots and do something different.
So to Ouray we went, to ice climb for a couple of days. The weather was great and the park seemed to be in good shape despite the annual Icefest taking place last weekend. Not surprisingly though, a lot of people shared our idea and it was quite crowded, even being there on a weekday. The popularity of ice climbing is only increasing and with a limited amount of terrain out there, both natural and in a park like this, it’s no wonder that with every passing year it all gets a bit more crowded.
Now in it’s 14th year, Ouray’s Ice Park and it’s near 200 routes have set a standard for the country, if not the world, for managed ice climbing. It’s cool how such a small sleepy town could be so ahead of the curve– I think the people who had the foresight to plan the park deserve some of the credit for ice climbing’s overall popularity today. For better or for worse, without the accessibility Ouray offers to learn the sport in a much safer setting than one finds out on natural routes, the sport might not be as big as it is today. Now it’s time for other potential spots to be developed in similar fashions.
One such place doing that is Lake City.
We left sleepy little Ouray and headed to the even sleepier– if not comatose in comparison– Lake City (pop. 375). Much like Ouray before the park, Lake City is a popular summer destination but in winter almost completely shuts down. So in attempt to stoke the slumbering winter economy, a similar but smaller park has been developed there. Open for a few seasons now, I’ve heard it described as being ‘like Ouray used to be’ likely in regard to the lack of crowds.
The park itself is easy to locate as it’s visible from town on the road towards Engineer Pass. Details on the park however, are a little harder to find. The best source of info is their website, here, where among other things, there are listed several locations where you can check in and sign waivers prior to getting on the ice. To summarize some of the loose stats provided by the website, there are about 10-15 routes, ranging from WI 3-5 and are between 60-100 feet in length. All of the routes can be top roped, via a walk off to the lookers left of the ice. Anchors for top roping can be built off trees or off steel posts that have been drilled(four feet deep) and epoxied into the rock.
One little bit of info that newcomers might find useful is to bring long ropes and lots of webbing/cordage to build anchors.
The longer routes in the middle of the face will easily use up an entire 60 meter rope if you belay from the bottom, and that’s assuming you have enough gear to build an anchor off a tree that might be some thirty feet or more from the edge of the ice. A 70 meter rope, while not required, might come in handy.
As a result, you can get pumped on the longer lines, which in some cases are nearly twice as long as some of the routes we were on the day before in Ouray. Our favorite was a little smear in a chimney far to the lookers left– an alpine-esque route, slightly mixed with thin ice that required a more delicate touch than the usual heavy handed tool swings employed on the fatter ice we commonly find ourselves on.
Go check it out if you get a chance.