A trip to the 17th Ouray Ice Festival


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Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - Jan 14, 2012 - 02:25am PT
A trip to the 17th Ouray Ice Festival
Ed Hartouni
January 2012

Sometime in October WMcC floated the idea that I should think about joining him and some of his other partners at the Ouray Ice Festival. A good way to get back into the ice climbing game. We have been talking about some other projects that would benefit from a refresher on modern ice climbing technique.

So I checked the dates and arranged things to get out to Ouray Colorado to learn how to ice climb.

Looking back at my climbing "log book," I started climbing water ice in 1985, at Stoney Cove, NY.

Stoney Cove, NY, 1985

Winters between then and 1994 involved some ice climbing. Basically I climbed around Mt. Washington, Lake Willoughby VT, and a late season attempt to get into the Laurentides at Malbaie, Quebec which didn't result in any ice climbing.

Pinnacle Gully Mt. Washington NH, 1992

During the Massachusetts' winters I'd climb ice smears locally, especially my own 20'-30' steep ice on a railroad cut behind my house which generally froze up in late November. My northeast ice climbing culminated in a March 1994 trip up Black Dike on Canon Mountain in New Hampshire

After moving to California I climbed ice once in Lee Vining canyon in January 2002, Chounard's Falls.

Tom Polesak in Lee Vining Canyon, 2002.

Over this period of time my ice equipment was basically the same, plastic double boots, FootFangs and Chouinard X-tools.

I've had occasion to climb in mountains over this time requiring moving on snow and ice, but nothing like steep water ice climbing.

So going to Ouray Colorado, paying to participate in clinics and top roping in a canyon with farmed ice, staying in a motel, was a departure from the way I did things back in the day. A typical trip back then involved an early start, driving on treacherously iced roads, long slow approaches to ice cliffs often not more than 100' in height. Getting a pitch in that had to be lead, then returning to the car, usually an "air cooled" VW with a notoriously insufficient heating system (but providing some protection from windchill and a hope of getting home to warmth).

We had great adventures, mostly we wouldn't climb something we couldn't lead.

Flying east over the Sierra looking back to the crest.

Ouray CO is a wonderful place, located in the San Juans. The town is nestled up in the canyon next to the Uncompahgre River ("Uncompamgre" means "hot water spring," which we took full advantage of!)

The Ouray Ice Park is created by farming ice down in the river canyon and is very extensive. Here is a view from the "upper bridge" looking down to the "lower bridge"

and up from the "upper bridge"

the ice park was a 15 minute walk from our motel room. Access to the ice park is free.

During the Ice Festival, the clinics have priority in the climbing areas. Clinics ran from about 9am to 11:30am then from 12:30pm to 3:00pm. They chased us out of the canyon so that they could pull the ropes and water the ice.

Friday and Saturday were full days, Sunday was a half day. We'd arrive around 8:00am to check out the demo gear, then show up at the vendor's tent that was sponsoring our particular clinic. On Friday I obtained some Black Diamond Quark crampons and Cobra Ice Tools and headed off for my "Intro to Leading Ice" clinic run by Jen Olson sponsored by Petzl.

(Jen's on the left).

That afternoon I took the "Novice Ice" clinic with Aaron Mulkey sponsored by Rab.

(Aaron is in the red parker on the left with a knee brace on his right leg)

When we introduced ourselves I had to say that I last ice climbed in 1995, which was before most of the guides had started ice climbing. The length of time that I have been climbing is longer than the age of most of my guides also... and most of my clinic mates were much younger, and having been climbing only a couple of years on average.

The new tools make a big difference in how ice is climbed now. "Leashless" ice climbing frees your hands and makes the tools really more like "holds" and stresses good foot work and balance. It was a lot of fun to play with this new stuff, and it didn't take long to be able to adopt the new methods. I found that the tools were really the difference, the crampons weren't all that different than the FootFangs... but more about that later.

After the first day we retired to the Box Canyon Motel for a soak in the hot-tubs, a very nice way to relax.

On Saturday I obtained a Grivel Matrix Tech ice tool and G22 crampons, and headed off to the "Intermediate Ice" and "Advanced Ice" clinics taught by Margot Talbot sponsored by Outdoor Research.

The day snowed and the top roping was much more challenging on steeper ice... perhaps up to WI4+ to WI5- which was a blast. I played around in the intermediate clinic on some WI3 using a single tool to help dial my footwork.

Once again, the end of the day saw us retiring to the hot-tubs, but all in all my progress was satisfying.

On Sunday I was taking an "Intermediate Mixed Climbing" clinic from Markus Beck sponsored by La Sportiva. I had obtained Petzl's Ergo ice tool and Dart monopoint crampon...
Waiting around the sponsor's tent you run into all sorts of people, here's Mal getting ready for his clinic "Novice Ice" but he called it: "Leashless for Chickenhearts."

The mixed tools proved to be difficult to adapt to for me, though on rock the monopoint had some great features, I didn't completely master the ice climbing aspects of the monopoints. Using the Ergo's in extreme caming mode was also not natural, as my old instincts kept me from really loading up the tool for fear of breaking the tip... the tip is rated for this sort of use...

heading up the "Scottish Gully" into mixed territory, I got yelled at by one of the roaming guides for taking my brake hand off the rope, so I stopped shooting pictures at this point.

Anyway, we finished up and I felt that I had compressed a huge amount of climbing into a very small time, compared to back in the day.

My impression of modern ice climbing is that most people who engage in it do it top roping... the Ice Park is a large outdoor climbing "gym." Many of the people in the "beginning ice leading" clinic thought they might, eventually, lead ice. But they didn't appear to be highly motivated to do so.

Also, a lot of modern ice climbing technique is driven by the existence of "holes" that can be "hooked" and also provide foot holds. The holes exist because many other ice climbers have been up the routes, and essentially altered them, leaving a set of features that can be followed. This is tremendously less difficult than actually sticking your own picks on virgin ice... but it seems that ice climbing in Colorado is so popular that most of the routes sport this sort of feature.

Retiring to the hot-tubs we discussed the strategy for the post-Ice Festival activities, deciding to to Ames Ice Hose on Monday and The Ribbon on Tuesday given the snow fall and potential avalanche hazard in The Ribbon's upper section. These two climbs would be a good test of what skills I had reacquired during the clinics.

It was both an interesting and instructive time, unique in my experience in both the volume of ice climbing, and the ability to test new equipment. Perhaps had I been in better shape I could have also attended the parties, but I figured I was there to climb, and generally I can do one or the other, my advanced age seems to have robbed me the ability to do both.


Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
Jan 14, 2012 - 02:38am PT
Ed we have to talk...
would that this had happened when I still lived in Vail...

Trad climber
Jan 14, 2012 - 02:46am PT
Looks like way to much fun!

Ice climber
Jan 14, 2012 - 08:04am PT

Good to have met you at the Festival. Maybe next time we will climb together. Best, Jack

Trad climber
Somewhere halfway over the rainbow
Jan 14, 2012 - 08:14am PT

Now let's hear more about your Ames ice hose experience.

Trad climber
Jan 14, 2012 - 08:14am PT
Ed, am I correct in understanding that *everyone* was climbing leashless?

Trad climber
The state of confusion
Jan 14, 2012 - 09:45am PT


Thanks for sharing, Ed!

Trad climber
June Lake, California....via the Damascus Road
Jan 14, 2012 - 09:53am PT
Really nice, Ed! Thanks for sharing!

Big Wall climber
From Back to Big Wall Baby
Jan 14, 2012 - 10:33am PT
Great Report Ed, I have wanted to visit the park for some time now as well as the Ice Festival now I really want to go.

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Jan 14, 2012 - 10:54am PT
A Yosemite rock climber in Colorado doing ice. Now that's globalization!
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 14, 2012 - 12:07pm PT
great to meet up with you too Bldrjac, I'd love to find a way to extend a stay in the Colorado winter, so much ice to do and so many great people to climb with...

gimmeslack, as far as I could see, everyone was leashless, which to my mind is natural, leashless climbing is absolutely liberating, and it makes "ice climbing" more like "climbing" than chopping wood...

Jan, while I am currently a "Yosemite rock climber" it is not the whole part of my climbing interests over 44 years, just the most recent 17 years...

Mighty Hiker

Vancouver, B.C.
Jan 14, 2012 - 01:20pm PT
Thanks, Ed.

Maybe if you're just doing one pitch topropes in a controlled environment, it doesn't matter if your tools are leashless. But for anything else, that is to say most kinds of ice climbing, what happens when you drop one?

Trad climber
Living Outside the Statist Quo
Jan 14, 2012 - 02:19pm PT
Very cool, thanks for the report. Always thought of making the trip there, looks like a fun event.

goatboy smellz

Jan 14, 2012 - 02:26pm PT
Cool write up Ed, thanks for the share.

Trad climber
Bay Area
Jan 14, 2012 - 02:31pm PT
Great stuff Ed. I'd never seen a good report on what the festival is all about. Your pics are really enticing.
So I've got some leashless tools coming the the mail but with a spinner leash also in the box.
Frankly, I'm afraid I'm going to drop the tools without a leash. Tell me how I get past my irrational fear and leave the leash on the ground.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 14, 2012 - 04:37pm PT

topping out on pitch 2 Black Dike Canon Mt. NH, Feb. 1994
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 14, 2012 - 05:06pm PT

Peterskill Falls, NY
January 15, 1984

first time on ice

Trad climber
Somewhere halfway over the rainbow
Jan 14, 2012 - 05:09pm PT
^^^ Nice Helmet Ed ^^^

photo not found
Missing photo ID#232449

^^^ Nice Helmet Hair ^^^

Anders and High Traverse, in a word tethers.

If you get a good stick in the ice you can let go of it, switch hands or grab it with both hands as you want or need. Not too likely you will drop it. On longer or alpine routes however the bungied tethers will greatly reduce the accidental oopsie which is a nice bit of assurance. Now on thin ice, mixed and dry tooling the opportunity for pitchin' axe is greatly increased and the bungie ricochet becomes more of a concern. Hooking the un held tool over a shoulder works very nicely.


Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Jan 14, 2012 - 05:31pm PT
Oh, I am sooooo envious...Ouray is on our list of must do. Unfortunately our ice climbing gear kinda looks like it was forged during the Industrial Revolution with leather bindings resembling dog chews.


Loved the then and now pics...very lovely


Trad climber
Somewhere halfway over the rainbow
Jan 14, 2012 - 06:45pm PT
It is a Rip Van Winkle moment when I realize my first time in Ouray was in 1967.
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