Belay with Confidence in the Ouray Ice Park
With the Ouray Ice Park set to open this weekend (Saturday December 14th, 2013), we thought it would be a good time to cover some important considerations to take into account when establishing your belay stances and anchor systems while down in the canyon. In the video below, SJMG Guide Chad Peele demonstrates an excellent method by which you can belay your climbing partner, and not get pulled off of your belay stance.
Due to the configuration of the climbs in the Schoolroom area of the Ice Park, we will often observe people that have NOT clipped in to a back-tie anchor getting pulled dramatically off their feet when their climbing partner falls or needs to be lowered down the climb. In some cases, we have seen people get dragged through the creek once the weight of their climbers gets transferred to the belay device. This obviously creates a potentially hazardous situation for both belayer and climber. Simply put, it’s tough to give a good belay when you’re getting dragged through freezing water.
Watch the video below to learn about how to properly orient your belay and back-tie anchor set up. Though this video focuses on the Schoolroom Area, these techniques will be effective throughout the Ouray Ice Park climbing areas.
Techniques to Manage Lowers and Top Belays
With ice climbing season already in full swing here in the San Juans, and the opening of the Ouray Ice Park just around the corner, we thought it would be a good time to cover a few essential techniques for managing lowers and top belays. As guides who work in the Ice Park everyday, we often happen upon a wide range of climbing parties using a variety of different techniques to lower their climbing partner into the Ice Park, and then Belay them up the climb.
In the video below, SJMG Guide and AMGA Certified Rock & Alpine Guide Dawn Glanc covers the steps involved in utilizing the ATC Guide device to make your lower/belay scenario easier, more organized, and efficient. While not the only way to accomplish this task, the techniques shown in the video are particularly useful in areas like the Upper Bridge or Between the Bridges, and on climbs like Pic of the Vic – where it’s not feasible to top rope the climb from the bottom of the canyon.
In Part 1 of this series, Dawn covers the lowering/belaying scenario, and in Part 2 of the series (coming soon) Dawn will introduce a method by which you can convert your top belay into a short hauling system to help a climber reach their ice tools if they were to fall and be unable to reach their tools due to rope stretch.
A bunch of early season snow has inspired me to work on a project I have been wanting to do for years – an online primer course of avalanche awareness skills for skiers and climbers. I imagine this course will cover a wide variety of topics but I thought it made sense to start with pits as that seems to be a point of question for a lot of folks.
All comments, questions, and suggestions are very much welcome – please help us improve the series.
Techniques for Efficiency
With backcountry ice climbing here in the San Juans and around Colorado already in full swing, we thought it would be a good time to highlight this video – Belays & Transitions for Multi-Pitch Ice – offering a few tips and tricks for increasing your speed and efficiency on multi-pitch ice routes.
Specifically, SJMG Guide Eitan Green discusses and demonstrates good use of the cordelette when equalizing ice screw anchors, and then proper use and orientation of your auto-locking belay device when belaying your follower.
Watch the video below to find out more and stay tuned to the SJMG Blog for more helpful tips and info throughout the season!
Yesterday Thad and I decided it was finally time to get out and start swinging the ice tools. We headed up Camp Bird Rd. outside of the ice climbing mecca of Ouray, Colorado and climbed the classic route ‘The Talisman’. It may be in fat condition right now but it still offers quite a pump! On top of pitch one we were inspired watching two base jumpers jump off the top of the cliff on the other side of the valley. Amazing watching them glide back down to their truck and land in the fresh powdery snow. The day was great with blue bird skies and nice temperatures.
Most of the backcountry ice routes in Southwest Colorado seem to be in great condition. On the way into ‘The Talisman’ we couldn’t help but notice ‘The Ribbon’ and ‘Bird Brain Boulevard’ looking very full of ice. Some of the routes in the ‘Skylight area’ have been hammered by the sun but all are climbable if a little thin in spots.
Ivan and I were able to make it up into Yankee Boy Basin this week to do some winter mountaineering. We enjoyed perfect Colorado weather the whole trip and were able to summit Mount Sneffels (14,150′)!
Registration Now Open!
The 2014 Ouray Ice Festival Clinics are now available for purchase. Click on this link to go to the Clinic Schedule and Shopping Cart.
In association with the Ouray Ice Park, Inc., we’re proud to offer the most unique ice climbing clinic schedule in North America. This year is one of the best line-ups ever with clinics taught by professional athletes and certified guides such as Conrad Anker, Steve House, Carlos Buhler, Vince Anderson, Jen Olson, our very own Dawn Glanc, Margot Talbot – and many, many more. Come and join us for North America’s iconic and 19th Annual Ouray Ice Climbing Festival January 9 – 12, 2014.
Which Clinic is Right for me?
Many would-be clinic participants query, “which clinics should I take”. With so many unique clinics to choose from, it can be tough to decide which clinics to take on which day. Here’s the inside scoop – you’re sure to learn something on any and all of the clinics or seminars that you sign up for. Don’t worry too much about whether or not you have the ability to participate in a Steep Ice Techniques clinic on Sunday morning, if you just did a Novice or Intermediate clinic the previous day. The fact is, you’re guaranteed to learn something new on each clinic – even if you can’t make it all the way up the climbs that are being used for the instruction.
Ice climbing is about challenging yourself to do something you may not have thought were possible. So what if you’ve only climbed ice a few times? The Ouray Ice Fest Clinics are a place to push yourself and learn something new from all the wonderful professional athletes and guides who come to instruct for the weekend.
From a practical sense, if you’ve never ice climbed before, or have minimal experience, then consider taking an Intro and a Novice Clinic or Seminar to get yourself started, but don’t be afraid to jump on an Intermediate, Steep Ice, or Learn to Lead Clinic as well. You’re guaranteed to learn something useful that you can apply towards your progression as a better ice climber, have fun, and meet a ton of like-minded climbers in the process.
As always, don’t hesitate to give us a call at 800-642-5389 or email us at email@example.com if you’d like some more detailed advice about the event. We look forward to seeing you this winter for what promises to be the best ice fest yet!
AMGA Certified Rock & Alpine Guide
An Early Season Climb of The Ribbon
Wow! We are feeling grateful in the San Juans! Based on the wet September and the cycles of snow, cold night time temperatures, and sunny days in October, the ice flows are really shaping up beautifully. Hopefully, this pattern continues, and then solidifies into an epic winter with loads of great snow.
On November 3rd, my partner and SJMG Senior Guide Andrés, set out to climb the Ribbon, a classic WI 3/4 ice fall near Ouray, Colorado. It was a stellar morning, not too cold, perfect for a pleasant climb on a north facing route. It is so awesome to have ice this time of year, getting us pumped on climbing and swinging tools early, gearing up for an amazing winter, yet to come.
The approach, on this day, was smooth, the snow was not deep and we found a decent way to skip across the creek. It took us about a half an hour to get to the base of the Ribbon.
This route could be split into three or four pitches. There are great fixed anchor belays, as long as the snow doesn’t get too deep. Be leery of climbing the Ribbon after snowstorms and during high avalanche danger. There are considerably large snow bowls above that funnel down the route.
Climbing the Ribbon was super fun! The ice was in excellent shape, slightly thin in some spots, but overall fantastic!
We were stoked on the quality of ice!
Let the momentum continue and the flow keep growing! Early ice is on in the mountains of Southwest Colorado and we are ready for action. Give us a call at SJMG with any inquiries, we’d love to go climb ice with you this season, it’s going to be all time!
See you there!
Saturday, Tim and I were able to get out and climb Snowdon. Although it’s still fall in Durango, it most definitely is winter above 10,000′. I’m pretty sure I can speak for both of us when I say, that we were thankful for every layer we brought.
|Enjoying the crisp morning!|
|Snowdon still a ways off.|
|Last few steps to the top!|
|Heading back down.|
|Finally really starting to warm up.|
|It’s hard to beat a cloudless Colorado day.|
Climbing with Tim is always a blast. He is super positive and always raving about the amazing views. As much as I try not to take the San Juan Mountains for granted, Tim always helps me to appreciate my surroundings.
It was great climbing with you Tim! See you soon.
Essential Equipment for Ski Touring
An often overlooked, but critical piece of backcountry safety equipment, is your repair kit. After blowing up a ski binding, try post-holing chest deep several miles back to your car in the dark and you will know what I mean. The following is a very basic repair kit that you can work off of to tailor to your specific needs.
Top Row – Left to Right:
- Pole splint – essentially two pieces of curved aluminum, you can buy these commercially or make them yourself with a hacksaw and an old section of ski pole. The splint is secured with two hose clamps one above and one below the break. Skiing without a pole usually isn’t life or death but it makes life a lot better – especially if you are skiing difficult terrain/snow with a heavy pack
- Pole basket – self explanatory and same reason as above – make sure the basket actually fits onto the pole you are using
- Skin tip – it is pretty unusual for these to break, but if you have weak glue on your skins, they sometimes which may make them less (or more?) likely to break but harder to repair. It is always possible to repair the skin tip attachment with your ski strap (see below)
- Skin tail attachment – these fall off frequently, I usually carry a couple of these
- Small tool with pliers – most of the time this tool is sufficient for minor repairs – it includes a knife, a file and a small slotted screw driver. The pliers are probably the most important. This tiny tool only weighs an ounce or so
Middle Row – Left to Right
- Zip ties/cable tie – these can be useful for a lot of things including refastening a buckle on a boot, coat or pack. They can be used to re-attach a broken rear skin strap (the rubber ones can break in half). I like the big beefy zip ties (the ones in the picture are kind of wimpy)
- Binding buddy – carry a couple of common heads including Phillips and star drives, of course be sure that you have the driver for your particular binding screws. It is also not a bad idea to have a couple of the exact screws for different parts of your binding along with a little steel wool (not shown), the wool can be stuffed into a stripped screw hole prior to placing a new screw and serve as a temporary means of filling the gap allowing the screw to be tightened in stripped threads.
- Small roll of duck tape – I don’t carry a lot of this because duck tape can’t really fix any serious problems, and secondly it goes bad after a little while. No doubt it can be handy but you need to stay updated on your replacement cycle with it, or it will just be rotten and unusable when you need it most.
- Ski strap – the longer the better. Probably the single most important item in your kit. Consider carrying two. These can be used to do major repairs and lashing boots and binding systems. They are also good temporary fixes to skin glue problems. Don’t be afraid to pull them REALLY tight. If you carry some sort of sled system (for emergency evacuation) it is likely that you will have several ski straps that can be used for both systems – i.e. your evac and your repair kit
- Bailing wire – this along with a ski strap or two can solve almost any binding/boot emergency. Remember, you are not trying to return your ski system to pristine powder skiing condition – you are just trying to make it workable so that you can get out of the backcountry to your car and real repairs
Bottom Row – Left to Right
- Paracord – On longer trips I often carry this to supplement the ski straps and bailing wire and it can be used for the same uses although primarily as backup. If you carry a tarp in your day ski kit, the paracord can serve double duty as rigging wire.
- Large leatherman/pliers tool – sometimes there just is no substitute for size and power, and on longer trips I make sure we have one of these in our groups so some real cranking can be done if needed.
- Small zip pouch – the whole kit fits nicely in this slim pouch and weighs under a pound. There is really no need to carry more than one of these repair kits per group.
Of course if you are going on trips longer than a day you may want to add a couple of items. Perhaps a full front or rear binding piece? Skin glue? Tent and sleeping pad patches? Dynamite? But the truth is, I rarely need to use my repair kit because I am pretty careful about maintaining my equipment pre-trip. It is just so much easier to get your equipment dialed in the comfort of your garage or living room than it is trying to McGyver some half way solution at 12k in a snowstorm. If my gear is worn out or on the edge I replace it – or make a full-bore serious permanent repair. Skiing is a blast, and when it is at its best, gear is the last thing on your mind.
AMGA Certified Ski Guide