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
The Best Recipe for Early Season Ice Conditions
Around the middle of October and as the temperatures in the high country start to drift towards the teen’s at night, we start thinking about how ice conditions are shaping up on all the area’s classic backcountry routes. The foundation for a good early season ice year is typically developed in the months of September and early October. (Picture below taken on 10/20/13)
The best scenario is one in which we receive an ample amount of rain/snow in those two months – enough to keep water flowing in smaller waterfalls, creeks, and drainages so that once the temps drop the opportunity to freeze and lay down successive layers of ice becomes possible. This freeze/thaw cycle early in the season is an important factor in creating climbable conditions by early November.
Luckily for us we have this exact scenario brewing in the San Juan Mountains this season. In September we received an abnormally high amount of rain, followed by another round of storms in early October that dropped approximately 2 feet of snow or more in most mountain areas throughout the San Juans.
The soil saturation from the September storms combined with the snow from the October storms gives the classic climbs of the area an excellent opportunity to receive full advantage of the freeze thaw cycle this time of year, and temperatures have certainly been colder than average to aid in that process. Temperatures in the teens are predicted in the high country by this weekend and into next week. Once the temps drop into that range, ice is quick to form in most areas.
Overall, we have an excellent outlook for our backcountry ice conditions this year and I’d predict that most climbs will start to come into condition much earlier than last year – likely about 2 – 3 weeks from now. Ice climbing in the months of November and December are two of the best months of the season, as the majority of the backcountry routes in the area are less threatened by the avalanche problems that we see later in the season. In addition, climbs like the Direct North Face, Campground Couloirs, and Snowblind in South Mineral Creek are more easily accessible given road conditions and the remote nature of the climbs give them a distinctly alpine feel.
So sharpen up your picks, and pull out the cold weather gear. Ice climbing season is almost here and it’s shaping up to be a great one.
Stay tuned to our Ice Climbing Conditions page throughout the winter of 2013/2014 for regular updates on ice conditions in Ouray, Silverton, and Telluride!
Here are a few pictures of a few local ice climbs so that you can get a sense of where we are with ice conditions. All pictures were on October 19th.
With a couple of big storms in early October we have laid down a nice base for decent early season turns. I don’t feel like it is a a real ski season unless I get started in the early fall. Skiing this time of year can be surprisingly good, but there are a couple of considerations to think about:
Clothing Systems for all Conditions
As always, the gear your choose can make the difference in all the ways you envision as you’re planning your next trip or adventure. Increased efficiency, a lighter pack, maximum versatility and not to be overlooked – impeccable mountain style. Our partners at Outdoor Research offer the best and most well designed technical outerwear for cold weather pursuits, including backcountry skiing and ice climbing.
Here, IFMGA Guide Mark Allen gives an overview of how he tackles the topic of what to take with him on a backcountry ski tour.
Current Snow Levels in the San Juans
A few of us have been out and about in the San Juan Mountains during the last week – including Chicago Basin in the Weminuche Wilderness. Recently the area has experienced a few significant storms that had a decidedly winter component to them. Below average temperatures and above average precipitation has been the general weather pattern for the past few weeks and the mountains are really starting to show it.
Based on the current forecast and amount of snow already on the ground, I would suspect that the majority of the snow of shaded aspects will remain there for the rest of the season – eventually being buried by subsequent snow storms that are sure to effect the area in the month of October. This can be good on a number of levels, including the potential for an excellent early season ice cycle. The ice climbs around Silverton and Ouray above 10,000 feet are dependent on ground water and robust melt/freeze cycles. With all the recent snow above those altitudes it’s setting up to be a banner November/December for early season backcountry ice climbs.
The recent new snow however can become “old snow” – but at this point in the season likely only on aspects and areas where the snow has blown in deep enough to eventually be buried by subsequent storms. This old snow, especially from the first few larger storms in October and November, can become problematic later in the winter as the faceting process starts to take over, helping to hasten the creation of the all-to-familiar depth hoar we commonly see at the base of our snowpack – the cause of many early season avalanche cycles here in the San Juans.
Below are a few photos taken of the Chicago Basin area, Engineer Mountain, and views of the Sneffels Range and Ice Lakes Basin from a distance. All photos were taken between 9/24/13 and 9/27/13. As always, watch the forecast, plan accordingly, and travel safe in the mountains. Late fall/early winter storms are nothing to be trifled with in the San Juan Mountains.
AMGA Certified Rock & Alpine Guide