San Juan Ice Climbing – Early Season
Ouray & Silverton Ice Climbs
It’s no secret that the San Juans offer an excellent selection of early season ice climbing opportunities. Destinations such as Silverton’s Eureka Canyon and South Mineral Creek host the best ice climbing in Colorado during the months of November and early/mid December. Access to the ice climbs during this time of year is unparalleled and the avalanche conditions are much more manageable. Additionally, classic climbs like Stairway to Heaven (WI4) often boast more unique and varied climbing at this time of year.
In response to the increasing demand for early season ice we are offering an Intermediate-Advanced Early Ice Course. This will be a 2:1 ratio course that focuses on getting mileage in the backcountry as well as working on more advanced technical ice skills for fragile, thin, and tricky ice conditions that are often found on backcountry ice routes. Stay tuned to our Blog and Ice Conditions pages to find out when routes start to come into condition!
- We are offering two scheduled dates for the 2013 early ice season, but we are also able to schedule this program as a Private Ice Guiding program at a 1:1 or 2:1 ratio. Many participants add a third day of instruction and climbing either before or after the course as well.
Just wanted to drop you a line and express how much I thoroughly enjoyed your ice class. It was fun to spend sometime with a climber of Andres ability and he was a terrific instructor an a joy to be around. You have a great business and I will be back again….Thanks again for a thoroughly enjoyable two days.” – S. Morgan, Basic Ice Course Dec 11-12, 2010
Early Season Ice Itinerary
Meet at 0730 at our shop in at 725 Main St. in Ouray. We recommend grabbing breakfast and/or lunch from Backstreet Bagel across street. Your Course Leader will give you a quick briefing, help you fill out a couple forms, and fit you in whatever demo/rantal equipment you might need.
You will then carpool to the Skylight for a full day of climbing & instruction. Return to the shop is usually between 1500 and 1600 depending on the group. The first day generally covers: Movement skills for up to WI4 terrain, anchoring, screw placement, belaying, knots, and tons more.
Meet at 0730, carpool to the Silverton area. We’ll climb a backcountry route in either Eureka Canyon or South Mineral Creek. Options include Stairway to Heaven, Direct North Face, Snowblind, Campground Couloirs, Whorehouse Ice Hose, and more.
Though the goal of the seminar is to climb early season ice and backcountry routes, the 2:1 ratio affords the flexibility to customize both the itinerary and curriculum to maximize your learning opportunities – not to mention getting in top shape prior to the start of the real ice season.
We have honed our curriculum and itinerary through many years of ice climbing instruction. These courses offer a great way to introduce yourself to the sport of ice climbing in a fun, more affordable group atmosphere.
Early Ice Climbing Equipment List
- Water Bottles: 2 1 liter size Nalgene w/bottle insulators.
- Small Thermos: Optional, but nice to have
- Day Pack: Approximately 35 – 50 liters.
Guides’ Pick: Osprey Mutant 38
- Gaiters: N/A for ice boots with integrated gaiter systems. Guides’ Pick: OR Crocs
- Lunch Food: Bring a selection of energy bars, GU’s, Clif Shots, and other high calorie quick energy foods.
- Socks: A pair of heavy wool or polypropylene.
Guides’ Pick: Smartwool Mountaineer
- Long Underwear: One pair of tops and bottoms. Midweight, synthetic material.
- Mid-Layer: Versatile fleece or similar mid-layer piece.
Guides Pick: OR Centrifuge Jkt
- Soft Shell Jacket: Shoeller or similar soft shell jacket.
Guides Pick: OR Alibi Jacket
- Down Jacket: Optional, but nice to have.
- Shell Jacket: Be sure that it will fit over all your other clothes. Gore-tex recommended.
- Shell Pants: With side zippers are best. Gore-tex recommended.
- Soft Shell Pants: Schoeller or similar fabric pants. Guides Pick: OR Cirque Pant.
- Gloves: A pair of heavy gloves and a pair of medium weight gloves.
- Hat: Warm pile or wool hat. Try to size it so that it will fit comfortably under your helmet.
- Balaclava or BUFF: A must have for cold days and wind.
- Sunglasses: Category 3 or 4 lenses
- Sunscreen and Lip Balm: At least SPF 30.
- Digital Camera
- Harness: Adjustable leg loops are essential.
- Locking carabiner: Pear shaped, wide mouth.
- Belay / Rappell device: ATC or similar.
- Boots: Leather insulated ice climbing boots.
- Crampons: Step in crampons with vertical front points.
- Ice Tools: Ice climbing tools
Training & Follow Up Climbs
As always, being in excellent physical shape is an important component of our our programs. A good mixture of cardiovascular fitness, muscular fitness, and especially core strength will help you to maximize the potential rewards that are possible on a great climbing trip.
1Before Your Trip
Familiarity with basic climbing principles such as knots, belaying, rappelling, and rock climbing technique can be very helpful for our Intro Course participants. Though not required, prior rock climbing experience will help you to acquire and assimilate the information covered in our ice climbing course progression as quickly as possible.
2Follow Up Climbs
- Intermediate Ice – Ouray, CO
- Lead Seminar – Ouray, CO
- Mixed Climbing Course – Ouray, CO
- Ruth Gorge Customs
We very much enjoyed our time in Ouray! The private 2-day climbing program was impressive. Our guide, Mark, was/is an excellent teacher. He took the time to build the skills for each of us, listened to the concerns and course corrected to ensure we were achieving what we wanted to achieve. Basically, Mark rocks! We look forward to coming back. – J. Bowers, 2011 Private Program
Ouray, Colorado: Getting Here
Ouray is located in the SW corner of Colorado, approximately 30 minutes south of Montrose. Known as “The Switzerland of America”, the town of Ouray is a vibrant outdoor oriented community. All local businesses are very friendly to the ice climbers who flock each winter to climb in the Ouray Ice Park and surrounding areas.
Flights: The best option for flying to the area is to fly into Montrose, CO. Many airline options exist, and most connections originate from Denver, CO. It is also possible to fly into Durango, CO, Telluride, CO, or Albuquerque, NM. It may be necessary to rent a car and drive to Ouray if you’d like to fly into one of either of these airports.
Driving: Below are some approximate driving times if you’d like to drive to Ouray. If you plan on renting a car, please consider the winter weather when selecting your vehicle and at a minimum choose something that offers either front wheel or all-wheel drive.
- Montrose, CO: 45 mins
- Durango, CO: 2 hours
- Denver, CO: 6 hours
- Albuquerque, NM: 4.5 hours
- Salt Lake City, UT: 6 hours
Hotels: Ouray has a number of great hotels, suites, and vacation rentals for you to stay in while you’re in the area. Give our office a call at 800-642-5389 if you have any questions about what would suit you best for this trip!
- Cost Includes:
- Guiding and instruction
- Group climbing equipment (ropes, ice screws etc.),
- Harness, helmet, ice tools, crampons and ice boots
- Not Included:
- Transportation to Ouray, CO
- Hotel costs before, during or after the courses
- 5% land use surcharge
- Trip cancellation insurance – recommended
- Personal climbing clothing
- Guide gratuity
- Registration and Cancellation:
- Advance Registration is required for this program. You have the option to either call our office and register via phone, fill out our pdf Registration Form and send it in via fax or email, or utilize our secure Online Reservation System. All participants must read and sign an Assumption of Risks/Liability Waiver and agree to our Reservations and Cancellations Policies.