When it comes to Ice Climbing, the San Juan Mountains can be hard to beat. With Classic Routes located in our backyard and with the Ouray Ice Park essentially located in our front yard, its hard to justify traveling to climb in other renown areas. There are far and few areas that are worth the hassle and one of those is Cody, Wyoming. Our AMGA Guide, Jeff Witt has been guiding since 2002 . Jeff has climbed and guided on mountains all around the world, including four of the Seven Summits, prominent peaks throughout the European Alps, and challenging routes in Patagonia and Alaska. He is also an avid motorcyclist and adventurer, having toured much of the Americas and Europe by motorcycle, and visited more than 30 countries. He is an Ice Climbing enthusiast who enjoys guiding clients on Colorado classics just as much as he enjoys discovering new climbing areas. He’s been to Cody multiple times and knows all the sweet spots around this particular region. He will be leading our trip to Cody and here are a few reasons why you should join him this February.
For a full list of events check out the Official Ouray Ice Festival Site!
- Visit Ouray’s Brewery
Arguably the best way to celebrate a successful day in the park – we suggest checking out our local brewery for a cold one. Ouray Brewery is a huge supporter of the Ouray Ice Festival by donating over 30 kegs to ensure a good time and they have great food and atmosphere – be sure to swing by!
- The Ouray Ice Festival Kick-Off Party
Ouray Ice Festival Kick-off Party sponsored by the American Alpine Club and Rab, beer from Upslope Brewing Company, food, prizes and live music by One Roof Blues. A special showing of The North Face film “Always Above Us” with special guest Conrad Anker. $10 gets you in the door. Let’s kick this party off right! Plus, beat the rush and pick up your gear demo card.
- Prom night with Petzl On Saturday
Do you have a date for The Prom? Bust out that old suit or dress for a night of fun as Petzl brings back their Party on Saturday night Petzl Party at the Ouray Community Center! Giveaways, booze, dance-parties and much more you won’t want to miss!
- Visit Sponsor’s Booths for Awesome Giveaways
A no brainer! Make sure you visit each booth as sponsors will be giving away small to big prizes – anything from climbing gear to small ‘swag’ essentials such as coozies and chapstick! Be there early on Friday to check each of them out before attending your clinic!
Be sure to to stop by all of their booths as we over 40 attending sponsors! The Ouray Ice Park title sponsors will have some great giveaways and demos so stop by to thank them for making the 20th Annual Ouray Ice Festival happen!
Still need to fill up your schedule? – Check out these clinics still available
Sash DiGulian is well known in the “Rock” Climbing world for some of the establishing First (Female) Ascents everywhere she goes. She’s currently the World Ranking leader, has climbed dozens of 5.14s and is the first and only North American woman, and the youngest woman in the world, to climb the difficulty grade of 5.14d (9a); the hardest climb achieved by a Female Worldwide. She is also the first North American Woman to onsight 5.14a (8b+). Now she wants to bring her skills to the ice as she competes for the first time in the Ouray Ice Festival as well as holds her first clinic. If you are considering Ice Climbing, this is the clinic for you!
The only journey is the journey within” (-Rainer Maria Rilke) – words that Olivia lives by. Olivia began her climbing journey when she was attending University in Brisbane, Australia. What started out as an attempt to meet new, cool people turned into “pseudo” career (as she puts it) because she loves climbing and yoga, equally. Stretch out, relax, learn balance and mental focus. Exercises to help you improve your overall strength and conditioning for climbing.
Rarely formed Route in Silverton’s Eureka Canyon
by Mark Miller, SJMG Senior Guide
Today Dave and I headed to Dukes of Hazzard in Silverton’s Eureka Canyon. Having never been on it before, I was pretty excited to get a good look at it. It ends up being two very nice, but distinctly different pitches.
Pitch 1 begins with a nice grade 3 warm-up to a ledge. Above the ledge there are two bolts that protect an M6 looking mixed line that leads up to the obvious curtain of ice. This year the curtain comes down to a chandeliered pillar that touches, though I can’t say it is getting any support from below, as the 1-2 inch wide pencil of ice that contacts the ledge is cracked.
Being more of an ice than a mixed climber, I clipped the bolts and made the rather long step onto the pillar. A few feet up I could make 1 stem to the rock near the first bolt and a little later I could stem to the curtain. While the line looked a bit intimidating, it turned out very reasonable. After that it was a long grade 2 ramp to the next column, which has a really cool cave behind it. I thought the setting was cool and it left me completely protected from anything falling from above, so in I went.
Dave led pitch 2, a really nice, solid column of ice that led to another ramp. From there as the ice ran out he had a few more steps above in snow led to a 3 pin anchor that a party a few days before left, that made a quick and efficient exit back to our cave. From the cave it was a full length rappel back to our packs and a descent down snow covered small talus that challenged our ankles, but did nothing to diminish another great outing with a good friend.
A Guide’s Perspective
by Lindsay Fixmer
AMGA Certified Rock Guide & Assistant Alpine Guide
Upon arriving in Ouray, CO early this December for the winter ice climbing season, I have lived in the OR Conviction Pant. Equally suited for approaches through knee-deep snow, drippy backcountry ice climbs or sunny dry tooling routes, the Conviction pant excels in variable conditions. Having only worn these pants twelve days, I am extremely impressed with their comfort and versatility.
I love them already and here’s why:
Perfection. The cut is ideal. At first glance I was skeptical about the integrated waist band. Upon testing however, I found this feature is excellent for tucking in a base layer for warmth and keeping the elements out of your pants. This same band prevents the annoying bulge and the requirement of a belt (often an issue with women’s pants). The inseam length is perfectly compatible with climbing boots during the approach and on technical routes. And, well it has to be mentioned, they are slimming. Women want technical pants to fit and move well, not be too tight or too bulky, and to look sleek. The wrap-around cut of the Conviction pant is a perfect fit.
It wicks away rain, sleet, and snow. It is thick enough to be warm in winter with a thin fleece lining but thin enough not to feel hot when the sun comes out. The scuff guard on the inside ankle is perfect: durable enough to withstand the potential crampon stab.
Ventilation zips and pocket:
For the warm, sunny days walking to a backcountry ice route, the side vent zips are ideal for allowing air flow. As we all know, our feet start sweating without ventilation leading to cold toes once we begin climbing. The two-way zipper leads diagonally from the knee to upper thigh allowing minimal or maximum ventilation.
The positioning of the side vent zips prevents front pockets, so the design of a large backside pocket is ideal. The horizontal pocket zips just below where a harness leg loop sits, allowing quick access to extra goo packets or energy chews on the climb.
Over the past few seasons I have tried numerous women’s climbing specific alpine pants from various companies. To find the ideal ice climbing pant for women is like finding a rack of ice screws at the base of The Ribbon. With different body types aside, practicality and functionality are difficult to find in women’s pants. The market is improving which is noticeable from the cut and style of a few pants. With the Conviction Pant, OR is leading the way.
Trip & Condition Reports
from SJMG Senior Guide Mark Miller
Recently, SJMG Senior Guide Mark Miller got a few days off of guiding locally here in Ouray & the San Juans. He took the opportunity to see how things were forming up and grab some conditions reports on a few of our local area hardman classics like The Talisman in Ouray and Bridalveil Falls in Telluride.
Matt and I climbed Talisman on Sunday.
The first pitch was in good condition. We climbed to the left side of the ledge to belay and then moved the belay to the right, below the start of the pitch 2 traverse, due to a lack of ice leading directly to the belay stance.
The second pitch was excellent. I placed two pieces of rock gear and the rest was completely reasonable with good screws, a few 16cm and a couple stubbies. Yesterday a party placed a couple V-threads, making a really nice belay.
The third pitch turned out to be the best of the bunch. Right above the belay there was enough ice to place one cam and protect the rest on ice as I climbed out of the roof toward the column on the left side of the upper curtain. After a couple very pumpy to place screws, I turned the corner. It was solid, but very steep for a short section, which then backed off to grade 4 ice and a nice belay from screws in good ice.
We then finished the last 40 feet of grade 3 in a continuous spindrift, since we were no longer under the overhangs for protection. A quick rappel back to the ground, a little more snow slogging and a balance beam act across a log to get back across the river rapped up a fine day.
On Saturday Dave and I went to Telluride to see if Bridalveil was in, since word on it’s conditions were scarce. It looked a little narrower than last year and the cauliflowers looked a little bigger as we got up closer.
The cone at the bottom was pretty much like usual, maybe grade 3, but protection was rather poor until very near the top. At the top of the cone my plan had been to head straight up a groove that looked the most promising from the ground. As I arrived I could see that it had a steady shower pouring into it from a dagger directly above it. By stepping left into an ice chimney I could see a reasonable path, if I could clear out the crazy hanging shafts of ice that barred the path without them taking me out, or getting too worked from the cleaning. At the top of the chimney I was able to quickly cross the raining dagger back to the right and into a nice rest, before continuing back left to a semi-hanging belay from very good ice in a well protected alcove.
Dave then led a short rising traverse to the right with a step down at the end, which put him on a large well protected ledge, that has been the belay station for pitch one the last few years.
From there the upper section of the climb was blocked by a 6-8 foot ice roof that had to be traversed around all the way to the left. Near the center I saw a line that might go if I could stem up a pillars left side, get on top of it under the roof without getting too off-balance and then pull a smaller 2-3 foot roof. The more direct line just looked to aesthetic to pass, so up I went. After a serious workout cleaning off some more ice daggers and other bizarre ice shapes that were barring the way, I down climbed back to a rest near Dave. With a good shake out and some gear already placed I gave it a run. Luckily I found an arm bar rest just below the roof, gave Dave a heads up and went for it. A few fatigued swings later I had a good belay station in sight and made a comfortable belay stance, while Dave got his turn at getting pumped stupid.
From there it was a nice long grade 4 stemming session to the upper ramp where it backs off to the snow gully and eventually the anchors. Dave arrived a little later for a couple quick raps and laughter the rest of the hike back to the truck for a mondo burrito and a casual drive home from a truly excellent day.
San Juan Mountain Guides will be adding the Ortler Traverse, a prominent ski tour in Italy’s South Tyrol, a mountain range straddling the Italian-Austrian border. Despite the 4000+ meter peaks and the luxurious hut systems – this expedition is a experience of fused cultures: that of the Austria ancestry that resides in the Northern Italian territory. Check out these three interesting facts about this unique opportunity as we plan this Ortler Ski Circuit for next spring are March 18 – 28 & April 4 – 14, 2015.
1. Northern Italy doesn’t always mean Italian
The Ortler region was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until it was ceded to Italy at the end of the First World War. As a result, a dual identity is reflected within the culture of the Ortler Region, hence the Ortler Region being known as known as Südtirol (German) or Alto Adige (Italian). German is increasingly predominate in areas close to the Austrian border and its not unsual to see signs written in German instead of Italian.
2. Monumental Crosses erected on top of the Summits
On top most of the summits there are metal and wood crosses grounded with large metal cables. Some pay homage to the Pope, others, like the one atop the 3,594-meter Monte Giumella, memorialize those who fought for the “Fatherland,” of Austria, the country that formerly held this sea of mountains prior to WWI.
3. Best of both Worlds: Italian Cuisine & German Gourmet
Prepare to have some of the best four course meals of your life! This includes Italian wine, cappuccinos and traditional dishes but also – Austrian Apfelstrudel and tasty beers after a great day of touring.
Meet your Guide, Pat Ormond
Pat is a fully certified IFMGA Mountain Guide, having completed his AMGA Rock, Alpine Guide, and Ski Mountaineering Certifications. This will be his second trip on the Ortler Traverse.
Also, the Ortler region is in the South Tyrol, which is an autonomous region in Italy, near the border of Austria. There are many relics left from WWI and WWII when Italy and Austria were fighting for control of the area. As we ski around, we cross over old borders marked with barbed wire, stone fortifications, old cannons, all up at altitude and on glaciers. Think of the effort it took to fight wars in the mountains. Amazing!”
Also, the Ortler region is in the South Tyrol, which is an autonomous region in Italy, near the border of Austria. There are many relics left from WWI and WWII when Italy and Austria were fighting for control of the area. As we ski around, we cross over old borders marked with barbed wire, stone fortifications, old cannons, all up at altitude and on glaciers. Think of the effort it took to fight wars in the mountains. Amazing!“
How would you describe the snow-pack, weather conditions and over-all skiing of the Ortler Traverse?
“The good time to be skiing there is in the spring, mid march to late April. March can bring more storms and powder skiing, while April is time to ski from the summits. Stability varies, but tends to be like an inter-mountain snow-pack as opposed to a weaker continental snowpack. So as spring rolls around, more stable conditions tend to prevail. The skiing is mostly in the alpine, above treeline, and we are up in the mountains, ranging from about 9-12,500’. We travel on glaciers that are well filled in, allowing for everything from wide open runs to steep and narrow couloirs.”
What is the Ski skill-set to do the Ortler Traverse?
“If you can ski the mountain at your home resort, then you’re good to go. While we can keep the terrain fairly mellow, there are times that we are boot packing up couloirs, climbing along exposed ridge lines, using ice axe and crampons, ski crampons, scrambling over rock, skinning up steep slopes with kick turns, skiing steeps. So you want to be comfortable on all terrain. That said, we can be roped up for any and all of this if needed. We start out mellow, and build into the more exposed terrain, and we can always go back to mellow. But a great gauge is skiing all the terrain at the ski area. At Telluride Ski Resort, for instance, that would include hiking Gold Hill and Palmyra Peak. Skiing down doesn’t mean skiing fast and straight lining. In ski mountaineering, a lot of terrain is taken one turn at a time, and control is the name of the game.“
What was one of the most memorable days on the Ortler Traverse?
“Most memorable day was skiing the Grand Zebru (pictured below) above the Pizzini Hut. It’s the highest peak we can ski, and it has it all: a steep couloir, 40 degree open face, knife edge summit ridge, and we’re back to the hut in time for lunch and then an afternoon tour if we’re up for it.”
We invite you to join us for this 2015 expedition that is guaranteed to be the highlight of your season! As always, don’t hesitate to contact us to schedule your next trip, course, or expedition with The Local Experts!
The Lodestar Jacket
With winter upon us in here in the San Juans, our technical layers take on added importance. SW Colorado and the San Juan Mountains offer up a veritable cornucopia of conditions. Everything from whiteout conditions, 45 mph winds, warm sunny days, feet of snow, and frigid freeze-your-fingers cold is par for the course in Ouray and throughout the San Juan Mountains in the winter months. As a consequence, the versatility and durability of our technical outerwear is critical to our daily work in the the field. This year, we chose the Outdoor Research Lodestar Jacket as our go-to softshell jacket for all winter endeavors.
I’ll spare you the suspense: the Lodestar Jacket is perhaps OR’s finest effort at a workhorse softshell ice and alpine climbing jacket to date. Our guides prefer working in a softshell jacket given the nature of our conditions here in SW Colorado – low humidity and super cold temps don’t necessarily call for Gore-Tex.
They do call for a jacket that can perform in all conditions and function well doing so. I’m happy to report that the Lodestar does it all. Here’s an example: guiding two clients up the classic Stairway to Heaven in Silverton’s Eureka Canyon. We need a jacket that climbs well and can be worn all day without the need to mess with other insulating jackets to stay warm. The beauty of the Lodestar is that you can wear it all day and it is warm enough (especially with the hood up) that you can climb up and rappel down Stairway to Heaven without putting another layer on – or find it necessary to take the Lodestar off.
Here are a few features that I think make this jacket stand out:
The trim fit of the jacket eliminates any extra fabric that can bunch up and get in your way while climbing. I’ve found that the arm length of the jacket is perfect for when you are reaching for a tool placement – meaning that the cuff does not ride up and expose your wrist to the elements. The trim cut of the jacket affords you the ability to layer underneath, but does not allow you to over do it. Doing so would lead to over-heating anyway because the next feature of the jacket that I like is it’s……….
This is by far one of the warmest soft-shell jackets I’ve ever worn. The combination of the Polartec Powershield Pro and Polartec Powershield High Loft is perfectly balanced throughout the jacket to achieve both warm and breathability. The overall warmth of the jacket gives you the flexibility to wear a bit lighter layers underneath the jacket, limiting the complexity of your clothing layers – which I consider to be a major bonus in a workhorse softshell jacket.
This might be a small detail to some, but the functionality of the zippers on a jacket is a major factor to me when I consider the overall quality of the piece – especially when considering you are usually messing with such things in a gloved hand. I’ve found that I really appreciate the larger teeth on the zippers of the Lodestar because they are simply easier to handle and don’t snag unnecessarily on excess fabric near the teeth of the zipper. Not to be overlooked – the pit zippers function perfectly in each direction, a feature that I’ve found underdeveloped and poorly executed in other types/brands of jackets that I’ve worn over the years.
I like the placement of the pockets on this jacket, and they haven’t overdone it with too many in all the wrong places. A simple left-hand chest pocket is sized just right for a small point-and-shoot camera which is handy for taking quick pics of your friend following the pitch. The zippered hand pockets fit well over a harness and still allow you access when you’re all cinched up in your harness. To boot, the pockets are formed with a tight mesh lining that would seem to increase breathability. I am a little suspicious of the durability of this feature of the jacket but I don’t often put sharp things into my jacket pockets so I’m not too worried.
The Details Are What Counts
On the Lodestar Jacket, a few more details really set the piece apart. The hood fits over a helmet perfectly and is easily maneuverable without having to unzip the jacket. The draw cord on the waist maintains its adjustment and does not routinely come loose during the course of the day. Overall, all the features of the jacket are extremely well thought out and executed by the design and development team at Outdoor Research.
If you’re in the market for a new ice/alpine jacket – look no further. Alpine objectives await in the the newly redesigned Lodestar Jacket!
AMGA Certified Rock & Alpine Guide
Classic Line Back In Condition
Climbed Ames with Kevin today. The first pitch is in the fattest and most protectable condition I have ever climbed it.
The second pitch has a few interesting cauliflowers to work around, but mostly protects well and the chimney is too full of ice to need rock gear. The third pitch is narrow at the top with enough water running behind it that you can easily hear it. Turned out to bee a great day and excellent conditions.
On the approach it’s a little interesting to get across the creek without wet feet due to the warm temps. I would recommend the Galloping Goose trail for now, it is well packed.
Classics are IN and Getting Climbed
After a bit of nervousness with respect to how the trajectory of this early ice season was going to play out, I’m happy to report that cold weather is back in a big way in Ouray and the San Juans. Consequently, our ice conditions have improved dramatically in the last 2 weeks with most of the major area climbs coming into condition – or very near to it. Temperatures in the next 10 days also look favorable for additional ice creation and they are even spraying water at the Ouray Ice Park earlier than I can remember.
We’ve received plenty of early season snow this year (last weekend was a bit of a game changer for the skiers) and so the melt/freeze cycle is in full effect now. A few of us climbed Stairway to Heaven in Silverton’s Eureka Canyon yesterday and we found generally good climbing conditions for this time of year. I also observed that Goldrush appears to be in condition this year. I did not look at the complete 1st pitch of Whorehouse Ice Hose and my sense is that one may take another week to fully form up. With more cold weather in the forecast (consistent single digit temps in Silverton next 10 days) all major climbs will see additional growth/accumulation, lending to even better climbing conditions.
In South Mineral Creek – the road is still open but this coming weekend’s storm will tell the tale on how much longer it stays that way. Direct North Face, Snowblind, and Campground Couloir are in fun and climbable condition. Right now the forecast is trending towards this weekend’s storm to be less productive in terms of snow totals than originally forecast but we will have to wait and see how that plays out. If the road stays open then now is a great time to go tick off those climbs.
On the other side of the ridge, the Ames Ice Hose looks to be all the way in – with ice hitting the first pitch already. This is a good sign for conditions on that route for the rest of the year, so look for that one to get fatter as the next few weeks progress.
In the Camp Bird Mine area the Ribbon and Bird Brain Boulevard have good ice formation and are looking climbable. As with S. Mineral, have to wait and see how this weekend’s storm plays out as avalanche danger on the Ribbon specifically can shut that route down until things settle out. In the Skylight area, all the climbs have good ice formation (Skylight probably best) but all are a bit thin yet as expected. The Talisman has gained a lot of ground in the last few weeks and will probably see some traffic here soon…….
We’ll be out climbing a bunch in the next 10 days so we will continue to update conditions regularly.