Q&A with Andres Marin on Setting the Ouray Ice Festival Elite Mixed Competition Route

The Elite Mixed Competition originally started by Jeff Lowe has historically been a wild, world-class event! This year our own San Juan Mountain Guides’ Andres Marin joined Vince Anderson for setting the Elite Mixed Competition route. After having participated as a competitor in World Cup Climbing Competitions and in this same event for years, Andres got to put a touch of his style into the setting of the route. We asked Andres a few questions about what it was like behind the scenes.

Vince and Andres take a moment to celebrate “The Chronolith” at the 2017 Ouray Ice Festival

Q. How does the Elite Mixed Climbing Competition compare to the World Cup?

A. The Ouray Ice Festival Elite Mixed Competition is the biggest competition like it in the US and it’s unlike any other. It has real rock, real ice, and it’s a wild competition. The route has been a bit of a wild card. This year both routes (men and women’s) started with grabbing holds with your hand. 

Q. What do you think about when you’re setting a route?

A. We all have our own styles of climbing and each setter has their own style. So you try to imagine how the climber is going to see the route, and we all have our own way of seeing, which is cool because we each bring our own creativity to the mixture.  You don’t want everyone to send. You don’t want everyone to not send. Ines read her route as it was intended, like you would in the mountains. She pulled the crux move. I was hoping she made it to the top.

Q.  What was your vision for the climb?

A. Our vision for competition was for the experience to be just like climbing in the mountains.  Sometimes you have to put your tools away and use your hands. It was a mixture of alpine climbing style, adding in the Russian holds, and putting it all together.  Some climbers were so focused on their tools they forgot about other possible movements.

Q.  What were some of the challenges in creating the route?

A.  The biggest crux was a week before the competition. Everything came down to the eleventh hour. We had planned the moves based on Krukonogi holds from Russia. These holds are made only for mixed climbing and most often used in the World Cup, when they got held up in customs, and got sent back. Krukonogi drove them to Finland and shipped them from there. The box arrived in Ouray just six days before the competition. Then the morning of the comp, with the holds finally in place it was still unclear if there would be ice between the route and the bottom of the structure. Up until an hour before the competition the Ouray Ice Park, Ice Farmers were out there adding water to route connecting this section.

Q.  What was a highlight of the competition for you?

A. Watching Nathan top it out and knowing that The Chronolith goes. Also seeing Ryan take the shot to win it.

Ryan Vachon one move from winning the Elite Mixed Competition.

Ryan Vachon takes a shot to win the 2017 Elite Mixed Competition.

Q. Would you set another route for the Ouray Ice Festival?

A. For sure!!! I had a ton of fun working with Vince. Plus I got to learn a lot.



2017 Men’s Results: 1st place Ryan Vachon, 2nd place Nathan Kutcher, 3rd place Will Mayo

2017 Women’s Results: 1st place Ines Papert, 2nd place Sarah Heuniken, 3rd place Katie Bono

Congrats to all of the competitors!

Moments before the comp, Andres replacing some quickdraws on the route.

Moments before the comp, Andres replacing some quickdraws on the route. (Still from Abel Lannan’s The Art of Ice)

Route Profile: Dukes of Hazzard

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.


Dukes of Hazzard as pictured from the road


Mark Miller established on the crux


Mark Miller pulling on to the crux pillar


Mark Miller Leading the Crux


Dave following the crux


View of Dukes on the approach

Gear Review: OR Women’s Conviction Pant

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.

The competition:

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.


Designed for Adventure!


Women’s Specific Pant


Lindsay, sending a mixed line in the OR Conviction Pant


Lindsay cruising ice in the OR Conviction Pant

Alaska Expedition #2 Update

Ham n Eggs Success!

SJMG Guide Andres Marin called in yesterday evening and reported that everyone was doing great and that they had successfully climbed the Ham n Eggs route the previous day/night! Their new plan is for 1 of the climbers, John McIntire to head home and then Andres and our other climber – Brian Quinif, are headed over to Mt. Huntington to give the West Face Couloir route a go.

We’ll give another quick update once they’re installed at their new basecamp!


Mt Rainier Climb Wrap Up

100% Success on the Kautz Glacier

View of the Tatoosh RangeCramponing up at the Nisqually

Earlier this summer, July 28 – August 1 to be exact, myself (Nate Disser) and Dave Ahrens successfully led 4 climbers to the summit of Mt. Rainier via the Kautz Glacier Route. Things started off for our team in Ashford, WA, the best place to meet for groups climbing either the standard Disappointment Cleaver Route or the Kautz Glacier Route. An afternoon gear check left us hungry for a pre-trip meal and we decided on the Copper Creek restaurant – a very worthy place to get a great meal before the climb.

The Climb Begins

The following morning we all headed up to Paradise and after registering at the Ranger Station we were off on the trail towards our first camp for the evening.  Starting off from Paradise is always a bit of a circus, as countless other day hikers and climbers adorn the trails heading out from Paradise. Most folks are headed up towards Panoraman Point, or perhaps even Camp Muir, but our destination was Glacier Vista where we would drop down onto the edge of the Nisqually Glacier. The lower Nisqually Glacier must be crossed in order to reach the Kautz Glacier, and after cramponing up and roping together for the glacier crossing we were making quick work of the day. Crossing the Nisqually is relatively straightforward, save for a few end runs around large crevasses and is much easier with good visibility. Having crossed the Nisqually many times previously in white out conditions, I was enjoying the fine weather and classic Northwest July high pressure system that typified our trip.

Camp at The CastleCamp at 7800'

Skills & Forward Progress

We settled on a camp for the evening at about 7800′ and enjoyed fantastic views and a beautiful sunset to the south. The following morning we awoke somewhat lazily as our goal for the day was only to travel to a popular camp known as The Castle at about 9600′ and only 1800′ above us. After some snow and glacier travel skill practice in the morning, we headed up to The Castle, gaining the Wilson Glacier in the process. The next day we rose to more fine weather and barely a breath of wind. After more skill practice – this time on crevasse rescue protocols, hauling systems, etc. we packed up and headed onwards to high camp at about 10,800′. High camp on the Kautz Glacier Route is accessed via the Turtle Snowfield at the top of which there are a collection of campsites scattered amongst the rocks. Making this high camp puts you in excellent position for the summit bid the following night/morning.

Tough to beat that view....If all classrooms had this view....

The Summit Climb

After a lazy afternoon, everyone turned in early in anticipation of waking early that night/morning for the summit bid. Our team decided to leave camp around 1:30 am, planning on a 6.5 hour one way trip to the summit. A slight change in the weather gave some cause for a heightened sense of awareness for the summit climb. However, upon leaving camp precisely at 1:30 the stars were visible and very little wind could be felt. After about 20 minutes of walking, we reached one of the technical challenges of the day, the rock step which requires a lower/rappel to access the Kautz Glacier proper and subsequently the often intimidating Kautz Ice Chute.

Our team made quick work of the transition and we were all very soon making our way up the steeper ice sections of the ice chute. A combination of short pitches and short roping led us to the top of the ice chute in about an hour. Climbers had the opportunity to swing two tools on the climb this year, as the route offered more and steeper ice than other times I had done the route. Overall, the Kautz Ice Chute is a very fun, engaging, and unique aspect to the Kautz Route.

High campRest break on the Wapowety

Above the ice chute, we transitioned back into glacer travel mode and made our way to the Wapowety Cleaver which separates the Kautz Glacier from the upper Nisqually Glacier.  At about 13,000′ our team took a nice long – yet predictably cold – rest break prior to setting off on the last stretch across the upper Nisqually to the crater rim of Mt. Rainier. At this point, we started to experience a more dramatic shift in the weather with higher upper level winds helping to form a “cap” or lenticular cloud over the summit of Mt. Rainier. A lenticular cap in such instances is quite typically the harbinger of an approaching storm. However, our team pushed on towards the summit, navigating increasing winds and decreasing visibility as we climbed. Adequate safety margins were maintained throughout the ascent though and all of our team members felt strong as we neared the summit. Finally, after a long (1.5 hour) stretch from our last break we reached the summit of Mt. Rainier. Once inside the crater, the winds abated considerably and we enjoyed a nice long break with plenty of food and water prior to the descent back down to high camp. A few team members who had not previously summited Mt. Rainier before this trip decided to make the extra effort and climb to the Columbia Crest  – literally the highest point on the crater rim of Mt. Rainier.

Happy GuidesHappy Climbers

An Efficient Descent

As we descended, the weather began to improve slightly and we were able to make it back down to our camp with relative ease and minimal hassle. After a 2 hour nap, our team decided to make the effort to move camp further down the mountain in anticipation of leaving early the following morning and reaching Paradise in the early afternoon. It’s tough to resist the temptation of a hearty meal after such effort on the peak, and visions of cheeseburgers certainly provided additional motivation to maintain our focus and efficient style all the way back to the parking lot – the true summit of any mountain climb.

Descending on the last day


Overall, the trip went off without a hitch – the perfect combination of good planning, great weather, and an efficient, motivated climbing team. When it all comes together like that, it just doesn’t get much better. I can’t say enough what a pleasure it was to climb with Rhon, Kevin, Brant, and Brian and spend 5 days in the mountains sharing life stories and the requisite compliment of tasteful jokes as well. Both Dave and I look forward to climbing with them  in the future – most likely in Ouray this winter!

Climbing back out to Glacier Vista

Stay tuned for our Mt. Rainier dates for 2014!!

Respectfully submitted,
Nate Disser
AMGA Certified Rock & Alpine Guide

Alpamayo Team #1 Summit!

Back in High Camp

Elias called to report that he and his two clients successfully summited Alpamayo and were back at high camp, preparing for the rest of their descent back towards basecamp.  Elias will write up a full accounting of the summit day in the days to come.  Congratulations everyone!



The Fun Don’t Stop: Spring Ice in AK

As you can imagine at San Juan Mountain Guides we can never get enough steep frozen water. So as we watch the ice here in the San Juans melt and the trees begin to bud, we book our plane tickets to the Alaska range where winter is far from over. Some call it an addiction others an infatuation. What ever the  case our love for frozen alpine environments draws us to the wild granite faces of peaks that, while relatively short in terms of altitude have no shortage of spectacular adventure.

My partner Sam and my trip to Alaska started off lucky. We serendipitously registered on a fee free weekend and were forgiven the $10 park entrance fee, a good omen. After an incredibly scenic flight into the Alaska Range, our ski plane landed on the Ruth glacier one hundred feet from our camp. Alpinists call it plane camping, like car camping complete with burgers bratwurst and a nip of whiskey or two.

Sam and I hit the ground running. After establishing our base camp we packed a light bivy kit and headed up to the Root Canal Glacier below the Mooses Tooth (note: the official spelling of the peak’s name lacks an apostrophe due to a cartographer’s error). Day one we climbed the classic Shaken, Not Stirred (V AI 5) a Jim Donini (Ouray local) line to the west summit of the peak.

After a windy bivy and a little sleeping in waiting for the day to warm up, we launched up Ham and Eggs (V 5.9 AI 4) one of Jon Krakauer’s non literary contributions to the climbing world. We rappelled the route and made the long descent back to the Ruth Glacier where we had cashed our skis. From their we trekked across the flat glacier back to our base camp at the foot of Mount Dickey. It was a big couple of days that ended with my using my headlamp for the first time ever climbing in Alaska to ski back to camp.



We used the ensuing mediocre weather to rest, eat, and make a quick run up mount barill via the Japanese couloir (III 70 degree snow) a very aesthetic snow climb up a gorgeous peak. In addition to Ham and Eggs and Shaken, Not Stirred, and many other routes in the area, the Japanese couloir makes for a phonmenal objective for climbers looking to be guided through some of the most spectacular alpine snow and ice climbing in the world.

SJMG is one of the few companies with the permits and a guide staff that allow us to share these kinds of trips with our guests.

While we climbed the Mooses Tooth, below us, on the Ruth Glacier, we spied a north face streaked with ice. We asked around at camp and no one had ever heard of the face having been climbed. After a couple of days of recon and allowing the weather to settle, Sam  and  I launched up the face into unclimbed terrain. After climbing for 24 hours straight we reached the summit ridge and completed our new route, Gangster’s Paradise  (V AI 4 M6 A2) named for one of the many random songs stuck in our heads as we navigated the verticle maze. It was, without a doubt, one of the wildest and most commiting  adventures I have been on. We returned to camp, made and ate some pizza and went to bed after  being awake for 36 hours.

For the last leg of our trip we were picked up by our air taxi Talkeetna Air Taxi and flown to the rarely visited Thunder Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier. Despite its proximity to Denali Base Camp this cirque held only two (now three) routes. We climbed a new line, Welcome to Thunder Dome (V AI 4 M5) amidst the sweeping ice flutings on the north face of Mount Thunder. We climbed the roughly 2,000′ face, bivied at the ridge and on day 2 climbed the last 1,800′ of steep snow couloirs to the summit ridge. Due to poor snow and sketchy cornicing we neglected to go to the true summit. After 14 rapelles and  12 of which were v-threads (pay back for my habit of v thread free loading) we were back at the base about two hundred yards from camp.

As with any good climbing trip I Ieft with a tick list longer than the one I came with. I can’t wait to go back next year. Ouray-Cody-Ruth Gorge-North Cascades: yeah, that’s a schedule I can live with…

Get Inspired

Check out this video that was recently posted about the Ice Park on Mountain Project. Now that the season is winding down the video brings a nostalgic tear to my eye!










Ice Progression Sessions

Steep Ice Climbing

Steep Ice in the Scottish Gullies

I recently had the opportunity to climb with three great guys – Kevin, Brant, and David – all of whom were long time friends prior to the trip, and had previously had some mountaineering experience on Mt. Rainier and Denali (Mt. McKinley).  Their mountaineering experience led them to become curious about gaining more technical climbing skills and ability, to perhaps qualify themselves for future objectives such as Liberty Ridge on Mt. Rainier or other technical alpine routes in Alaska.

South Park Ouray Ice Park

South Park, Ouray Ice Park

Being that none of the three had any previous ice climbing experience we naturally started from the beginning.  From learning the use of ice specific crampons to swinging a technical ice tool.  Our progression started with top-roping in the South Park climbing area at the Ouray Ice Park – and began with a few laps on lower angled ice to solidify the nuances of footwork and techniques associated with proper balance on the ice.  We then progressed and integrated the use of ice tools – first one tool, then the second tool.

Over the years we have found that utilizing this progression is very helpful for developing the kind of “good habits” with regard to ice climbing technique that allows climbers to advance quickly in terms of their climbing ability on ice.  Our established and time-tested curriculum is well known for helping people to become better ice climbers in a much faster time frame than they may have anticipated or expected prior to committing to the sport.

Scottish Gullies Ouray Ice Park

Scottish Gullies, Ouray Ice Park

Our second and third days climbing were spent in the Scottish Gullies area of the Ice Park – working on developing steeper and steeper ice techniques, as well as other associated technical skills and knowledge.  A winter storm made for some classic and picturesque climbing the entire weekend.

Kevin, Brant, and David are considering coming back later this summer for our Kautz Glacier Climb on Mt. Rainier or next winter for one of our Ecuador Volcanoes Expeditions as they continue to gain experience in the mountains and prepare themselves for more climbs, trips, and fun in them there hills.

Respectfully submitted.



Winter Storm San Juans

“Inch and Hour”. Winter storm in the San Juans.

Belayed Rappel

Rappelling into the Ouray Ice Park

Cyborg Crampons

Bridging the gap, courtesy BD Cyborgs.

San Juan Ice Conditions Nov. 16, 2012

San Juan Ice Conditions Report

November 16, 2012

It’s that time of year – ice season in the San Juans has arrived.  A few of us have been climbing in the high country, and getting a sense for the early season ice conditions in Ouray and Silverton.  Generally speaking, it has been a dry fall – which shows when you look at some of the classic climbs of the area.  By my guess, most of the routes in the area are about a week to ten days behind where things are normally during this time of year.

South Mineral Creek

That’s not to say that they aren’t climbable.  With the exception of the Direct North Face (lower pitches are in thin condition) most of the other routes in the area are in – including Campground Couloir, Snowblind, Cataract Creek, and even Sundance looked feasible.  The aptly named Sundance might be great this weekend as it is forecast to be cold and overcast during the next three days.

Road Conditions S. Mineral Creek

Current Road Conditions in S. Mineral Creek

Direct North Face

Direct North Face 11/16/12

Campground Couloir

Campground Couloir 11/16/12


Sundance 11/16/12


Snowblind 11/16/12

Eureka Canyon

Similar to S. Mineral, the majority of the climbs in Eureka Canyon are in.  Stairway to Heaven is in thin, though what looks to be climbable conditions.  Gully 2 is getting climbed, as is Whorehouse Ice Hose.  The best looking climb in Eureka right now is Highway to Hell (also known as Hwy 666).  It looks fat and in excellent condition.  Now is the time to climb that route as later in the season it can present more challenges on the approach (higher avy danger).  Tempered by Fire is also in.  Hoser’s Highway is not in and needs time to form the pillar on the main pitch. Goldrush is also not really in, though it has been climbed in these conditions before.

Stairway to Heaven

Stairway to Heaven 11/16/12

Highway to Hell

Highway to Hell 11/16/12

Whorehouse Ice Hose

Whorehouse Ice Hose 11/16/12

A few of our guides will be out guiding and climbing this weekend and next week, so we’ll post some updates at least once or twice a week now that ice season is underway.  Come and get it.


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