Ice, Ice, and More Ice!

This whole year I have been itching to get on ice. Sure, rock climbing is amazing no doubt but there is something about the ice and mixed that is so gratifying. So when I heard that this year was going to be yet another bad year as far as the RMNP goes I was saddened. Thoughts of a few routes I want to do there went down the tubes. The summer climbing season seemed to last quite a bit into fall.

Enjoy the sun while you can I guess!

When I first heard the Lincoln Falls was in, I was quite excited. I organized a group of 6 to head there to have an opening ice climbing party! The climb was pretty thin for Lincoln Falls. Me and two others climbed the 3 pitched “Bowling Alley” while the other three top roped some climbs. The crux of the multipitch climb was the top pitch that ranges anywhere from WI3-WI4-. The bottom two pitches were quite easy – at the maximum of the WI3 level.  The top pitched seemed to be WI3+ or so. After, we included some easy solos and top roped some mixed climbs along with interesting ice formations. It was a good day.

Leading the Crux of Bowling Alley on Lincoln Falls

We were all very happy to get on some ice. I was having withdrawals over the summer from not getting on any. Yes, the cold season has come and it’s my favorite season.

The next couple of days was spent on what to get on the next weekend. I talked to Jeff and we saw that many climbs were in shape in the Ouray area. We set the weekend aside to go on a “mini” roadtrip. We headed to Ouray on Friday at 10 PM. We got there at about 3:30 to only realize that when I was driving the Jeep slid into a ditch of pure ice. We spent the next precious hour digging it out and getting it unstuck. It was miserable. By the time we got to the trailhead for the climb, the sun was starting to come up. We basically said forget sleeping to get on the climb.

 “The Ribbon” (WI4, 3 pitches)

The Ribbon (WI4, 3 pitches) Center Gully

The Ribbon is a classic climb and is next to the famous “Bird Brain Blvd” on Camp Bird Road. It’s a VERY avalanche prone climb. Avalanche slopes above and on the approach so it’s best to get on this climb in the early season and make sure the avalanche conditions are good. There have been a lot of close calls on this climb. The rule on this climb is one party at a time. It’s pretty skinny and the icefall is dangerous from other parties. There was a few people showing up but we were first up. Just one other party was getting on it after us. The approach was one of the more interesting ones. It was short but annoying. Bushes grabbing your pack, whacking you in the face, slab boulders covered in enough snow that you’ll slide down it. But once at the bottom we were happy. This climb looks really vertical from the road. And it was at many parts of it. We got racked up and I started up the first pitch.

Leading the thin P1 of the Ribbon

It was thin so I brought some pitons and a spectre/stoppers to compensate. The climbing was not hard at all. It was all sinker so I just cruised to the anchors and belayed Jeff up. The position of the climb was awesome. The rest of the climb was pretty solid WI4. It was steep and a little pumpy leading but the ice got better the farther you went up. The second pitch was not fully formed but was in. A little semi steep mixed got you to the vertical part. From that spot on, all ice.

The rappels went smoothly and we were back at the base soon enough descending back to the car. We were quite happy! Our plan was to originally go to Whorehouse Hoses that same day and climb that and then do Stairway to Heaven or the Direct North Face that Sunday. By the time we got to Eureka it was getting to late and we were both tired.

On lead of the crux

We went back to stay in a cheap hostel in Silverton for the night. Our plan was to organize gear and get it ready for a fast start at sunrise.

Looking down upon Jeff

“Whorehouse Hoses” (WI4/5)

Whorehouse Hoses (WI4-5)

This climb has been added to some lists as one of the top 100 ice climbs in the world. If you do it all, it’s three pitches but most are happy just completing the awesome first pitch.

To access the climb you snowshoe across a valley and go through sort of cliffs to get to the crux of the approach – 30 foot vertical icefall. It was bypassed by some WI2 ice and a rock scramble on the right for us. This was one of the longest pitches I’ve done. It was long enough that Jeff had to simul-climb a little for me to get to the anchors – around 200-210 feet.

We woke up and started the drive to Eureka with snow falling. We started one of the coolest approaches to the base. We got there and looked up and up. We could not get our eyes off the climb. It was so much better then the pictures we saw. On the other note, it looked harder then WI4 but I was excited to take on the challenge. We got started and flaked out the double ropes, which is a system I prefer in winter climbing. Jeff put me on belay and I racked up with a bunch of ice screws. I started swinging my way up. The first 30 feet is a little less then vertical and sinker, one swing and you’re good. But then the climbing gets a little interesting. It got vertical for a bit and was very hard to protect due to the state of the ice. It was more like a bunch of mini icicles hanging that simply would not take a screw unless you get pretty creative. I got a couple in and tackled the vertical section which was in return followed by more vertical ice.

Starting the Lead

I felt like I was on the climb forever but soon enough I was to the easy part and had about 15 feet to go but I was out of rope. I had Jeff simul-climb with me until I reached the anchors. I clipped in and belayed him up the spectacular pitch. He stated he thought it was harder then the Ribbon. It sure was awesome though. At that moment we started hearing avalanche sounds which we later found out to be true but by the snow patrol a bit farther away. At one point when we heard the sound, snow started coming off the overhanging cave. We wanted to get out of here. Maybe we were paranoid. We made the rappel which barely got us to the bottom after 60 meters. Jeff made the mistake of dropping one of my precious ice screws – Grivel 360 stubbie – while he was cleaning. It was deep in the powder and he could not find it at the base. He in return will buy me a new screw.

looking straight up from the base

We descended to the car as it had snowed about 4 inches or so and thoughts of doing Stairway to Heaven went away due to conditions of the road also. It had not been plowed and we did not want to get snowed in.

The drive home was long with all the snow but soon we were back home in the comfort of our beds. What an amazing weekend. This is what life’s about – living your dreams,

 All the climbs are in, in Eureka, CO from what we saw. Climb them before avalanche danger gets to bad. Bird Brain Blvd. and The Ribbon are in. Some climbs are in in the Skylight area. The Ice Park opens soon! In short, a lot of the climbs are coming in except the RMNP, (With exception of Black Gully and couple others)

Have an Ice day!

Happy camper

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About Noah McKelvin

Never skip a day of living life
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