Hooray for Ouray (Bird Brain Boulevard)

Bird Brain Boulevard takes the center line in the photo to the top.

Three or so years ago when I started ice climbing, it certainly was a limited experience.

I’m never leading ice, it’s too scary and dangerous.

That thought occured in my head countless times but after a bit of experience, I was pushing my climbing abilities on ice. I was opening my eye’s to the lines that were once thought impossible and too dangerous. I was opening my mind to the rock and mixed area of climbing. It’s my passion. When I combine that with the alpine, that’s the perfect climb for me. I want to take that to the Himalaya’s.

I heard about Bird Brain a few times but never ever thought of myself doing it until many years down the road. When I saw it for the first time while doing an ice route nearby, I was in awe. How in the world do you climb that? That makes no sense. Why in the world would you want to climb it? I didn’t get it and I wouldn’t for a while.

In 1986, Jeff Lowe, Charlie Fowler, and Mark Wilford put up an ice and mixed route that has become one of the most classic in the country. It’s a 1,200-foot chimney type system  on a fearsome frozen wall of rock and ice within 20 minutes drive of Ouray. It had been eyed out for a long time but never attempted due to how intimidating it looked until they went and attempted it. Equipped with the latest technology and much experience they bypassed a roof towards the top by a M6 traverse. They suffered relentless spindrift and topped out after 1,200 feet of runout climbing, creating a classic testpiece, and naming it “Bird Brain Boulevard.” (WI5 M6, 350m V) 

The climb has always had a serious reputation with big runouts. I’ve heard both sides of it being as hard or easier then the rating indicates. One thing has not changed and that is the run outs. Equipped with gear today, I can only imagine the vision it took to climb it many years before I was born point by sketchy point. 

Leading Pitch One (70 meter simul climbing pitch with mental gear)

The route has gotten cleaned up a lot. All the anchors and tat is gone meaning it’s really kind of restored to its original state, no bailing and now more committing. The route is filled with run outs on every pitch and has lots of scrappy M4-5 a bit above gear with the crux pitch clocking in at WI5 M6. I don’t think it was as hard as the rating indicates, but the route is one of the best in Colorado! It was a real experience especially with anchors being occasionally not good and the gear being bad to non existent on quite a bit of it. Swapping leads, we soon were at the crux pitch after Kurt led the even scarier pitch 4. Taking the lead, I imagined myself back on the first ascent. What vision it took! After putting the crux pitch away, we were soon on top. Kurt and I had some bad moments on the descent as darkness fell, including headlamp problems for myself.

Kurt leading Pitch 4

I also spent two days at the Skylight area and one at the Ice Park that just opened. I kind of got tired of the Ice Park after just a day. I kind of feel bad that’s the case. I take it for granite what I have in my backyard sometimes especially when comparing it to Cody, WY or the ice in Canada.

Cheyne leading in the Skylight area.

Fun in the sun

Down below, I’ll include some pictures. Merry Christmas in a couple days, and happy new years in a few more after that. Here’s to 2012.

One or two moves from the top of BBB, looking down to the base

 
 
 

Secret Probation in Vail, CO

 
 

Cheyne Lempe soloing Officer Gulch ice dramatically

Kurt and I at the top of Bird Brain

Kurt Ross and I at the top of Bird Brain

Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

 
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About Noah McKelvin

Never skip a day of living life
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