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Exploring Colorado Ice
If Your Favorite Sport STILL Isn't Happening, Try Something New

Chris Davenport
While all my buddies were skating the backcountry lakes that surround Crested Butte or skiing the 10 groomers open here, I headed for Ouray, Colorado and the fabled ice park.

I had heard about the Ouray Ice Park but had never actually seen it. When Chris Davenport (a fellow World Freeskiing Champion) called me and said we should go down and check it out, I couldn't stop thinking about it. I drove down with James Lozeau (an oft-published winter sports photographer), who wanted to come along and get some shots of me and Chris on the ice.

"My hands were freezing, bruised and pumped, my toes were numb, my knees were banged up and I was looking up at 40+ feet of WI 5 ice. Well, I sure as hell wasn't going down, so I started climbing..."

The park is amazing. A deep canyon just north of the town has a series of hoses that mist its west wall throughout the night. The mist forms beautiful chandeliers, columns and walls of ice. With bolts above each hose, the park makes one of the best practice spots in the West. We spent the day top-roping routes and climbed until 10 minutes before dark.

We awoke the next day psyched to climb a more alpine-style route. We drove over the pass to Mineral Creek and climbed a route called Sundance. As soon as we saw it, we knew it was the one. It was in the sun (ideal for our photographer) and it looked like it would be challenging, yet within our reach. We questioned whether or not it would be okay to climb a route that was in the sun, but it was -1º Fahrenheit and windy, so we were confident the ice would not be melting.

View from the belay
Chris led the route and had to clear a ton of icicles from his path. For a while, he sounded like a bull in a china shop. He had to change routes a little at the start, but once he got rolling, he was able to move efficiently up the ice. The final section of the first pitch was WI 5 and brittle. Chris was able to get one screw in half way up and then methodically climb to the plateau above. He hollered exultantly a few times and set the anchor. Now it was my turn.

Despite being top roped, I was nervous. I was now on my eighth day of ice climbing, and here I was attempting WI 5. I cleared my head of this apprehension and looked forward to the task at hand. I climbed slowly and methodically, imagining I was leading and had no option of falling. Everything was fine — until I got to the last steep section.

My hands were freezing, bruised and pumped, my toes were numb, my knees were banged up and I was looking up at 40+ feet of WI 5 ice. Well, I sure as hell wasn't going down, so I started climbing.

The screw Chris had placed half way up the face had me concerned. The thought of taking my hands off one of my tools to take out the screw was extremely disconcerting. I got to the screw placement and got ready to extract the screw. I was gripped. I knew if I didn't chill out, I was going to fall. The only thing I could think of was to sing. I started singing (semi out loud), "High, high, touch the sky, don't come down 'til the day you die." I just kept repeating that verse over and over. It worked. I stayed calm, got the screw out and continued to the top.

We were so psyched about our climb. Chris felt it was his hardest lead yet and it was definitely the most difficult ice I had ever climbed.

Seeking a higher power
We headed down to Ouray for a celebratory soak in the natural hot springs in the center of town. Chris ended a perfect day with a great quote, "Muslims go to Mecca to find their God. I go ice climbing all day, followed by lying here with my head back watching the snow fall, to find mine."

Dave Swanwick, MountainZone.com Correspondent


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