We arrived in Ouray a couple of days before the start of the Ice Climbing Festival that is held every year during Martin Luther King weekend. Ouray is a cute old mining town, turned outdoor Mecca, in the heart of the San Juans.
Ouray has found a great way to complement its hectic summer tourist season with a healthy winter economy: for the last few years a few locals have diverted water off an old pipe that sits at the top of the shear cliffs of the Uncompahgre Gorge (a.k.a. Box Canyon) creating the largest concentration of frozen waterfalls to be found anywhere. With the Ice Park, Ouray became an ice climber's heaven. However, because of very easy access (some routes could literally be belayed from your bumper) and low commitment, sport-climbing atmosphere, climbing in the park has become extremely popular and very crowded during weekends and holidays. Even then, it remains an incredible resource to learn and train on hard water ice in relative comfort.
We usually spend a lot of time in Ouray in the winter; driving to Ouray from Los Alamos has become our winter commute. A well known Ouray local actually told us one night over beers at the "Buen Tiempo" that he thought we lived in town! The area around Silverton, Ouray, and Telluride holds and incredible number of high quality multi-pitch ice routes, including well known classics like "Bridalveil Falls" and the "Ames Ice Hose". These many routes are a lot of fun, and if they're not in good shape, you can still go "cragging" in the park.
Since we are very familiar with the place, we thought Ouray would be a good place to start our trip... and it was. We also figured that it would be relatively easy to find a place to park the bus... but it wasn't! We could not park at the Ice Park because of the festival, could not park anywhere in the streets because of county ordinances, and all the campgrounds were closed. After spending a couple of days playing hide and seek with local law enforcement (and lobbying pretty hard with City and County officials), we talked to Kent at the Ouray Coffee House (highly recommended) and he arranged for the Ouray ice Ring to be opened to climbers willing to camp during the Ice festival. We finally had a place to stay for a while (free of charge too).
We spent a couple of days top-roping throughout the park to get back in shape, since it was our first time on the ice this season. We also attended most of the festival events. I would say that this year's festival was probably the most enjoyable so far (and we've been at every one of them); a well balanced mixture of high-caliper climbing competition, clinics and demos, and rivers of free beer (!) for everyone (mucho thanks to the New Belgium brewing company)!
We saw a couple of ice and mixed climbing demos. Photos at left show Sven Kreb showing off his skills in the mixed climbing demo and Kim Csizmazia climbing a steep pillar of not-so-good ice below the lower bridge for the pure ice demo.
We also watched Raphael Slawinski pulling his trendy gaiters over the ice lip (literally, since with the advent of heel spurs, his gaiters made it up the lip before the rest of him) and winning the ice climbing competition. For the fashion conscious out there, the trend for the last two years is for animal skin gaiters (!); tiger for Raphael, zebra for Sean Isaac, and others I forgot.
After the festival, with the crowds gone, we led a couple of climbs in the park to try to get in shape for more climbing in Cody, Wyoming, one of the other hot spots of US waterfall ice, where we were planning to go next.
Despite our problems with finding a place to park the first couple of days, we had a great time in Ouray. The festival was great fun and I would recommend it to anyone, as long as they go expecting a social event more than an opportunity to climb. While in Ouray, don't forget to stop at the Ouray Coffee House (on Main St. near the hot springs) and at the local burrito joint, Bombie's Bus (across from the community center) to meet its very "colorful" owner, "Bombie" Martinez, a Ouray native. The front of his restaurant is painted to look like a Guatemalan bus, hence the name (see picture). Bombie is a great storyteller. If you get him started, you will probably hear countless stories (some quite incredible, probably not half of them true, but all funny) while you're having dinner at his communal table. Expect good, cheap food, great people and the best green chili outside of New Mexico!
Ouray, CO and the Ice Festival
|The Ice Park.|
|Busy day at the Ice Festival.|
|Who wants to be an event photographer?|
|Mixed-climbing demo (Sven Kreb).|
|Ice climbing demo (Kim Csizmazia).|
|Raphael Slawinski on the comp climb.|
|Raphael pulling the roof.|
|Lucie on duty... brrr!|
|Eric on "Tangled up in blue".|
|Eric leading WI4+ pillars just right of "Tangled up in Blue".|
|Eric on "O'D On Ice".|
|Lucie on a WI3+ line in the School Room.|
|Lucie on "Pick of the Vic" (WI4).|
|Lucie on "Pick of the Vic".|
|Warm welcome and great food at "Bombie's Bus".|