Ouray Ice Park, Colorado
How does one become involved with an adventure or extreme sport? You have to either take a class by a well-trained guide or have to go with a trusting friend or family member to expose you to such an activity. These types of questions came up on an ice climbing trip to Colorado. When you really think about it, any type of adventure sport requires specific types of gear and/or training. That activity most-likely requires some sort of gear, and with that being said, it can be pricey and it might take a couple years to accumulate the necessary gear required. Ice climbing is one of those types of sports that requires specific tools, gear, and experience. Experience and safety go hand-in-hand, which is paramount in ice climbing since you are clinging to a frozen wall of ice. The knots, the safety lines, anchors, the safety checks, and a head on a swivel double checking everything possible.
I am very lucky to have my uncle Aaron and get the opportunity to have another great amazing adventure with an alpinist. Being born West Virginia Mountaineers, I think we both have this special affinity for the mountains. Aaron has taken being a mountaineer to heart and has worked diligently to become an alpinist, a term that demands some respect, both mentally and physically. Until this trip I did not know that there was a difference between alpinist and mountaineer. Now being exposed to ice climbing and the stories associated, the term alpinist comes with great respect as does the mountains themselves. The fundamental difference between mountaineering and alpinism is the difference in technical and survival skills required for the alpine environment.
Our family has a tradition of being stewards of our natural resources and enjoying those resources through outdoor recreation. When I visit Aaron in Colorado I have the pleasure of going on these all types of adventures with a local professional guide that happens to be a doctor as well. Our trip to Ouray Ice Park was a top notch experience by a true professional of his craft. The lodging accommodations were perfect and only a short hike to the ice park. The Twin Peaks Lodge was climb-in and climb-out, hot springs right out in front of the hotel, and a short walk from the historic downtown Ouray, CO.
The town of Ouray has a walkable historic downtown with a mountain charm of the west. Nestled in a valley surrounded by rocky cliffs that rise up to treeless snowcapped mountains. The Ouray Hot Springs is quite an impressive site with numerous hot spring pools with lifeguards in puffy winter gear patrolling the depths. There is something enchanting and mesmerizing about soaking in a hot spring with majestic mountains in the background. In the summer months, this region is popular with jeep tours and hiking in the nearby mountains.
Ice climbing is a finesse sport that requires technique, patience, strength, and lots of trust. Not just trust in yourself but trust in the partners belaying you anticipating a fall at any moment. The technique of ice climbing is centered on form and creating a triangle of support on the wall. The triangle is a form of stability and also a means of conserving energy during the climb. The tools on your feet and the tools in your hands are how you stay attached to the frozen wall. The ice axe, “ice tool,” is an attachment of your hands and the apex of the triangle. Crampons are used on the alpine boots that have either one or two front spikes, “points” which form the base of the climbing pyramid. Ice climbing has a route rating system which categorizes the level of difficulty. The ratings are in “WI or AI & a number” with WI meaning waterfall ice, AI meaning alpine ice and the number indicates the level of difficulty with one being the easiest. Ratings can also be rated with a “M & a number” signifying that the route is a mixture of rock and ice climbing with number one as being the easiest.
The Ouray Ice Park and the ice climbing trip in general will become one of those trips that you will always remember. There is something special about a first time trip that creates a spark that engrains the memory. I am very thankful for the great group of guys that went on this ice climbing experience and more importantly that we all returned safe and sound. Special thanks to my uncle Aaron for sharing another great outdoor adventure and an experience of a life time. Always looking forward to our next adventure together.