First Taste of Waterfall Ice
Ouray, Colorado and Utah

December 26, 2002-January 5,2003

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Brad leading the traverse route.

I am fortunate to have been introduced to ice climbing by my friend, Brad Petersen of Portland. He’s no stranger to the challenges of ice climbing. I joined his family for a multi-day trip to Utah and Colorado with our focus on ice climbing. I met Brad, his wife Sheila, their daughter Sage, and their dog Aspen in Salt Lake City. The next morning Brad, our friend Christian, and I drove to Bridal Veil Falls out of Provo. A short hike on a rather warm morning put us at the base of several climbs. The ice near the center of the falls was crashing down and water was running over the ice where we chose to climb. The warmer temperatures limited us to three climbs that remained intact. Not only did I try my first ice climb, I also jumped on my first mixed route. Part of the crux move required one front crampon point to fit in the smallest of cavities on the rock before hooking my ice tools in a crack overhead. The Petzel rep., a friend of Brad’s, gave us some leash less tools to demo. They seemed o.k. on mixed routes, but the fear of dropping one is ever present.

Brent's first climb on waterfall ice, Bridal Vail Falls, Utah

Brent following Brad's Lead on the traverse

The next day found us heading to Ouray. Since Ouray is a two-day drive from Central Oregon, I would guess that several club members have not been there. I wanted to share some interesting things I learned. Ouray is a beautiful small town in the Colorado Rockies, about the size of Sisters. However, unlike Sisters, the mountains surrounding Ouray act as a safeguard protecting the town from the growth that the town of Sisters is experiencing. Not many years ago, a water line broke, which ran down into Box Canyon, creating a frozen waterfall. Climbers liked that, so they added more water the next year. The lure to climb in Ouray grew rapidly. The Ouray Ice Park officially opened in the winter of 94-95. Now with a multi-thousand dollar water system, there are over 124 routes in the park. We stayed at the Victorian Inn, located at the bottom end of Box Canyon. Yes, this is a case where you leave the tent at home. We actually walked out the motel door to the first climbs in five minutes. There are no slog routes in Ouray. What could be better than that?…I’ll tell you…the hot springs! The hot water comes out of the ground at over 180 degrees, is mixed with cold city water, and fed into a series of pools totaling a million gallons of water. The short days forced us to quit climbing shortly after 4:00 pm. Another reason to turn in early was to avoid being sprayed by the sprinklers that are turned on every evening. There are workers that come by and chop the ice off the top of the climbs so the sprinklers will spray over the top of the frozen falls. Then they thaw the shut off valves with their torches, and warn the climbers that the water is about to come on. I talked to a climber from Los Angeles that was part way up his route when the sprinklers came on. He was soaked by the time he reached the top, and rushed off to his motel to get in a hot shower. When we climbed until dark, we simply turned off the valve until we finished.

A great hand hold aided getting around this barrier

Most of the climbs in Box Canyon are top belayed. Several chains are secured above the canyon to be used as anchors. The climbs are all under a rope length, but several are over 100 feet long. One place climbers can enter the canyon on foot is at the schoolroom area, where beginners can learn on easier routes with their belayer below them keeping an eye on things. We spent parts of four days climbing in Ouray, moving around climbing in nearly all the areas of the park. It was difficult to know which climb was which; conditions change from year to year. We basically looked at a route and said, “ yep, we can climb that!” If the climb got hard, we just climbed a little harder.

Brent, Sheila, and Brad

Before heading over to Colorado, I had heard stories of ice climbers knocking their teeth out with their ice tools, and breaking ankles while falling. However, by the third day I told my partner I wanted to lead something. We found an ‘easy’ route in the schoolroom area. The first ice screw placement was no problem. Second, just fine. By the third, my WI2 rating suddenly turned into a WI6. I knew it was all in my head and pushed through it to the anchors. Our last climb in the park was between the bridges in the lead only area. We followed a wonderful line, Brad leading, traversing up and across three or four routes.

Schoolroom area where I made my first lead

Brad leading Dream Team

We drove to Moab to climb Castleton Tower, but the light snow and 30 degree day temp. was too cold for us. Back in Salt Lake City, I had a day to myself so Brad suggested I head up Little Cottonwood Canyon on a ski tour. I had a wonderful day skiing to the base of Pfeifferhorn, an 11,326’ peak in the Wasatch Range. The next day Brad and I returned to Little Cottonwood Canyon and hiked to the base of The Great White Icicle, which is a frozen falls. This being a full five pitches, we soloed the first two pitches, I lead the third and fourth, and Brad lead the fifth. Among other things, our late start was due to a wonderful tour I took in Salt Lake of the Black Diamond plant. So, with headlamps, we finished the last pitch. The walk off was nearly as exciting as the climb had been. By midnight we were packing our gear for an alpine climb starting just hours away. We awoke at five and were climbing towards the summit of Mt. Superior, elev. 11,132’ by six o’clock. This was also up Little Cottonwood Canyon. We managed to gain about 1,500’ pushing through snow up to our crotches. We saw a few fresh avalanche runs on our slope and decided to turn back. Two days later the Salt Lake Tribune reported a skier close to our location being carried 800 vertical feet down the slope and over a cliff to be buried under five feet of snow. With the aid of his transceiver, he was rescued. I had a great time, the Rockies are a beautiful place in the winter. I recommend any of you thinking of an exciting winter adventure; consider Ouray.

Brent McGregor