Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Ouray Ice Festival

Several years ago, the water main that feeds the town of Ouray, Colorado leaked into the deep gorge at the south end of town. It then froze and created the first ice climbs in what is now the Ouray Ice Park. Today the park employs a full crew to maintain the pluming and sprinkler heads that create the park’s several hundred ice and mixed climbs. Every year, climbers from all over the world gather in the park for the annual Ouray Ice Festival where they can climb until dark and party until the wee hours of the morning day after day. This year was no exception.

Those lucky enough to reserve a spot in one of the many clinics got a chance for lessons in everything from beginning ice to advanced mixed climbing. Instructors included veteran badass alpinists such as Steve House, Jack Tackle, Kelly Cordes, and many others. No matter how long you’ve been climbing, you will definitely learn something new with teachers such as these. Even those who didn’t get into one of the quickly filled clinics had plenty of learning opportunities around the park. Each day a guide would climb an ice or mixed pitch while talking into a microphone. Spectators watched from a bridge directly overhead while he explained his decisions about where to climb, where to place gear, or why he avoided a specific piece of ice.

I headed off with a crew from Lowa to test their new boots and run laps on ice and mixed pitches until I ran out of hot chocolate, water, food, and daylight. The next day was pretty much the same, except I got a much later start after a late night. Over the long weekend I tested a few boots, a handful of ice tools, some new prototype gloves, and the patients of my belayer as I took “just one more lap” again and again. Stay tuned for gear review to come in the next few days.

The centerpiece of the Ouray Ice Festival is the mixed climbing competition. This year’s field of competitors was a bid different than in past seasons. Will Gadd was out with an injury, Ines Papert has retired from competition, and Hari Berger tragically died shortly before the festival when a serac collapsed during an ice climbing trip in Austria. These three competitors have finishes ahead of the pack in the last couple years, so no one was really sure what the outcome would be. In fact, not a single climber managed to send the qualifying route. Though this had some people nervous about the finals, the result was impressive.

The finals route started with 80 feet of vertical ice which was accessed by a stepladder over the river (where the free-hanging dagger came short of the ground). At the top of the ice, climbers traversed left to about 30 feet of overhanging rock with tricky route finding. Many of the competitors were stopped here. At the end of the rock, where the route would normally end, organizers built an overhanging structure with bolted-on holds to add a final challenge. It definitely did the job. Nearly everyone who actually made the “diving board” pitched off when they tried to move from the brutally sloping first hold.

Rich Marshall distracted from the biddingAs Rich Marshall climbed late in the day, announcer Michael Gilbert decided to raffle off the green wig he was wearing in preparation for Hari’s memorial party and fundraiser (the Hairy Party) where all who attended wore wigs or cut their hair. As the bidding heated up, Rich started bidding his own wig (as he climbed), apparently not wanting to loose his costume for the party. He eventually became too distracted by the climbing to bid, and Steve House managed to win the bidding at $95. Rick lost his wig but won a third-place finish.

Audrey Gariepy showed just how smooth mixed climbing can be by cruising past the previous men’s high point with the pick-handling precision of a surgeon. It appeared that Ines’ victory over the men two years ago was going to repeated. Audrey was finally stopped by a long dynamic move where she spent the last minute of her allotted time throwing herself at a distant hold only to come up short over and over until her time ran out. She took home second place, having never fallen from the route.

Evgeny Kryvosheytsev taking home first placeLast came Evgeny Kryvosheytsev with his combination of fluid movement and brute strength to take home first. As he reached the bottom of the diving board, he shouted to judges asking what was out of bounds. When they replied “only the sides” he proceeded to skip the sloping nastyness that tossed everyone else in favor of a tiny edge in the structures’ frame where the plywood bolted to the steel. He did a figure four, moved smoothly to the next hold, and tossed a couple times before sticking the move that stopped Audrey. He was the only competitor to top out the route, and it was well worth the long cold wait to see someone put that thing to bed.

2 comments

2 Comments:

Blogger powstash said...

Great read. Made me wish I were there to see the bidding of the wig or the winning climb. Do you know if there will be a video?

1/17/2007 9:20 AM

 
Blogger shorty said...

Check out www.ourayicefestival.com. They have footage of last year's comp, so I am sure that this year's will be up there sooner or later.

1/17/2007 3:48 PM

 

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