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Trip Report    

Top-Roping Water Ice Climbing Field Trip - Ouray Ice Park

The climbing in Ouray was great though we encountered some travel difficulties along the way, thankfully the group worked together to make the trip a success.

  • Snow and ice on road

Travel:  A delayed flight out of Seattle kicked off a series of obstacles along the way to Ouray. Once in Denver the vehicles we reserved turned out not to be 4WD. After some negotiations and added expense we were able to get a 4WD Jeep and Forerunner. Unfortunately, one vehicle had a bad starter motor that dogged us the entire trip. After several hours on the road a combination of winter storm conditions, late hours, and vehicle problems prompted the group to stay at a hotel in Salida rather than risk the pass to Gunnison. Our return flight was cancelled which resulted in an extra night in Denver and an extra day of travel. Here's a good road status URL:

Lodging: We stayed at Annie's Castle which slept eight comfortably and was centrally located. More than eight people would require folks to double up in beds and would be tough with only 2 bathrooms.  

Our 2.5 days in Ouray: After limping into Ouray around 10AM we got in an afternoon of climbing at New Funtier. On the second day of climbing the entire group started at School Room and at noon part of the group split off to the Upper Bridge Wall near the park office. On the final day of climbing half of the group went to Upper Bridge Wall and the other half went to South Park.  At the park office there are t-shirts, park memberships, and books with route info.  The park website has good route beta too:

Managing groups:  Official Mounties trips need to split into groups of no more than 4, be spaced 10 routes apart, and stay on a given anchor no longer than three hours. Generally people are friendly and happy to share ropes/anchors, but it's important to tear down anchors and move regularly so other groups have a chance at an open anchor.  We tried having two groups in School Room but practically speaking it's easier just to go to different crags. It might be possible to keep proper spacing of two groups in South Park.  

Anchors:  For the most part there are plenty of easily accessible bolt anchors, however they generally need to be extended to reach the lip or reach across walkways or railings. Be especially careful to keep ropes off of the PVC pipes by extending the anchor or using a redirect.  Multiple cordalettes and long pieces of webbing can be handy. I made a huge quad out of 75' of 7mm cord I had, so think about what materials you have and be creative. Another option is bringing a long chunk of rope which can also be useful for anchoring off of trees where needed. 

Other useful gear:  70M ropes are very handy as some pitches are 35M long and the added length helps get the belay out of the ice fall zone.  A single ice screw  and a runner can be handy for redirecting the rope so the drop is where you want it.  Radio communications can be hit or miss.  We had some success communicating up and down the creek from different crags, say School Room to South Park, but sometimes struggled to communicate between the top and bottom of the same crag.

Lowering in climbers:  Most routes near the park office require anchoring off of a tree at the top, lowering the climber, and converting from a lower to a belay at the top. Some routes are open running creek at the bottom so you must transition with the climber weighting the rope. A GriGri is nice for this scenario. Either way I'd suggest practicing lowering with both GriGris and ATCs and transitioning to belay.  Use catastrophe knots when testing the lower system just as you would test a rappel before going off anchor.


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