After a long day of driving through the hills to get to the 2013 Ouray Ice Festival, the last thing I expected was to be standing in our hotel room with the Director of the Ice Park. This was going to be some trip.
Two weeks before the Ice Fest was slated to kick off we gave the Ouray Ice Park a shout through their website, to see if they wouldn't mind us participating in a silent auction. Their contact page did not provide many details, just an email address to send inquiries to and a message box. I drew up a quick description of what we wanted to do and waited to see who might reply.
Several days later I was greeted with a message in my inbox from Mike MacLeod. He mentioned he was on the board of directors for the park and welcomed our support and participation. Fast forward to Wednesday evening, week of the festival and Mike and his wife Sandy are in the middle of our room checking out the gear we brought to donate. We chat for a few minutes, pack up the gear and say our goodbyes. Mike's stoked to have us and we're ready to climb.
The following morning brings cold weather yet warm feelings. The hike from our hotel to the park is a brisk mile, made all the more "entertaining" by the large double boots I'm wearing. As we crest the last hill we notice the competition deck, which will hold all of the media for the festival, is sporting a very familiar logo.
Earlier the night before, Mike had noted he would be happy to put the banner up somewhere in the park, we just failed to pick up on the fact that it would be smack dab in the middle of the highest traffic area during the festival. We were.....excited to say the least.
Once the excitement settled (only slightly) we set up anchors at an area known as "The Five Fingers". The crag is a popular spot for sponsors to run ice clinics during the fest, so we decided to get at it while the gettin' was good.
Due to the cloud cover and relatively warm weather the week before (by Ouray standards), our first day of climbing turned out to be quite pleasant. The ice was soft, making for good sticks with ice tools and crampons. Softer ice does not however always play nice. As the weather warms, the material you are climbing on tends to explode from time to time. If your are top roping, as the climber, you are relatively safe from debris. Belaying is the real danger in the ice park.
If you've ever ventured outside during the summer to do some roped climbing, you may have occasionally heard a fellow climber yell "ROCK!" as they accidentally loosen some choss on route. If you're new to ice climbing, expect to hear the equivalent of "ICE!" every few minutes.
Friday brought pumped arms, colder weather and spiceier terrain. The ice park consists of several miles of steep canyon lined with plastic pipes and the equivalent of shower heads, spaced about every 10 ft. During the nights, volunteer "Ice Farmers" continually adjust the spray heads running water down almost every section of the canyon. It is a science as well as an art with different sections of the canyon taking on their own unique characteristics and ice quality, much like the differences between rock types. The pipe system is also entirely gravity fed using no electricity or mechanical pumps. It blows my mind.
The Ouray Ice Park is a true case study in how an all volunteer non-profit should be run. Oh and did I mention the whole thing is free to use? Nobody is required to pay a penny to enter the park all year long.
Our second day of climbing ended with new friends and empty bellies. Shots of whiskey and a hot tub shower prepared the crew for one of the best parts of the festival. The Community Dinner and Silent Auction at the Ouray Fire House. Sponsors donate their latest and greatest gear for patrons to bid on, in an effort to raise operating funds for the ice park. The evening was also our first chance to debut our official samples to the world.
After it was all said and done we raised over $200 for the park, auctioning off four of the six garments we brought to the festival. We also consumed entirely too much pasta.
Saturday hit us like a ton of bricks. Alarms were ignored, breakfast was purchased instead of made and the coffee flowed like wine. Two full days in the park was starting to weigh on us, but we were determined to rally for one more. After shaking off the late start we made our way to the "New Funtier", an area higher up the canyon that holds shorter yet equally fun routes.
We'd like to thank the entire crew of the Ouray Ice Park and the town of Ouray for letting us help Sponsor this year's ice fest. It was an incredible trip as always and we can't wait to see what lies in store for next year. See you in 2014.
- Blue Sun and Crew