Colorado Winter Climbing Trip

We had so much fun this summer, we just had to come back. Well, not exactly. Ann was doing a one month elective in the emergency room at Denver General Hospital, and I arranged to work out of Bellcore's office in Denver for that period of time ; Victor called to say he was coming to the East Coast, and wanted to know if I was still up for a trip to the Adirondacks and/or New Hampshire. He hasn't made it to the East Coast yet this winter.

After arriving in Denver, me and Ann settled in at our place of residence, the Washington Arms bed and breakfast, and I ... promptly resumed working on a research proposal ... Anyways, by the time Victor got into town the proposal got done, and we were ready to go.

The upshot of these days was that the cold I had been nursing since leaving New York came roaring back to life. We decided it wasn't worth camping out in that cold any more, and thought about heading south to New Mexico. We passed on that, and headed to Ouray, in southwest Colorado, which is an ice climbing Mecca of sorts. I was excited to try ice climbing, which I had never done before. We climbed in the Ice Box canyon, where some locals have run a pipe over the lip of the cliffs, and run water down to supplement what forms naturally. It absolutely ruins the look of the place, but makes a lot of ice. The place really feels like a climbing gym.

Still early in the season, the low angle stuff had not formed yet, so we started on stuff that was steep. Most people belay from the top, so I got lowered in a ways, and very quickly learned the importance of gear in this sport. My dad's mountaineering crampons, with only two front teeth, were just not cutting it on the steep stuff. I was constantly on the verge of falling, and very miserable. Trying it a couple more times didn't help. Victor, did make it to the top of a couple of routes, and was terribly excited. At least one of us was having fun.

The next day we came back with fresh resolve. It's amazing just how much one night in a warm motel room helps with resolve. We were going to adjust the Victor's crampons to fit my boots (we were also going to leave that day, because the rates at the motel went up for Christmas). As we walked in to the canyon, some guy was running out yelling there had been a fall. Some guy who was free soloing had fallen, from very close to the top (90 feet or so). He was still alive and we cleared out to let the rescue proceed. Lots of people in the know were present (ambulance, local ice climbers, the sheriff) but they weren't making much progress while we were there. Pondering about this stuff doesn't make for good trip reports ...

Victor's enthusiasm took a whooping drop, and we were wondering what we should do. Ouray is flanked by many nice peaks, which were all in the sun, as opposed to the Ice Hole, where I had been sitting and belaying the previous day, which did not do wonders for my cold. I voted for a hike, Victor agreed, and we drove to Red Mountain pass, at 11000 feet. Since Victor always tries to turn everything into a technical climb, he eyed a route on the summit west of the pass. First slog through the forest, then up a snow gully to a plateau, then the fun half up a snowfield with a couple of rock bands. Some 2000 feet vertical drop. A full days work for two healthy people ... it was about noon when we started, and after about an hour and a half of slogging through snow, I said, No Mas. I must have been running a fever, and went very slowly, but it felt good to exert a little willpower.

Colorado National Monument. (Only picture of the trip.)

I really needed to recover, though, so we drove down to Grand Junction, and spent a relatively warm day visiting Colorado National Monument; did a bit of blundering along a canyon bed, wherever the sandstone was hard enough to try it. I was gaining form, while Victor was getting worried he would catch my cold. Next day we went to Rifle, which is a sport climbing Mecca, where it looks like 5.11 is entry level (anything not overhanging does not get bolted). We basically bouldered, trying to reach the first bolt of as many climbs as we could. More often than not, I couldn't.

Victor went back to Dallas, and I went back to work a few days earlier than we had planned. We had good luck with the weather on this trip (except at the very end), but bad luck that we took turns being sick. It was a trip of many beginnings.