Ouray is the hub of American ice climbing. This small town is tucked into the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado. Ouray hosts the Ouray Ice Park, a canyon of farmed ice, like a massive gym for hundreds of spiked gravity junkies. The surrounding mountains are stacked with beautiful, sunlit frozen water falls. Over the holidays, Cathy and I visited friends and family in the Front Range, then headed to Ouray to climb. 

Fifteen years ago I spent winters living and working around Ouray. 

Climbs in the Ice Park are farmed from a huge aqueduct that feeds sprinklers. At 4:30pm climbers vacate when the Ice Park staff turns on the sprinklers. The canyon is about 30 meters deep and lined with hundreds of routes. 

The Ouray Ice Park staff fix a water supply pipe.  

This is the type of water pipe that ice climbers prefer. 

Cathy top roping vertical ice in the Ice Park. 

My favorite climbs in the San Juan Mountains are at Skylight, a few miles up Camp Bird Road from the Ice Park. This short stretch of road hosts a series of 200-foot chimneys. Their recesses are stuffed with juicy ice. The dangling icicle in the top left corner is The Talisman, a local test piece in chubbier-than-normal conditions from the rainy fall season.   

Cathy climbing Slippery When Wet at Skylight, a rope-stretcher of steep ice, thin ice, runouts and chimney climbing.   

Austin Thayer leading The Skylight–a Camp Bird classic–100 meters of three-dimensional climbing, deep in the bowels of a glittering chimney. 

Austin moved from Anchorage to Farmington, New Mexico–a few hours from Ouray–to work for ConocoPhillips. Austin loves climbing. Upon moving to Farmington he jumped from 5.10 to 5.13 rock, and every weekend he leads pumpy ice pillars until exhaustion. 

Austin dry tooling overhanging bolted conglomerate at Skylight. 

Joe dry tooling thin edges on another bolted overhang at Skylight.  

Cathy and I also climbed in Silverton, just over Red Mountain Pass from Ouray.

The belays at Silverton are more civilized than before. 

To culminate a month of work and play in Colorado, I shadowed an AIARE Level 1 avalanche course in Estes Park. The course was taught by Colorado Mountain School guides Mark Hammond, Mike Soucy and Russell Hunter. Here's Mark demoing a compression test in the deepest snowdrift in all of Rocky Mountain National Park. It was great to hang with these old guide friends and poach ideas from their excellent teaching.