Friday, December 10, 2010


Charlotte called: “Want to go climb ice tomorrow?” We talked for a while about friends, climbing, and plans. It had been a great summer of climbing, biking, hiking, friends, family, but here I was in Ouray now contemplating climbing on ice. Living in Alaska I climb more ice than anything else, but climbing with Charlotte is always a treat, so I was psyched to go. She arrived on the minute, picked me up, and headed up the Camp Bird road where we met her good friend, Chris.

Camp Bird Road - ice climbs abound

I rubbernecked the entire ride, eyeing ‘The Ribbon’, ‘The Talisman’, ‘Birdbrain’ and other climbs on the north side of the creek. Arriving at the parking lot we knew we’d have most of the climbs to ourselves; a 10 am alpine start in Ouray guarantees solitude. As we hiked up the road, your sea-level guide was gasping like a guppy in bad water; we were near 9,000’, and I, a member of AARP, was wearing boots and carrying an alpine pack. Two of the Skylight climbs were fat. We stopped at the first one, ‘Slip Slidin Away’. Chris made his apologies and departed to mend his incipient bronchitis. Charlotte was left with me.

Our Goal - “Slip Slidin’ Away’”

Dropping the pack, I felt relieved and a burst of energy impelled me to volunteer for the first lead. Charlotte’s dog, “Max”, was certainly full of enthusiasm for the fabric toy and never tires of fetching it. I think this is why Charlotte takes friends climbing.

Giving Instructions to Max

The approach gully was warm, temperature of 42 degrees F. Snow balled up in my crampons in spite of a fine antibot plate. It would be truly embarrassing to slip down this pile of rocks and ice. I felt good to be in the mountains and on ice again.

The Approach is Sketchy

After saddling myself with too much gear for a first lead of the season I headed up. The first ice was plastic, and I cruised. What looked like a nice vertical curtain from the bottom, at the top was actually a sheet about a foot from from touching town, hollow at the back. I placed tools, was careful, but still couldn’t get good feet. After laying a finger aside of my nose...

Cheerful at the start!

Charlotte cruised up; we rappelled the pitch, and coiled Chris’ twin and now soaked ropes.

En Rappel

The next climb, ‘Chockstone Chimneys’ was another hundred yards up the road. Charlotte’s turn to take the sharp end. I slithered under the first chockstone, remembering Aaron Ralston. Canyoneering a couple of months ago, my friend Bob called wiggly chockstones “Ralstones”. I hoped none of these monsters fitted the category. The approach looked simple, so I put the hunk of rope over my shoulder and started up, finding a chimney, and two ice pitches on the way. I felt like the young girls who carried balanced water jugs on their head in Egypt many years ago. I had fine posture

All Roped Up and Ready to Lead

Charlotte was chomping at the bit. And up she went, no problem. I tried to take photos with one hand when she put in an ice screw. It’s an art. As Donini said, “I always have you on a tight belay...unless I’m taking your picture.”

“Chockstone Chimneys”

It’s an awesome spot. I peeked under the giant chockstone trying to formulate a good photo in my mind. After the climb I took a few, but it felt almost impossible to do justice to the scene. When I have a free afternoon, I’d like to hike up the cracks in these walls and explore; it’s that kind of place.

The Giant Chockstone

Placing the First Screw

Charlotte was fast, and careful, placing screws a good intervals, but moving up gracefully. The climbing looked fun as she cheerfully called down to me how great the ice was, how plastic, how solid. Some folks tire of ice-climbing’s repetitive movements, but somehow I never have. It seemed Charlotte hadn’t either.

Charlotte Nears the Top of the Pitch

We ‘Yo-yo’d’ the pitch a few times, then headed down for lunch at the brew pub. This was a short day, to break me into the season, not trash me. I could have climbed all afternoon, but now I was cruising. I looked across at ‘The Ribbon’ again thinking I should climb it this weekend. Charlotte hugged Max. We found his toy. It was a great day.

The Joyful Reunion with Max

1 comment:

Rebecca said...

Wow Ralph,

This is great to see. Looks pretty scary, but very beautiful. Glad you're having fun!