Ouray Ice Festival

Each year, I look forward to the Ouray Ice Festival, in Colorado. Three years ago, I moved to the USA, drove to the Ice Fest and met my husband there. So naturally, this event holds a special place in my heart. It’s also a time to see friends again, catch up on the past year, make plans for the new year.It’s conforting to check back in with a the nomadic climbing community, share stories, party, climb… and compete!

Competing is how I actually started ice climbing. I was hanging out with my ex boyfriend at an ice world cup event in Couchevel, France, when someone suggested i enter the comp. I had never ice climbed before and made a total fool of myself. Yet, something clicked and I was hooked. I spent the following three years competing while attending law school in Switzerland and eventually quit competing for the mountains. Yet, there was one more event I was hoping to attend someday: the Ouray Ice Festival. So, when I moved to the USA, it was only natural that I would take my first ever USA roadtrip to compete there.

The scenery was breath-taking: red rock cliffs plastered with ice and snow, a little town straight out of a Western surrounded by dramatic mountains, and in the heart of it all, a deep canyon where hundreds of ice and mixed lines begged to be climbed. I was blownaway. Instantly, I fell in love with the place… and with a man 🙂

I have attended every event since. This year, it was an invitationnal only event and I was lucky to be invited to compete on my friend Vince Anderson’s route. I met Vince almost ten years ago at Festiglace (an ice climbing competition in Quebec)and we have been friends since then. He is local and was the one who inspired me to attend this event in the first place.

The route started with a long pitch of steep ice, which we toproped to the start of the rock. From there, the angle of the terrain went from vertical to horizontal. It hurt my neck to look up at the line of free hanging draws and green spots on the rock, pointing out where some of the holds were. The line followed the lip of a steep roof, offering a mix of ice and rock for the tools, but nothing in the ways of feet…at least for someone my height! I resorted to heel hooking (with no spurs…ah the rules!)to relieve my arms. I wasted a lot of energy trying to clip the first bolt but kept going, shaking out on each hold. The pump was insane. My only training for the event had been in my backyard, hanging from tools on the swing in my backyard, doing pull ups and knee raises, and climbing in the park the previous days. Eventually, I reached what would be the last hold for me on this climb, and hung on a while, desperately hoping to make one more move… which didn’t happen! Come to find out, the three first – Dawn, Zoe and I – tied on the same hold and time is what broke us apart. Since I hung on the longest, I came in third. I lost sleep over it, imagining that one more move…that one more move that could have made the difference.

I am now in Singapore, flying to work for the Khumbu Climbing School (www.alexlowe.org/KCS) and the ice festival is long gone. And so are the results. What remains is this: I got on one of the best mixed route I have ever been on – Heavy Petting is the name of the comp route -, got to share some amazing times with amazing friends, sent a beautiful route – Chinese Water Torture, enjoyed teaching clinics, was inspired by slideshows given by friends and I can’t wait to go back next year!

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