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Stories from Element 52

Stories from Element 52

Go The World’s Best Ice Climbing

Up until 2008, Bridal Veil Falls was closed for high-risk ice climbing, but an agreement between The Trust for Public Land and the Idarado Mining Company awarded a public access license—which climbers had coveted for years. “The route consists of five main pillars of thick, blue ice separated by lower angle sections, usually filled with snow,” describes Jason. “There’s a particularly tough section where you have to negotiate icy overhangs and scramble up frozen mantels. But after you get past that part, you arrive at a stunning section of translucent ice, where you can clearly see the frozen falls beneath your feet.” Rated as WI5+/WI6, one of the highest difficult, most technical grades of ice climbing in the world, Bridal Veil remains a classic route for skilled experts.

Though navigating Bridal Veil’s tree-sized icicles should be left to the pros, novices can drive to the neighboring city of Ouray, where the world’s first man-made ice-climbing venue is located within a scenic natural gorge. In order to create a destination that attracts climbers, each year, staff and volunteers spray water down the canyon walls of the Uncompahgre Gorge using overflow water from the city and 250 sprinklers. “The result is miles of frozen terrain and over 150 man-made climbs,” says Jason. “From December to March, this is where I first started practicing, working my way up to more challenging routes.”

The art of ice climbing is similar to rock climbing—except the conditions are frigid (they have to be) and tools like crampons and picks are necessary for slamming into the ice and hoisting yourself up. “But the thrill is not so much in reaching the summit, but the act of scaling this frigid, alien environment,” says Jason. “You start to feel like an astronaut on a different planet, and who doesn’t want to feel landing on Neptune?”Stories from Element 52