Colorado ice climbing straight up fantastic

We ice climbed last weekend. That’s not a statement you make every day. It was by Alma, Colo., and I still haven’t fully processed the experience. We. ice. climbed. last. weekend. It was grotesquely cold, and one of the toughest things I’ve ever done.

And it was incredible!

Rocket’s spunky fiancee, Trooper, gets credit for the whole shebang. An adventurer at heart, she’s a bona fide boundary challenger. Trooper’s the reason Rocket’s arms survived a 17-mile kayak tour around Kauai’s Napali Coast — one of the most strenuous tours in the world. She got him to jump out of a sketchy looking-though-perfectly functioning airplane. She was also directly responsible for sending us — her family included — zipping to the top of the Continental Divide aboard freakishly fast snowmobiles. We joke that Rocket and Trooper should register for supplemental health insurance policies instead of dishes and flatware.

Resistance was futile when she announced that we would be ice climbing when we visited Colorado last weekend. But resistance wasn’t even a fleeting thought. Trooper’s adventures are always spectacular.

The day dawned crystal clear and Colorado cold. Tim and Casey from Outer Edge Performance were our adventure guides for the day, and they showed up at our rented cabin in Fairplay at 7:15 a.m. to explain what we were in for and to fit us with no-nonsense, mountaineering boots.

“Cotton of any sort is not allowed,” explained Tim, who at 6 foot, 5 inches tall with flowing hair resembled a figure from Norse mythology. “Cotton kills.”

OK then.

He explained the importance of layering in extremely cold environments: base layers under fleece, wrapped in waterproof Gore-Tex with an added layer of down. Stocking hats, wool socks and ski gloves were non-negotiable, too. Casey, his grizzled assistant, stuffed backpacks with the essentials of a day on the ice.

A few miles later we were in a remote parking lot, being fitted with climbing harnesses and helmets, and sharp-toothed crampons on our hard-shelled boots. Tim and Casey loaded up with packs, ropes, ice axes, and enough metal hardware to give the TSA terminal heartburn. And we all set off for a strenuous 45-minute hike through rocks, ice and snow to the climbing site. The temps grew colder, and the wind blew harder the higher we climbed.

And suddenly there we were, gasping for air at 11,000 feet, at the base of a frozen waterfall. Tim and Casey tied us onto ropes attached to boulders to keep us from plummeting off the mountain while they set us up for the climb of a lifetime.

It’s folly for me to adequately describe the process, but it basically involves stabbing the ice with two-fisted ice axes, and pushing yourself upward with spike-shoed toes. And little by little, you ascend straight up a sheer wall of ice. When you reach the top, you rappel downward on ropes anchored by skillful guides.

When we’d had enough climbing, we belayed via ropes down the mountain to saner terrain, and hiked like refugees back to a car that looked like heaven on wheels. That night we ate like kings and slept like the dead.

I can’t thank Tim and Casey enough for introducing us to their incredible sport, with a view that takes your breath away in more ways than one. (And, by the way, their descriptions were by request; in reality they bore the wiry countenances typical of rock and ice climbers, and were a couple of the nicest men you’ll ever meet.) And I can’t wait to see what Trooper has lined up for us next.

Tamera Schlueter

Tam Schlueter adopts a "strike-fast-and-keep-them-laughing" approach to writing. Her column appears every Thursday in the Hastings Tribune, and showcases the wonder of family, dogs, muscle cars, and folks with blue collars and no-nonsense attitudes.

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