Crested Butte is known for it’s skiing. Lots and lots of good skiing. Whether it’s the world-famous ‘Extreme Limits’ in-bounds terrain at Crested Butte Mountain Resort, the deep snow-pack of Irwin Cat-Skiing terrain, or the endless amounts of easily accessible and awesome backcountry ski touring and split-boarding that spans out from town in 5 different drainages. There is a reason why Crested Butte is home to extreme ski athletes like Seth Morrison & Wendy Fisher, and why some of the fastest athletes in the relatively new sport of ‘rando-racing’ (backcountry ski touring racing) also come from here.
And while, Crested Butte has it’s share of climbers, the place is not known for it’s ice climbing. However….as we are learning this year, a relatively dry start to the 2011/2012 Winter Season has been bringing out the inner ice climber in all of us, and we have been excited to learn and see how, with a little less then normal snowfall (last winter brought almost 800″ to the Crested Butte Backcountry), there is actually lots of great ice climbing in, and around, our area…if one is up for a bit of an adventure to get to it….and of course, the journey is half the fun!
The closest concentration of high quality and multiple ice lines is just down the road to our south in Lake City, CO. Home to the relatively new and un-pretentious, Lake City Ice Park, almost a dozen high quality climbs exist in a great top-rope and lead friendly environment just a mere 100′ stroll from your car. No crowds, no lines, and no fluff….this place is hands down the best place to learn the fun winter trade of ice climbing, all under a typical bluebird Colorado sky amidst the majesty of the Northern San Juan Mountains.
Crested Butte Mountain Guides is also proud to be the sole concessionaire for ice climbing guiding services in the Lake City Ice Park, and have been enjoying fantastic conditions with dozens of happy folks new to the sport so far this winter.
For more experienced folks, or folks with a strong climbing background there is also a wealth of backcountry/natural ice lines throughout the area that offer anywhere from 1-4 pitches of great ice climbing in a pristine backcountry setting. Most of these routes involve a full-day of being out, have more of an approach then the ice parks, and sometimes require a ski tour in to access, but it is just about guaranteed no one else will be around, and the chances of stumbling upon some elk, mule deer, or nesting eagles is higher then seeing other climbers.
Many of these stellar, remote, and pristine ice lines are in, and around, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park such as: Chipeta Falls, the Curecanti Monster, Porcupine, Blue Balls, and Gandolf’s Beard being just some of the named classics. They have along and storied history in the world of ice climbing, seeing just few ascents throughout the years, with some being by some of ice climbing’s great pioneers such as Charlie Fowler and Jeff Lowe.
Around the Lake City Area, Sherman Falls is the local area classic, with 3 pitches of reliable and stellar ice in an incredible setting high in the San Juan Mountains, with a beautiful crux pillar pitch of WI4(+). lake City also hosts numerous other flows that come and go with the season, offering great opportunities to always find something that is in condition. This also makes for a great 2-day trip destination for those looking to really getting some experience on the ice, with a day in the Lake City Ice Park to start, and then a day in the backcountry on Sherman Falls or one of the other climbs to follow. All with a night in a local cabin in the quaint and quiet town of Lake City, CO.
Finally, and not to be understated, is the world-Famous Ouray Ice Park. The place that started it all in terms of man-made ice in an environment that allows for beginners through experts to ply their trade. The Ouray Ice Park is the mother-lode of easy, accessible, and user friendly ice, with hundreds of routes scattered up and down the canyon, comprising the Ice Park proper. A perfect place for beginners, intermediates, or experts alike, and always a hub of activity in the small scene that is professional ice climbing.
The Ouray Ice Park is a bit of a trek from Crested Butte (2.5 hrs), but we have been guiding ice climbing there for almost a decade and know the ins and outs of what can be a bit of an intimidating place, allowing folks an opportunity to maximize their time on the ice on climbs that are suited for their ability or desires. Coupled with the great climbing, is a charming Victorian town, and local hot springs to soak in when the day is done…..And joining us for an insiders, intimate experience at the Annual Ouray Ice Festival at North America’s biggest and best Ice Climbing Festival, is always a special endeavor,
So……as we wait for Ullr to grace us with his presence here in Crested Butte again, and bring us the copious amounts of powder we are known for…..the ice is ‘IN’.
-Crested Butte Mountain Guides