Field Agent: Liz Shull (@soakinupsunshine)
Time Zone: Mountain Standard
Location: Ouray, Colorado
Activity: Ice Climbing
The draw: Nothing makes my heart beat faster than trying something for the first time. The invitation to stretch the mind and body far beyond our mental limits is something that has been fueling me since I was young. As of recently, ice climbing has sent me this invitation. It's not only a test of one's physical capacity, but it also fosters a rare form of self-confidence and strengthens one as a person in ways that can't happen anywhere but on the ice.
“Why? Why would you fly back from the sunny Caribbean to go to a little podunk town to play with ice?” This is the very logical question that my flight attendant asked on my flight back to Colorado. I had just come off of a 15-day trip scuba diving down in the Caribbean and I was on my way back to Fort Collins to join some friends to take a stab at ice climbing in Ouray, CO for the weekend.
Saturday 1.9.16: It’s 5:00 in the morning and the mountain air is burning my sun kissed skin as I walk to our departure spot on campus. I’m pounding my coffee (as I got a solid 3 hours of sleep, partly from the time change but mostly from excitement), waddling like the kid from the Christmas story (as I’m still adjusting to the cold and waaaaay over dressed), and stoked that I’m about to hit the road to Ouray.
By 7:30 am we were grabbing gas and breakfast burritos just outside of Denver. The magical color of alpine glow that reflects off the mountains as the sun rises and sets is one you just don’t seem to get anywhere out of this time zone.
Missing the Saturday ski traffic, we quickly make it to Salida, CO for another gas stop. We weren’t messing with the rolling hills of the Front Range anymore as we drove at the feet of multiple snowy peaks over 14,000 feet.
By 3 pm we were rolling into the “Little Switzerland” of the states, Ouray, Colorado. This place is freaking INSANE! It lives up to it’s nickname, as the small mountain town sits in a valley being watched over by 11, 12 and 13,000 foot peaks. After checking out the town, hitting the hot tubs and fitting our gear and crampons, we settled in for the night in our tiny homes on the river.
Sunday 1.10.16: Day one in the Ice Park. Here we go.
We’re up at 7 am to grab some packet oatmeal, hard-boiled eggs and coffee so we can score the first parking spot at the park on the other side of town.
You know that feeling you felt in middle school when you tried to sit with the cool kids at lunch? Yep—that’s how I felt stepping into the Ice Park with seasoned veterans from around the world. Watching little green jackets climb multiple pitch climbs up walls of ice caused my eyes to hurt and my heart to race. You would think after a while of stretching your mind and body, it would get used to this type of adrenaline, but it never does—and I LOVE it!
We spent the morning on the “kid’s playground” learning the techniques to top rope ice climbing and awakening the muscles that went dormant as I scaled the depths of the ocean just days before. After pounding some canned salmon and almonds we passed the test to move on to some tougher stuff—The South Park. After setting up the top ropes, we hiked down into the chilly canyon (as the sun shines here for about 2 hours a day). SHOUT OUT to the Mountain Standard Down Jacket!! Maneuvering around other climbers and avoiding falling ice, we setup basecamp. The South Park hosted a whole new type of climb that required caution when climbing as the ice was brittle and broke off easily, causing you to slide and posing even bigger danger to friends below. After about 10 minutes of carefully placing ice picks, I made it to the top of the 80-foot climb with a racing heart and a wide smile of accomplishment (see selfie above).
Monday 1.11.16 & Tuesday 1.12.16: The next two days were spent climbing taller and tougher walls that changed each time you went on belay. We climbed in places of the park called the New Funtier, the Schoolroom and eventually found ourselves on the wall called Grad School. Look, Mom, I got into grad school!! ;)
With each climb came new sore muscles, new record heights, and new badass accomplishments both physically and mentally. After closing up the park everyday, we’d hit the strip (about 3 blocks) and grab some well deserved Mexican food followed by soaking in the local hot springs until our bodies were as pruney as the raisins we had on our oatmeal for breakfast.