Ames Falls are easily accessible ice climbs in a close proximity of historic and trendy mountain town of Telluride. Don't confuse these climbs with the famous classic Ames Ice Hose, which is located in the same vicinity.
Ames Falls consists of two separate little gorges filled with ice: Lower and Upper Falls. Both can be top roped. The difficulty ranges from WI3 to WI5. Mountain Project calls the Lower Ames Falls as Ames Falls Practice Area since those are easier.
Ames Hydroelectric Generating Plant - is the world's first generating station to produce and transmit alternating current. First built in 1891 to power the Gold King Mine. Click here if more interested in Hydro Power stations than climbing
Avalanche risk is low here.
You can check current ice conditions on San Juan Mountain guides website - click here.
Approach to Ames Falls
From the town of Telluride take Hwy 145 south and travel past the turn off for Mountain Village to the Ophir/Ames intersection. Turn west (=right) onto 625 Rd, down into the town of Ames, another sharp turn this time left onto Ames Rd. Park at the power station. The road is a good dirt road, snow plowed in the winter. It is accessible by 2 WD vehicles.
Distance from Telluride is 12 miles.
Follow the trail directly behind the power station. Start to climbers right on a good snow plowed road, past a private house. You will enter aspen forest with a log cabin. There is usually a broken trail to the base of the falls. The approach time to the lower falls is about 10 min, and to the upper falls about 15 minutes. You approach both falls from the top and need to rappel into the gorge.
Hike Time: 10 to 15 min
Distance: 0.25 miles (lower falls) - 0.5 miles (upper falls)
Season: December till mid April
Lower Ames Falls - there is a small trail leading into the first gorge. You can view these falls from your approach trail. There was a sling placed around at tree, which you could use (after your examination) to rappel down. As mentioned above Mountain Project calls these falls Ames Falls Practice Area. You can find a variety of routes from WI3 to WI4. You can choose whether you want to top rope or lead here. Just keep in mind that walking out of the gorge is hard. You have to climb out.
Upper Ames Falls - offer a more steep climbing WI4-WI5. Continue on your trail past Lower Ames Ice Falls in NE direction - there was a nice trail in the snow, which we just followed. We climbed only one side of the falls since the other one had only a thin ice cover with a powerful and loud water stream running beneath. The climbs here again can be top roped or lead, and remember that walking out of the gorge is nearly impossible. If you choose to lead, you have to be able to climb out. We found some sections with chandelier type of ice, which may be hard to protect with ice screws. The climb is about 30 meters long, just enough to rappel down on 60 meter with some rope elongation. We found the base of the fall having a large pool of running water, and our rope fell in (we used two 60 meter ropes for the initial rappel). We climbed only on one rope later (the dryer one), but the belayer had to stand at the base of the climb risking ice falling onto him/her.
Lowering into Ames Falls
Looking down the first bulge
Lower Ames Falls
Ames Falls WI4
Ice gear: ice tools, crampons.
Harness, belaying device. Rope: 70 meter preferable, 60 meter will do.
Anchoring material - you will have to build an anchor around a tree.
Consider ice screw for directions if you wish to create some variety on your climbing.
Ice screws, screamers, draws if leading.
Helmet is a must.
Consider hot beverage - it does get cold inside the gorge, no sunlight down there.