Horsetail Falls is a fun ice climb near Ouray, Colorado. Jack Roberts wrote in his Colorado Ice guide book: “This is one of the area classics and is formed up all winter long.” The approach is short and very scenic, involving a steep descent into the Uncompahgre gorge (the same river and gorge which form the Ice Park about 2 miles down the stream). The river crossing is typically safe on a thick ice bridge. There are some narrows which you have to ascend to the base of the climb. You can overview the whole climb from the Highway 550 (= Million Dollar Highway), and there is a nice overlook where your friends can observe your progress. There will be spectators stopping and taking photos of you.
The first pitch is the crux, the climbing above gets much easier.
You can check for ice climbing conditions San Juan Mountain Guides or stop at Ouray Mountain Sports.
Getting ThereFollow Hwy. 550 south of town of Ouray for approximately 2.3 miles, at which point a bridge spans Bear Creek, and there is also a nice overlook over the gorge and the climb. Park on either side just slighly pass the bridge. Look to the west, on the other side of the Uncompahgre River, directly across from the parking area, is an obvious waterfall. This is Horsetail Falls. Descent into the gorge. There is usually a small trail at the southern end of the railing. If there is tons of fresh snow (as was our situation), you may have to find the safest path down into the gorge (just slightly south of the waterfall). You have to cross the Uncompahgre River, typically there is a thick snow bridge. The approach is very scenic, and you will get amazing views of Bear Creek Falls, which is directly below the bridge.
Approach: 0.25 miles
Hike Time: 20 minutes
Hike Gain: 200 feet down to the climb
Season: Typically January through late March, some years longer
Route DescriptionThe route can be done in 2 to 4 pitches depending on your comfort level.
There is a short steep section to the base of the climb. We encountered a fresh deep snow, so had quiet an easy access (only deep waste snow).
1st pitch: the best pitch of the climb. The ice is typically pretty thick, and you can choose either WI4 or WI5 climb per your comfort level.
2nd pitch: an easy WI2 climbing, great for first time leader
3rd pitch: WI2 - we combined pitch 2 and 3 with a short section of simu climbing.
4th pitch: WI3/4 - a short ice fall to a tree with a belay.
Descent: the best is to rap the short 4th pitch, and walk to climber's left (south), there is a descend path, which will bring you back to the base of the climb. Most people rappel the short steep section leading to the base. There are rap anchors around a tree.
Essential Gearstandard ice rack, slings, 60 meter rope
ice climbing gear