has become a mecca for ice climbers all over the country. Featuring over 200 manmade routes ranging from WI2-WI6 and M4 - M9, this park has more climbing than anyone can fit in over several weekend trips. Easy access, and plentiful natural and man-made anchors make setting up climbs fast and easy, and climbers can switch to new routes with minimal effort, allowing for much more time to climb! The Park is located in the stunning Uncompahgre River Gorge, just outside the historic town of
. The length of the gorge that encompasses the Ice Park is roughly one mile long.
The Ice Park is owned by the town of Ouray, and only a small portion lies on private property, owned by Eric Jacobsen, owner and operator of Ouray Hydroelectric. He was kind enough to let some local ice climbing entrepeneurs harvest some of the water to create the spectacular walls and pillars of ice that comprise the park. A volunteer force set up a system of hoses and pipes, with spigots that shot streams of water over the walls (AKA Ice Farming), which then froze up into different routes. As the park increases in popularity, this pipeline has been extended to create new climbing areas. The Park and its infrastructure are jointly owned and managed by the City of Ouray as mentioned above, the nonprofit
. There are no permits needed to be signed (
asks you to sign a waiver). Each winter, OIPI hosts the Ouray Ice Festival to celebrate the Park.
To this day the park has been built and maintained entirely by enthusiastic volunteers, as well as donated materials and capital. The park also receives income from members and donations, which can be given at the main entrance at the Upper Bridge, or you can buy voluntary
on-line. Because of this,
despite the high cost of its maintenance.
In nearly 20 years of operation, it has become one of the premier ice climbing venues in the world.
You can read about history of the park in this article
How To Get There
The Ouray Ice Park
is located in the historic mining town of Ouray, Colorado in the southwestern corner of the state. It is surrounded by San Juan Mountain
You can travel to Ouray by automobile or fly into one of several nearby locations. The closest regional airport is located in Montrose (about 45 minutes away), Grand Junction (2 hrs), or Durango (2 hrs). Driving from Denver takes approximately 6 hrs.
|Albuquerque ||285 miles (6 hours)||Mesa Verde||110 miles (3 hrs)|
|Canmore, AB||1,334 miles (20 hrs)||Moab||166 miles (3.5 hrs)|
|Cody||653 miles (11 hrs)||Montrose||36 miles (40 min)|
|Colorado Springs||267 miles (5 hours)||New Orleans||1,446 miles (24 hrs)|
|Cortez||125 miles (3 hrs)||Pagosa Springs||140 miles (3 hrs)|
|Dallas||942 miles (17 hrs)||Phoenix||570 miles (10 hrs)|
|Denver||342 miles (6 hrs)||Salt Lake City||383 miles (6 hrs)|
|Durango||70 miles (2 hrs)||Santa Fe||312 miles (6 hrs)|
|Glenwood Springs||185 miles (3.5 hrs)||Seattle||1224 miles (18 hrs)|
|Grand Junction||98 miles (2 hrs)||Silverton||23 miles (45 min)|
|Gunnison||92 hrs (2 hrs)||Telluride||47 miles (1 hr)|
|Houston||1181 miles (21 hrs)||Ridgway||10 miles (10 min)|
The park is located just outside of town. You can either drive there and park at the turn off for Camp Bird Road (it is well signed), or you can walk from town via the backroad accessed from the end of 3rd Avenue. I like to hike in - you get to see the less often visited parts of the climb and hike along the Gazebo, Shithouse Wall, and Five Fingers area.
- there is a large parking area on the east side of the Hwy 550 (just south of town). You can see the Ice Park from this parking area. Parking is free. There is a closer and much smaller parking lot on Camp Bird Road - this one gets typically filled very on. If you continue on Camp Bird Road, you can drive up all the way to the Senator Gulch parking area ~ 4 miles and access many backcountry climbs
Park Rules and Etiquette
Ice farming = spraying water into the gorge
Ouray Ice Park
1. Crampons and helmets are required for ALL persons (climbers or otherwise) in the established and posted "Climbers Only" areas.
2. All persons under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult
3. Dogs must be leashed and attended while in the Ouray Ice Park and no dogs are allowed in the bottom of the gorge. You must also pick up after your pet. (I have seen dogs in South Park area, although against the rules).
4. All climbing in the "School Room" area must be on fixed, numbered and defined anchors only.
5. Hours of operation are sunup to sundown - sorry, no night time climbing! The water is dripping during that time.
6. Do not anchor to any man-made structures, including the rail or walkway above the School Room, nor to the pipe line, or any other ice producing fixtures or equipment.
7. Do not redirect shower heads, turn off valves, or otherwise tramper with any ice making equipment. Doing so may cause the system to freeze up.
1. Consider supporting the park by purchasing an annual membership. You can buy it on-line.
2. Leave gear on the anchor before you begin a climb, if you are leading a route. It will prevent someone from rappelling onto you. If you find gear on an anchor, leave it there. Somebody will come back for it.
3. Whenever possible, use the walk down path to get to the base of the route you intend to climb. Please avoid rappelling into the gorge unless you have visually inspected the area to ensure no one will be hit with falling ice. Numerous injuries have been caused while rappelling.
4. Yell "ROPE" loudly before throwing your rope into the gorge. Better yet get a visual to ensure that no one is below or leading the route. It is very difficult to hear people in the gorge from above. It is also advised, when top-ropping, to have your partner at the bottom to retrieve the rope if it falls in the river. Frozen ropes are not fun to handle.
5. Do not take gear of a route. If there is a quickdraw left on a route, then someone is working on red pointing that route. Quick draws left on bolts are not abandoned gear and should be left in place. They may have been left for competition as well.
6. Be aware of people climbing above you if you are climbing or belaying at the base of a route. Ice can fall a long way and cause serious injury.
7. Learn how to belay safely from the top of a route. Belay off the anchor rather than your harness.
8. The Ice Park gets a lot of climbing traffic, so please be gentle and precise with the ice. Don't purposefully bash or knock off the ice unless it poses a safety hazard.
9. The water is turned on the Park most weekday evenings in the winter at 4:00 PM. The Park "Ice Meister" begins turning the spigots on in the South Park and moves north. Please be respectful of the Park workers and exit the climbing areas during this time to allow for the new ice to be formed. (I have done it - left the South Park when the worker started to turn on water and still had enough time to do a couple of climbs in the Scottish Gullies area).
The Ouray Ice Festival
Mixed Elite Comp
The Ouray Ice Festival, held each January is an eclectic gathering of ice climbers, gear manufacturers, and ice climbing enthusiasts. The international Festival was first held in January 1996 and now is widely recognized as the premier event of its kind. The competition is really for professional climbers and watching these elite athletes push themselves on the wild and difficult routes is both thrilling and awe inspiring. There are also numerous interactive clinics held during the festival taught by various climbers (e.g. Steve House), guides, and many of the competitors. Attending a clinic is a great opportunity to get to know and learn from these pros, as well as meet other climbers. Most manufacturers of anything related to the sport of ice climbing are also present, displaying their latest and greatest new toys for participants to demo. The festivities continue into the evenings with dinner buffets, sideshows and movie presentations by numerous famous climbers, as well as gear auctions and lively dance parties.
There are family activities as well. The festival provides free training for youngsters via the Kid's College. There is also a zip line across the gorge, and sometimes a hot tub.
Competition Album here
Climbing in the Ice Park
Rapelling into the gorge
The typical climbing season in the Park runs from mid-December through April 1, but can very by season. Check out park information on current conditions.
The Ice Park is popular and some climbing areas are crowded, especially on weekends and holidays. It is a park rule that you always wear a helmet and crampons when in the Ice Park. Walking around the top of the climbs can be especially hazardous, as well, so you should aways wear crampons whenever near the rim. Free soloing can be fun and spiritually enriching, but you will put yourself at much greater risk by doing so in the Park. You never know when somebody may knock down a piece of ice or snow or even throw a rope down on you while climbing. It is best to solo using some form of self belaying device (several different ones available at Ouray Mountain Sports).
The gorge was created by water and water still runs through it, even in the winter. Be aware that the river is not always well frozen, and this can be hard to tell after fresh snow have covered the canyon floor, hiding potential weak spots.
Anchors and belaying: most accidents happen as a results of human error, which include rappelling and anchoring. Make sure you create good anchors. Many areas have built in chains (Fiver Fingers), bolts (marked with orange poles), and chain anchors (School Room Area). Some areas require to create anchors from trees, so bring adequate equipment (long slings, webbing, cord - it is recommended to have about 20 to 30 feet long webbing/cord for some of the areas , extra biners etc).
When belaying at the bottom of the gorge, it is often hard to stand right at the base of the climb - there is a hazard of falling ice from above. It is safer to move away from the ice wall, perhaps to the far side of the gorge. Bring a longer rope - 70 meter much better - to make this more possible. Belayer may consider anchoring himself since he has to belay far away from the climb.
Equipment: All climbs are single pitch, although some areas require 70 meter rope and belaying from the top of the climb (Upper Bridge area).
Ice Axes - Leashless ice climbing tools are the standard at the Park. It does make switching the tools and hanging tools over your shoulder while using a hand etc. much easier. If you happen to drop your ice tool into the river, ask at Ouray Mountain Sports for their ice retrieval magnet apparatus.
Crampons and Footwear - many professionals use fruit boots (boots with integrated crampons), most climbers use crampon compatible boots. If you have any questions about your gear, ask experts at Ouray Mountain Sports
for their advice. They have very large selection of gear, and they also have a rental equipment.
Useful Information: First Aid Kit with some Band-Aids, Steri-strips, gauze is very handy. Ice chips tend to cause a lot of facial cuts. The closest hospital would be in Montrose.
There is a cellular coverage throughout the park.
Getting Around the Park is easy. The Ice Park and Uncompahgre Gorge run in a generally Southern to Northern direction. The various climbing areas are all located in and along the Western side of the gorge. The South Park and New Funtier are well signed, Gazebo Wall is the most northern one, closest to the town and there is a Gazebo above it. Shithouse Wall has restrooms above it. Five Fingers area - directly across from parking area off Hwy 550 has long chains running across the dirt snow covered road. Then there is Lower Bridge area and Upper Bridge area. Scottish Gullies are between Five Fingers and Lower bridge. Upper Bridge area continues into Alcove, and then into School Room area, which has a nice walkway above it. The approaches are short and take less than 10 minutes.
All climbs are accessed from the top (exception Kid's Wall), and most areas (exception Upper Bridge) can also be accesses via some form of walk-down descent path. Most areas can be easily viewed from the bridges (except South Park and New Funtier).
South Park is the furthest upstream and southernmost climbing area in the Ice Park. It was named after the popular adult TV cartoon series and the route names were selected from different episodes. It is popular with mountain guides and beginners/intermediates. It is a large area, and can get pretty crowded. The approach takes about 10 minutes, and is well marked. The Gorge is wider and sunnier here. Most routes have trees for anchoring, but they are quite a distance from the rim, so bring long webbing (20 to 30 feet, rope, or cordelette for constructing and extending anchors). A couple of routes have bolts for anchors. There are 2 walk down, descent paths, one on each end. Both path are equipped with hand lines to assist on the steep, icy walk.
There are 32 routes in South Park, ranging from WI2-WI5.
South Park Pilar South Park Leading in South Park Fun in the South Park Practicing leading
View into South Park Inside the gorge Dow leading
New FuntierThe New Funtier
is a smaller area when compared to South Park and you will see a sing posting for turn off from the main path towards the South Park. It is suitable for beginners and intermediate climbers. There is a steep walk-down path equipped with a hand line on the upstream end of the area. It is hard to walk inside the gorge between the South Park and New Funtier - tons of rocks, trees, and not recommended. It is slightly less crowded area. The approach takes about 5 minutes. Use trees for anchoring.
There are 19 routes here ranging from WI2 to WI4, and M6
Pocahontas WI4 New Funtier New Funtier Rope soloing in New Funtier New Funtier
My little route The Cook WI3 Jimmy Cracked Corner WI2 Colorful anchors Captain Goddamnit WI3
The Graduate School is located just upstream from the School Room area. The gorge is taller here, so the routes are longer (two ropes are needed if you want to top rope from the bottom), and a few of the climbs often do not touch down to the bottom. As such, this area is best suited to belay from the top. Use trees as anchors. It is usually not crowded. I climbed there only with my soloist device. The routes started steeper and got pretty mellow higher up.
There are 5 routes here, ranging from WI2 to WI4. Approach is via the path to South Park (but you turn off before New Funtier and before the South Park areas), or just continuing past School Room area. The climbs are just upstream of the walk down path where it crosses underneath a small pipeline trestle.
Master's Degree WI3 View into the School Room Inside Grad School Organic Chemistry WI4 My rope solo system
School RoomThe School Room
is the most convenient, most popular area, and you better get there early to get your anchor. It is very popular with professional instructions. It is located just past the Upper Bridge area. It features several nice, easy and moderate climbs all equipped with bolted anchors at the top along the boardwalk. It is popular with lessons, but there are easier climbs in South Park and New Funtier area. Do not anchor between the bolted anchors and be very aware of falling ice when at the bottom of the climbs. There is a nice descend ladder at the start of the boardwalk. 70 meter rope is recommended.
From the Upper Bridge area, walk through the "Climbers Only" gate towards the suspended School Room Trestle on the obvious trail. There are two descent ways - one already mentioned descend ladder before you cross the Trestle and another walk-down descent path with hand lines on the upstream end of the School Room. Make sure you set up your anchor from above before heading down, you risk having someone else throw rope down on top of you.
There are 17 routes here, ranging from WI2-WI5/M4-M6
Dean's List Ice WI4 Dunce WI4 Pellucid Wombat in School Rappel into School Drytooling in School
Pellucid Wombat on Schoolroom Pillar? Ice Column view into school School Room Pillar WI5 Anchors School Rm
Just downstream from School Room is the Alcove offering more difficult climbing and less crowds. It is also home to some of the finest mixed climbs in the Ice Park. On the downstream end, the Alcove ends and the entry into the Upper Bridge area is blocked by a small waterfall and large boulders. You can walk freely between School Room area and the Alcove, and you access the Alcove area via the same ladder as the School Room area. The upper section (closer to School Room) area has several moderate ice climbs that can easily be top roped. The lower section of the gorge is more difficult to top rope and most climbs are lead (they are some nice overhanging mixed routes there).
There are 14 routes ranging from WI3 to WI4 and mixed climbs ranging from M4 to M8.
SKI in Alcove area Alcove area School from Alcove Alcove from School Easter Rising M8 Flamenco WI4
The Upper Bridge hosts some of the most steep and longest climbs in the gorge. Viewers can follow progress of climbers from the Upper Bridge. There are no easy routes there, and there is no walk off! Make sure you can climb up. The climbs adjacent to the bridge and underneath it are reserved for lead climbing only. This area is well marked and should not be used for top roping. All climbs are long (roughly 40 meters), and best suited to belay from the top. Most routes here either anchor to a tree or to one of the many large, steel posts in the ground designated as an anchor (these posts do not look like much, but do hold). It is cold inside the gorge here, narrow and dark.
There are about 24 routes here ranging from WI4 to WI6, and M7-M9.
Upper Bridge climbs PellucidWombat looking into Upper Bridge Both Bridges- lower and upper Pic O'the Vic WI4 Upper Bridge Climbs
Kids Climbing Wall
Kids Climbing Wall at Ouray Ice Park.
Memorial to fallen friends
The Kid's Climbing Wall
is not inside the gorge, and is located just by Upper Bridge area, off Camp Bird Road. It is a beginner climbing area that was created by money donated during the 2007 Ouray Ice Festival in memory of fallen female alpinists Sue Nott and Karen McNeil who were lost on Mount Foraker after summiting in May 2006 and other fallen friends of Ouray Ice Park. It was designated with the goal of bringing young climbers into the sport. Although adults are allowed access to this area, please give priority to children. The routes are about 20 meter long, mostly WI2s, and there is an walk up path for top roping. It is easily accessible for non-climbers (parents can watch closely).
This is the only wall in the park I have not climbed on. They provide free instructions here for children during the Ice Festival.
There are 9 routes, all rated as WI2.
The Lower Bridge area is as the names says located just below the Lower Bridge. (This bridge is closed to traffic, you can drive over the upper bridge, which provides access to climbs in Camp Bird area). The Lower Bridge area has a very short approach, and there is a walk-down path near the Lower Bridge viewing stand that is equipped with a hand line. On the west side of the bridge is an old, stone building with a rounded roof and a faded mural painted on the side. It is called the Powderhouse and formerly housed explosive powder for area mines.
The gorge is quiet narrow underneath this bridge. The climbs near here have a more confining and isolated feel. This area is used for competitions during the Ice Festival, and there are numerous mixed climbs here.
The Lower Bridge area features 18 routes, ranging from WI3 to WI5 and M6 to M9.
Mighty Aphrodite M9 Culminator WI5 Culminator again 2007 Qualifying Route Pemba Sherpa Lower Bridge area
The Scottish Gullies area is named after two prominent gullies - By Gully and Ach Mon, and includes surrounding climbs. The Lower Bridge area gradually goes into Scottish Gullies, and both areas use the same descent path. The Scottish Gullies has something for everyone. It is a great place for total beginners, intermediates, looking to practice leading or top roping, and for experts looking for good, challenging mixed climbs. Most routes are about 25 to 30 meters long.
There are numerous mixes routes there, including the most popular one in the Ice Park: Tic Tac. An easy walk-down descent path with a hand line is located opposite the climbs on the East side of the gorge, just below the Lower Bridge viewing platform.
There are 23 routes here ranging from WI2 to WI5, and M5-M9.
Scottish Gullies Dizzy Curtain WI4 Ach Mon WI4 Popstar WI3 Le Saucisson and Ach Mon
Popstar WI3 By Gully early season Dizzy Curtain and Aye Laddy! Tic Tac M6 Oranged flagged anchors
The Fiver Fingers area is located further downstream of the Lower Bridge and past Scottish Gullies. It is closer to town, and if you plan to climb over there, it is probably easier to walk from town rather than to park. It is easily visible from the large switchback on Hwy 550 when driving to the Ice Park. It appears like several distinct columns - fingers of ice, but I think there are 6 or 7, instead of 5. Most of the climbs are steep, and suited for intermediate to advanced climbers.
All the climbs are located below the service road and the anchors are chains extending from bolts in the rock wall on the opposite side of the road from the ice (vehicle would drive over these chains). The chains are long enough to reach across the road, so don't belay or leave your gear right on the road as other visitors and climbers need to access this road. The routes are 35 to 40 meters long, and most people belay from the road. There is a walk down descent path equipped with a hand line in the gully located just below the picnic area where the wall turns sharply to the East. Look for the ladder over the fence.
There are 12 routes here, ranging from WI4 to WI5, and M7.
We are #1 WI4 Ice columns at Fingers area Playing Hooky and We are #1 Five Fingers area Fingers by Flex
Shithouse and Gazebo WallThe Shithouse and Gazebo Wall
are the furthest downstream, closest to town. If you choose to climb here, it is definitively easier just to walk in from the end of 3rd Avenue (near Victorian Inn and Box Canyon Lodge) rather than driving.
The sunny Shithouse is named for the brick outhouse located right above the climbs and next to the open picnic area at the top. The climbs can melt out if it has been warm, so be careful to check conditions before venturing out there. The climbs here are similar to Five Fingers area but are a bit more moderate.
The Gazebo Wall
is just downstream next to Shithouse Wall and right below the covered picnic gazebo at the canyon's rim. Like the Shithouse Wall, this area also gets a lot of sun and the climbs can melt out. There is a walk down descent path equipped with hand lines in between Five Fingers and the Shithouse Wall in a gully. Use the metal ladders for crossing the fence.
There are 13 routes in his area, ranging from WI4 to WI5, and M9.
Shithouse Wall Royal Flush WI5 Metal ladder Gazebo Wall | |Shithouse Wall
Ouray Mountain Shop
One of the best supplied ice climbing stores in the North America - I heard that they sell more ice tools than any other store in USA. They also have an ice screw machine to sharpen up your protection. Very helpful staff. Rental packages available.
And you are welcomed to soak in one of the local hot springs after your ice climb: either Ouray Hot Springs,
or Orvis Hot Springs in Ridgway.