Ouray and the surrounding areas are great places for ice climbing. Most visitors who come here to ice climb stay in the Ice Park, but there are great ice climbs just outside the city. The ice park can get sometimes crowded, especially during the Ice Festival. Most locals prefer the real ice, and hiking to those wild ice wonders is an adventure, which should not be missed.
Upper Dexter Creek Slab is an obvious slab of ice that can be viewed from the highway just north of Ouray. The climbing here is moderate and fun, and is popular with beginners and classes. I write "popular", but I did not see anyone climbing there - only me, and my climbing partners.
Anywhere from two to four moderate ice routes, up to three pitches long can form up there. The ice gets sun later on in the afternoon, so if you are seeking a warmer ice climb, plan to visit after a lunch. The climb takes about 4 hrs, the approach can take up to an hour. The icefall is wide enough that you can have 2-3 parties climbing right next to each other. It is a good place to learn lead ice climbing.
I climbed it twice, and the conditions were very different as you will be able to see from the photos below.
2013 - This climb is getting more popular and I started to see more people coming here. 3rd climb of this ice fall and met 3 different parties today! I would stay come early on weekends, but you will be in the shade and cold. This climb does get sun in the afternoon, so on weekdays wait a little bit and start around 10:00 to enjoy some sun. The rock and ice fall is dangerous here, therefore it is better to wait until other parties clear up the route. 2013 - not as thick as usual, only one party can climb.
Please don't confuse Dexter Creek Slab with Dexter Creek Icefall. Both are located close to each other, but Dexter Creek Icefall is currently closed to climbers. There are warning signs. Remember - always check locally about access to everything! Ouray Mountain Sports is a great source of up to date information.
Getting ThereFrom Ouray, drive north past the Rotary Park approximately 0.4 miles and turn right up CR 14. There will be a sign for Dexter Creek and Mine Tours. Continue uphill about 2.2 miles (past the bridge over Dexter Creek), and turn right on a dirt road just under the slab. You should park near the turn off, the road is not snow plowed up here.
Hike up on the dirt road uphill, and after two switchbacks keep looking for a drainage leading up to the ice. The drainage is pretty obvious, and hard to miss from the dirt road. Hike up the drainage to the start of the icefall.
Hike Time: 1 to 1.5 hrs
Hike Gain: several hundred feet
Exposure:West (best to climb after 1:00 pm, sun gets there)
Season:Early December through March. You can always check out the ice condition at San Juan Ice condition site - San Juan Mountain Guides
Route DescriptionUpper Dexter Creek Slab is the obvious slab of ice that is very clearly visible from the dirt road. The climbing is moderate, several short to medium long icefalls, with some ice walking in between. The ice is wide, so you can choose from many different route variations. Most people climb it in 3 pitches. Most steeper WI4 sections of the ice are very short, and there are easy sections, especially on pitch #2, which are excellent for first time ice climb leader.
There are some anchors (webbing) on trees, otherwise you need to place ice screws for protection.
Most people start the climb at the base of the main icefall, but there are two smaller ice falls below this one, and you may enjoy doing a short ice climb there.
The 3 pitch route is described from the base of the main icefall.
Pitch #1: about 35-40 meters long, many variations since the icefall is very wide, mostly WI3.
Pitch #2: about 45 meter long, less steep, an excellent pitch to do your first lead on ice. WI1-2.
Pitch #3: about 40 meters long, WI4, the 4 section is not very long, and above it the ice slope gets easier. You will see anchors on a couple of trees above. You will basically end up in a forest, so many trees to choose from if you decide to make your own anchor.
Descent:rappel (2 60 meter ropes make it easier), and some sections you can down climb/hike down on the north side of the climb. The hike down can be pretty exposed at some places, and is easier in a snow (otherwise you have to negotiate a lot of loose scree and rock).
Ice climbing boots, crampons (the best are old, rusty, and dull ones as I was told), ice tools, ice screws, slings, webbing for anchor replacement, and a rope.
If you are planning to rappel off two 60 meter ropes are better. We down climbed the route.
I have 3 sets of ice crampons, and Michael Covington picked the oldest ones, the most rusty and dull ones. He said that it is the best experience I can get. My crampons could get dull on a long alpine climb, so learning in the most difficult conditions is good for me.
Obviously climbing with a heavy pack on the back is totally different experience than ice climbing in the park, where many routes are top roped, and you don't have to deal with exhausted legs from a long approach hike.
External LinksMountain Project Description
Copy from the "Colorado Ice" book by Jack Roberts
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.