How to Get There/Preparation: Boulder Canyon Lower Falls Ice
Once in Boulder, take CO 119 towards Nederland. The canyon offers several ice climbs, so keep your eyes open. The specific climb mentioned here can be found using the topo map and the google earth image provided. The lower ice falls in Boulder Canyon are right after Castle Rock, a prominent rock outcrop. Cross the creek and follow a trail to the base of the falls. The approach is around 10 minutes, a little more if you park farther down the road.
Google Earth image of the lower ice falls in Boulder Canyon in relation to Castle Rock. Topographic map of lower ice falls in Boulder Canyon.
The route described in this trip report is called the 'Middle Flow' and rated a WI3, (remember conditions always change!) The boulder problem dry-tool variation is rated a M4+ and is usually covered by ice. Both of these routes are part of the 'lower falls' area near Castle Rock in Boulder Canyon. As of Jan 13th, 2007, the ice of this route is in.
How to Get There/Preparation: Clear Creek Canyon Ice
The easiest way to access this area is to go to Golden and then take CO 6 towards Black Hawk. There are several ice climbs in the area, and any can be climbed. Look at the maps for the specific location of this climb. The ice is not too far from tunnel two, and the approach includes a small hike of less than 10 minutes after you cross Clear Creek. If leading, bring all the necessary protection needed, including screws, runners, and load limiting runners. If top-roping, all you need is a few runners and biners to use on the obvious bolts at the top of each climb. As always bring ice tools, crampons, and always wear a helmet!!!
Google Earth image of the ice falls in Clear Creek Canyon.
Topographic map of the ice falls in Clear Creek Canyon.
The route described in this trip report is called 'Coors Lite' and is rated a WI2-3 depending on conditions. The pilliar of ice that forms on the upper sections usually forms as a WI3+/4 route. The left section of the lower falls offers some mixed climbing, being rated at a WI3/M3. The routes described here are part of the 'Little Eiger' area, a rock wall that is climbed in the summer. As of Jan 14th, 2007, the ice is in, but not particularly thick. The upper section of both falls are still farily wet, and unless there is a cold snap, they will remain so for a while.
The Climb: Boulder Canyon
It was cold…very cold. Colorado had been experiencing an unusual amount of snow and had a recent cold snap. There was to be a high of around 3 degrees today, but the sky was clear and was inviting us Coloradans to come out and play. I had wanted to get on ice for some time now. After blowing a lot of cash on tools and other equipment that I had only been able to use drytooling in gyms and on boulders, I was ready to get out and test my skills on ice. I was literally dreaming about ice in my sleep and occupying myself with current beta about ice climbs while awake. Luckily for me, SP members Andy
, and Fabio
also had a yearning to get on ice the weekend of the 13th of January. Both Andy and Fabio had climbed ice earlier in the season in Rocky Mountain National Park. Eric had never climbed ice before, but climbed rock on a regular basis and was familiar with all of the necessary techniques to ascend waterfall ice. We arranged to climb in Boulder Canyon. The ice was in there and the relative close proximity to the car meant a short approach and more time for climbing. We met early in Boulder, piled into Eric’s Subaru, and headed up the canyon. I had never been in the canyon before and kept my eyes glued to the rock, scanning every surface for hints of ice and climbable mixed routes for future trips. After a little back-and-forth driving, we eventually located the waterfall and parked at a pullout. We put on our boots, threw on the packs, and raced to the ice. I was extremely excited, I could not wait any longer! We got to the falls and passed a few smaller ice flows that were not quite in yet. After donning our crampons and helmets, we were ready to go.
Ice routes in Boulder Canyon.
The only problem was that none of us had ever led ice before. We eventually decided to set up a top-rope using some trees at the top of the climb. I would have been more than willing to lead, but thought it best to err on the side of caution. This was only accessible with a little climbing over a rock slab and onto some thin ice where little to no protection could be placed. I tied in and helped Fabio set up a belay station using two nuts to anchor him to the rock. As Fabio belayed me, I drytooled up the relatively shallow slab of rock onto the ice. I got to the thin ice and tried some tool placements. My tools would not stick and kept breaking the ice from the featureless rock below. I grabbed a screw and tried to find the thickest part of the ice I could to place one piece before going to the anchor. If I were to fall here I would swing like a pendulum onto the side of the rock face that I had just climbed. The ice was too thin and kept breaking and the whole ledge was covered in this verglass. Andy shouted from below asking if there was anything else I could use. I looked around and luckily found a built anchor further up the rock face. I traversed across and inspected the anchor. It was bomber and had a few rap rings on which we could toprope. I set it up, and was lowered by Fabio. Now we could get on the lower ice fall. Fabio climbed first, followed by Andy, then Eric, then I. Everyone climbed really well and with good technique. I almost didn’t believe Eric when he said that he had never been on ice before since his technique was so solid.
Setting up top-rope by climbing a rock slab to get to some anchors,(photo courtesy of Eric Lee.)
Fabio on the upper ice falls nearing the anchors, (photo courtesy of Eric Lee.)
As we climbed, a lone man came to the falls we were at and started to get ready to climb ice as well. We briefly exchanged some words, and before we knew it, he was soloing a route to the left of ours. ‘This guy is nuts!’ I silently thought to myself. On one hand I admired him. Soloing ice is a whole different animal than soloing rock routes. Ice conditions are always changing, and even if you have been up a route before you can never know what the conditions will be like a week later. On the other hand I thought it was quite reckless. Perhaps I was jealous that I didn’t have the guts to solo ice, but I was almost frustrated with this guy for coming next to us to solo. Was it a stunt? Is he trying to prove something to us? We continued climbing and as I finished the lower fall, the soloist came up to us and asked if he could join in with our toprope. We told him that we were hoping to toprope the entire face, both the lower and upper section. He agreed to climb the lower fall on toprope, and from there lead to the top and set up an anchor for the entire route. Awesome! My opinion of this man was slowly changing, it seemed that he was just a down to earth guy that had no partners and wanted to enjoy the day on ice. I am always pessimistic; it is my way of making sure that I am able to control the situation. If I know that something can go wrong, I assume it will, and prepare for the worst. When it comes to climbing, this is a great view to have; continually scrutinizing gear placement, the conditions of the rock and ice, the reasonable amount of risk that I am willing to take, etc. It makes for an ultra-safe climb. I have unfortunately taken this pessimistic view when evaluating new climbers as well. It might appear that I am a jackass on the outside, always questioning and asking about your abilities and mastery of techniques, but in reality I am making sure to cover my own ass. If I am 30 meters up an ice fall, I want to make sure that you can stop a fall. We traded names, and I hooked in to belay Jim ‘the soloist’ up the route. It is truly amazing what Jim did. While not very technical (WI3), he came alone and trusted complete strangers to belay and protect him while he led. Anything can go wrong on ice, which is what makes it so appealing to me. Even on a WI3 route, the ice can crack and break, causing a very painful and potentially fatal fall. Jim one-tooled up the first section of the ice, with solid tool placement and body position. He then set a screw and climbed the rest of the route, using a large tree at the top to set up our toprope.
Andy climbing the lower chunk of the waterfall.
The route was quite long, nearly 50 meters, so it required two ropes being tied together so that we could top-rope it. Once the route was set, we all took turns on the lower and upper falls. The climbing was brilliant, and the weather seemed to be much nicer than it was predicted to be. Once I was on the upper falls, I was in my own little world. From here you could not see the bottom of the climb or the belayer because of a shelf joining the upper fall to the lower fall. The ice was solid and my movements were clean. I took a long time, trying to extend the experience and savor the feeling of being on the ice. I loved the sound of the tool hitting the ice, I loved the way the ice looked and felt, I loved moving slowly up the face, I just loved the ice. I thought to myself, “If hell is frozen over, then that is where I want to be!”
Me on a direct dry-tool variation of the lower ice falls.
Before I got to the top of the route, I set up another top-rope so that we could try a drytool variation of the route. I still had a lot of energy and needed to get some more climbing in before the day was out. My tools were leashless and worked great in the gym for drytooling, so I wanted to give them a go on some rock. My crampons were also designed for drytooling, so I figured I had to give it a shot. I’m sure Andy and the rest thought, “what the hell is ‘Danimal' doing now?” but I wanted to prove that I could do it and wanted to push myself. The route was a fairly blank face of rock, with a crack running half way up it and with occasional nubs to place tools. I made my way up it and had to pause for a while, hang-dog style to figure out the upper portions. I was doing everything I could think of, matching on a single tool, switching hands, stemming and torquing my monopoints in cracks. It was truly a creative ordeal. It was like a large puzzle that I had to figure out, except I had spikes on my feet on sharp tools in my hands. At the top was a small chunk of ice that I heel hooked into and mantled to the top of the route. I was quite proud and happy, even though it was only on top-rope and I had to hang out in the middle of the route to figure out the sequence. I thank my diligent belayers, Andy, Eric, and Fabio as I tried some new things and pushed myself on this drytool route.
Headed back to the car after a day of success smelling like victory.
While I drytooled, the others climbed the upper falls and eventually Jim went to the top and cleaned the anchor. It was time to go, but I wanted to stay. We left, saying our goodbyes to Jim, and headed back to Boulder for some grub and beer drenched in the smell of victory while discussing future adventures.
The Climb: Clear Creek Canyon
Lower section of the waterfall.
I thought that doing some ice climbing in Boulder would satisfy my thirst for a while, but I was wrong. Now, more than ever, ice climbing was on my mind non-stop. It was as if I was being consumed by the ice. Led by the Jack Frost of Pied Pipers. I spent the night in Littleton and was to go hiking the next day to attempt Red Peak with SP member gurlyclimber
. Secretly I hoped that something would come up so that we could ice climb instead. In the morning, my prayers were answered. Jack Frost had indeed come to Colorado once again and was dumping snow everywhere. Driving in conditions like that, much less on I-70 on a Sunday, would be an adventure in its own right. Gurlyclimber had mentioned that we could perhaps climb some ice instead. I immediately took her up on the offer and got my gear ready to go. We drove to Golden, and then into Clear Creek Canyon. I had heard that there was pretty good ice to be had here. Unlike the ice I was on the previous day, this ice was formed naturally by little streams and tributaries that fed into Clear Creek. After driving up and down the road a few times to spot the ice, we found a pull off and got ready.
Upper portion of the ice fall in Clear Creek.
The approach was very similar to the Boulder Canyon. We were close to the road and it took us only 5-10 minutes to get to the ice. Also, much like the previous day, there were two tiers of ice consisting of upper and lower falls. We set up top-rope on two bolted anchors and rappelled to the base of the lower falls. The lower falls were easier to climb than the upper falls, but made for a more interesting rappel route with overhanging rock. I hate rappelling, much less with crampons over an overhang. This was, to me, the hardest part of this route! Both of us we ready for some ice, it would be gurlyclimber’s first taste in nearly a year. We played ‘rock, paper, scissors’ to determine who would go first. Sadly I lost. Gurlyclimber roped up, and took off on the ice. She was smokin’ up the ice, and my turn came quickly. After I got a lap in, gurlyclimber asked to use my tools. They are leashless and she wanted to use them instead of her leashed ones. She climbed to the top of the falls, lowered my ice tools, and then belayed me from up there. By the time I got to the top, the other team on the upper falls had gone and we had them all to our own.
Tracy tears it up on the lower ice fall.
The upper falls were a little taller and a little more challenging, but the ice was thick and solid. We once again set up top-rope using two bolted anchors at the top, and then began to climb. I chose to take the left most column, a near vertical 30 foot pitch of great ice. I could definitely feel myself getting pumped on this climb, and it was much more difficult than I had imagined. It was brilliant though, and it did not take much to get the ice tools to stick in the plastic like ice. It felt brilliant. It was not very cold, but the snow was falling, and a faint odor of the Coors brewery could be smelled as it wafted into the canyon. I was in my moment, and I could have stayed there forever, continually climbing the ice like a runner on a treadmill. I knew I had to come down though, and as I did I took notice in the intricacies of the ice. We packed up and headed back to the car, both temporarily satisfied. I could tell that I would need more, and hope for many more spectacular days this winter on ice.
Tracy beginning the upper ice fall in Clear Creek.
What is it about something so beautiful and so fragile that begs to be ascended? There is a different feeling that I get when climbing ice than when I am climbing rock. I am always afraid when climbing and leading on rock that the hold will not support me or that I will reach up and pull a chunk off of the wall, sending me flying in the air. When it comes to ice I know that it is fragile and can break at any moment, but I seem to embrace it and realize that that is what makes ice so special. I am not afraid, I am humbled. Rocks are supposed to be solid, remain strong, and hold up to wear and tear. It is what makes the route repeatable. Even though the holds might get glazed over from hundreds and thousands of ascents, the sequence is the same. A route page for a rock climb is definite, a route page for an ice climb is not. With ice, the conditions always change, even from one day to the next. When I am climbing ice I know that what I am doing is unique and special, it can never be recreated, even if I were to come back the following week. The texture and feel of the ice would change. Ice is almost a living being, an ice phoenix if you will, being reborn every season slightly different. It is what makes ice climbing so great.
Me at the end of the day. Tired but still in good spirits.