Southwest Colorado Ice Climbing

Southwest Colorado Ice Climbing

Page Type Page Type: Area/Range
Location Lat/Lon: 37.77506°N / 107.88025°W
Activities Activities: Ice Climbing
Seasons Season: Winter
Sign the Climber's Log

Ice climbing in Southwest Colorado

South Park pillar
South Park Pillar, Ouray Ice Park
This is a place to share the good times of climbing ice in SW Colorado. The Ice Park in Ouray is a great outdoor ice park, and will be included as it is one of the most popular places to ice climb in the state, and in North America. I prefer the wilder side of things and a little more variability (Rob). I love climbing ice and spending time in the mountains. Another popular place for beginners and little more out of way is Lake City Ice Park.

Give me a little slack, this will evolve over time (Rob).

"And I am an old lady, and never know what I will do in the next minute. I may get to go on big ice, but I may just hang out in the park."(Liba)

Below areas do not describe all climbs, just the most popular ones, and those I have done and am familiar with. We will be adding more. I am collaborating on this SP site with Rob, who I have never met. The page's main layout and idea comes from Rob, I am just putting little details in.

Durango Area Ice

Haflin Canyon Ice
This climb was awesome. To bad it seldom comes in.
Haflin Canyon
Upper Haflin Falls Near Durang
  Durango is an old western town with a name as colorful as the surrounding setting. It is a gateway to San Juan Mountains and the Four Corners region. 
Because of the arid climate in this area of the state, the ice climbing is very limited and the routes do not form as frequently or reliably as in other areas. 
Durango is a college town, and offers a large variety of hotel accommodations and restaurants (several very fancy ones too).

  1. Haflin Canyon - it is about 3 miles out of Durango. park at the US Forest Service Road signed for Haflin Creek. The Lower 
      Falls (20m, WI4) is at the mouth of the canyon and is usually top roped. A farther 1.5 miles up the canyon is the Upper Falls 
      (40m, WI4). 
  2. Cascade Canyon - is a small but exciting area close to Hwy 550. The area is about 1 mile north of the Durango Mountain 
      resort near the Cascade Village Resort. 
      There are many short climbs here, and it is a great place for top roping or when little time is available. Lots of curtains,
      hanging pillars, and cool mixed climbs.

Telluride Area Ice

Ames Ice Hose 2nd pitch
Ames Ice Hose 2nd pitch
Bridalveil Falls
Bridalveil Falls

1. Bridalveil Falls WI5+/6 - a climb of legendary stature and beauty, first ascended in 1974 by Jeff Lowe and Michael Weis.
Usually done in 4 pitches. This is also a climb which cost the life of Jack Roberts. SP site for Bridalveil Falls

2. Bear Creek Canyon Falls WI3/5- approach from town of Telluride. The climb follows the Bear Creek drainage. The gorge is full of challenges for beginners and experts alike. The approach is short and if you get cold the lovely town of Telluride with its cafes and pubs is only a short walk away. You can top rope the route (the approach is from the top), and it almost resembles a miniature ice park. 
Guiding is not permitted here (Bear Creek Preserve). The trail is very popular in the summer with hikers. 

3. Ames Ice Hose WI5/6 M6 - this climb is located at Ophir/Ames area, another classic beautiful line, very popular. Many times the first pitch is done in rock shoes, but some years the first pitch comes in fat and is a pure ice climbing joy. They say that the first pitch is generally psychological and physical crux pitch if not enough rice.  They recommend to bring a head lamp since many parties underestimate the time needed, however I have done it in 2.5 hrs when ice was in great conditions. SP site for Ames Ice Hoses.

4. Ames Falls WI4/5 - located behind the power plant in Ames. There are upper and lower falls, you can towrope both falls. The Lower Falls are easer and offer WI3 climbing, the Upper Falls are steeper and slightly shorter WI4 and about 30 meters long. Approach is about 15 minutes. Fun outing. 

Bear Creek Falls
Bear Creek Falls
Bear Creek Falls
Bear Creek Falls

Silverton Area Ice

Sundance WI4
Sundance WI4
Direct North Face
Direct North Face

Campground Couloir
Campground Couloir
I. South Mineral Creek - popular early in the season. The road to the South Mineral Campground is typically open until heavy snow fall 
(?December). November - you can just drive in, later on during the season (typically starting from December) expect a long approach on skis, snowshoes and an avalanche risk. It is 4.5 miles from the Hwy 550 to the campground. 

1. Campground Couloir WI4 - This is striking blue strand of ice visible from the road. The first 3 pitches are WI4, and most parties rappel the route from here. There is some WI2 ice above.
2. Direct North Face WI4/5 - this route wanders up thinly iced slabs and ramps, which lead to steep pencils of ice dropping  over short rock bands. There are usually about five steps of ice, any of which may be easily walked away from. 
3. Snowblind WI4 - This is obvious ice filled chimney that drops off Peak 12,579. It is much longer than it looks from below. Most parties do the first five pitches.
4. Cataract Creek WI 3/4 - This streambed can be fun in the early season when there isn't much snow to slog up between icy steps and chimneys. Descend by walking off to the left of the cliff. 
5. Sundance WI4/5 - This is the waterfall that should be visible from Hwy 550. One very long rope length of WI4 or WI5 climbing. Descend by walking off to the right.

II. Eureka 
1. Whorehouse Hoses WI4/5 - this climb is located in a deep chimney system that ices up pretty thickly. The route follows this chimney, and the first pitch is 68 meters long. Bring 2 ropes to rappel down (you can leave the 2nd rope at the top of the first pitch). There are short walks in between the pitches, and the whole climb is incredibly scenic.
Whorehouse Hoses
Whorehouse Hoses
For the 3rd pitch, you can either go left or climb a grade harder by going right. Above this the climbing is uninteresting and involves a lot of slogging. 
2. Stairway to Heaven WI4 - this is very obvious, blue, staircase of ice flow in the area - a most popular outing here. Can get very busy on weekends. There are fixed belay stations along the climb, which are sometimes hard to find. You can see this waterfall from Eureka parking lot. 
3. First Gully WI3/4 - this route meanders up the east face of Peak 12,896. Climb four pitches  of rolling WI2/3, the last pitch is the best. Rappel the route. This is the easiest climb in the area. Great for beginner ice leaders. 
First Gully on SP
4. Second Gully WI4 - It is mostly low angle, feels easier than WI4, and WI4 sections can be easily avoided by climbing around to make it more WI 2/3. The ice may be thin early in the season.  Many variations are possible. Located just a little bit up from First Gully. SP route description.
Second Gully album on SP
5. Goldrush WI4/5 - bring rock gear for this one, first pitch may be thin early on. A beautiful ramp up the left wall of a big left-facing corner. Located just a little bit up from Second Gully. An excellent route. Goldrush on SP
6. Highway 66, AKA Highway to Hell WI4 - slightly easier than Stairway to Heaven. Located on the right side of Stairway. Climb is about 3 pitches long.
7. Hoser's Higway WI5 - located left of Stairway to Heaven, climbs up Peak 13,419. The crux is a thin pillar. 
8. Bad Ass Pencil WI5/6 - this climb is located in Eureka Gulch, on the left (east side). This strenuous pillar does not form every year. 

Ouray Area Ice

Rapping through the Skylight
Gravity's Rainbow
Gravity's Rainbow in super fat condition 1/2008.

1. The Ouray Ice Park - this is the most popular area in San Juans for climbers off all abilities. You can top rope many climbs, more than 200 different routes right next to each other. It a free park. Supporting the park with a membership is strongly advised to keep it open and operating. The ice is farmed from water running along the top of the gorge and sprinkling it overnight. Ice farmers turn the water on around 4 PM (time to leave).

Annual Ouray Ice Festival - held every year in the beginning of January is very well attended with famous professional climbers. 

The ice park was developed by tapping into the aqueduct above the canyon and allowing the water to flow and freeze along the canyon's length. It is absolutely amazing place, unfortunately getting crowded, especially on weekends.  

 2. Camp Bird Road Area - another very popular area for ice climbing located just a little bit above the town of Ouray. Great place if you get tired (or need a break from the ice park). Many different routes, you have to be able to lead climb, and many dry tooling routes too. See this SP site Camp Bird Road for more information. 

3. Engineer Pass/Red Mountain Pass Area - beautiful road between Ouray and Silverton. Many of these climbs face south and come in only for a short period of time. The closest to town would be Horsetail Falls - very popular climb, get there early. Expect lots of spectators from Hwy 550.

4. Kennedy Gully - became really famous after this You-Tube video is located at the Engineer Pass turn-off. The route comes in yearly only for a short time around x-mas and New Years. It gets a lot of sun and melts out quickly.

5. Gravity Rainbow WI5 - faces south and does not come in every year, and if does it is usually only for a couple of weeks. Jack Roberts says in his book Colorado Ice "When in shape, this is among the top five routes in San Juans". The approach is short and is the route is nicely visible from Million Dollar Highway.

6. Dexter Creek Slabs WI3/4 - located just north of Ouray. Another popular climb, relatively wide, 2 parties can climb next to each other under good conditions. Usually done in 3 pitches. Descend either rappel or walk-off. 
Approach to Dexter Creek
nearing the top of rock section
Ouray Ice Festival

Wolf Creek/Pagosa Springs Area Ice. 

Treasure Falls WI4
Treasure Falls WI4+ - Wolf Creek Pass area.
Wolf Creek
One of the best places to ski in Colorado 

Wolf Creek offers as much ice climbing as other areas in the state, but few know this because of the small climber population in this area. Jack Roberts in his Colorado Ice describes many climbs along the road

Wolf Creek is located on Hwy 160 - photo of Treasure Falls (on the left) taken from the Hwy. (we went skiing and I could not find anyone to go climbing those with me:). Treasure Falls are nice to visit in the summer, there is a nice trail up there. I remember seeing once a group of handicapped men struggling on a rough trail to get there in wheelchairs. 
I usually go there for skiing in the winter. They say skiing at Wolf Creek is second only to the very best in Utah. 
It is also good for ice climbing because most of the climbs are snow-fed. I could see many ice falls along the highway. 
Most of the ice routes are in a narrow two mile corridor about 8 miles southwest of South Fork. The rest of the routes are over the Wolf Creek Pass on the Pagosa Springs. 
Where to Stay: the best for ice climbers is South Fork (closer to more ice routes), Pagosa is a little bit further away for ice routes (and also further away if you drive from Denver). But Pasosa offers more luxury in the terms of hotels, motels and beautiful hot springs - definitively worth visiting. Pagosa means in Ute "healing waters".

Lake City Area Ice

Relaxed atmosphere
Relaxed atmosphere of Lake City Ice Park.
Posing :)
Easy leading on North Clear Waterfall WI3.

1. Lake City Ice Park - small, but a lovely park, very homely atmosphere. Lake City is more isolated, but very nice historical center. I think definitively worth visiting. They have an Ice Festival too - competitors are mostly locals and "normal" people, unlike Ouray where you hear famous names and see professionals during the ice festival competition. 

2. Sherman Area - many climbs in the area, named after the classic Sherman Climb. SP site for Sherman Climb.

3. Slumgullion & Spring Creek Passes - located southeast of Lake City are two moderate and popular waterfalls that are found just off Hwy 149 near Spring Creek Pass. 
    Spring Creek Pass is the southern portion of a double summited pass that links Lake City with Creede, South Fork, and Hwy 160. 
    North Clear Creek Falls WI3+ - from Lake City travel south of Hwy 149 toward Creede for 21.5 miles. Turn left on FR 510 at a sign for "Falls". Walk or ski 0.5 miles
    to the climb and rappel to the base.
South Clear Creek Falls WI3 - Continue 3 miles farther south on Hwy 149 from North Clear Creek, or about   24 miles south of Lake City. Turn left onto FR 510 and drive
to the parking lot for the falls. Follow a well marked trail less than 0.5 mile to the climb.

Recommended References

1. Colorado Ice By Jack Roberts
2. Colorado Ice Climbers Guide By Cameron Burns
3. Mountain Project's Web Site.



Parents refers to a larger category under which an object falls. For example, theAconcagua mountain page has the 'Aconcagua Group' and the 'Seven Summits' asparents and is a parent itself to many routes, photos, and Trip Reports.

San Juan RangeAreas & Ranges
Colorado Ice ClimbsAreas & Ranges