Spring Break 2019 with US Outdoor in Ouray, Colorado

Friday, March 8, 2019

The Upper School Outdoor Program traveled to Ouray, Colorado over Waterford's Spring Break. Follow along as senior, Katie R. recounts the trip. 

Katie R. ’19 Ice Climbing in Ouray, Colorado
Katie R. ’19 Ice Climbing in Ouray, Colorado

3/5/19

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To the outside observer, Ouray, Colorado may look like nothing more than an old mining town. However, to those who know, it’s an ice climber’s paradise. Set at the base of the San Juan mountains, it is home to one of two maintained ice parks in the United States. This is what brought ten Waterford students and three leaders out to Ouray in a school bus-suburban caravan. We left after the final on Friday, March 1, and six and a half hours later we pulled into Ouray in the dark. Cabins with bunk beds and space heaters welcomed us, and after a quick pasta dinner in the leaders’ cabin, we were introduced to our rented boots and crampons. The boots had some size discrepancies from what we had requested, but we passed them out and sized our crampons as best as we knew how.

Jacquiline B. ice Climbing in Ouray, Colorado
Jacquiline B. Ice Climbing in Ouray, Colorado

Saturday, we awoke at six in the morning, hoping to line up outside the ice park by 7:30 and be ahead of the crowds. The park was an easy ten minutes or less from our cabins, and we arrived to find the parking area empty. A short walk up the road brought us to the gate, where we peered over the edge of the road outside the park and had our first glimpses of the impressive ice walls we would soon be grappling with. We then strapped into crampons, helmets, and harnesses. Crampons and helmets are required inside the gates. As we began our walk into the park, many incorrectly put-on or sized crampons popped off, and because of this our progress was somewhat slow. 30-40 minutes later, we had all made it to an area called South Park. Walking along the top of the gorge, it was difficult to see the routes that we would climb. We set our anchors, choosing routes essentially on faith, and then walked down into the ravine. The views were impressive, to say the least. Having reached our ropes, the question was asked, “who wants to climb?” None of us (the students) had ever ice climbed before, or climbed anything for that matter with ten steel spikes on each foot and a sharp ice tool in each hand. Nonetheless, we dove in and sent students up. We were, I think, generally surprised by our strength as we took on this entirely new challenge. The movements, equipment, and environment were all new and somewhat intimidating, however I believe everyone got in 3-4 successful climbs that day. By the end of the day, we had moved areas and increased the angle of the ice routes and thereby the difficulty. The weather maintained a steady, wet drizzle pretty much the entire day, but we were not dissuaded. We stayed at the park until about 3 pm, and went directly to a small burger place on main street afterwards. As our first meal since oatmeal packets at 6:30 that morning, it wasn’t bad at all. I might be as bold as to say that personally I’ve never been so well fed in my life. Fatigued, chilly, and a little damp, we returned to the cabins and quickly laid everything out by the space heaters to dry so we could dash to the outdoor hot tubs or into bed for a pre-dinner nap. After soaking/napping for a few hours, we all met again in the leaders’ cabin for a chance to eat and hang out before turning in for the night. With all 13 of us packed into a 10x10 room, we congratulated each other and celebrated our success as novice ice climbers. We then went over the plan for tomorrow and went off to bed, praying our gloves would all dry out by morning.

James W. climbing in Ouray, CO
James W. climbing in Ouray, CO

We woke later on Sunday, about 7 am, and set off for the ice park again with new climbing groups and renewed enthusiasm. Upon our arrival, the parking was somewhat more full than the previous day, and in Watkins’s attempt to park the bus, we were thwarted by the four new inches of snow. After some pushing and pulling, we were on our way again and walked up to the ice park. The crampons that had been so unfriendly yesterday morning were not so today. We felt already like old pros. Our groups were much more spread out on this day, and we were immediately climbing much more vertical ice than we had been on Saturday morning. Our fresh energy in the morning translated to some pretty impressive climbs. The sun even came out for about 30 minutes during our first climbs. As the day went on, we continued to observe and feel our improvement since the day before. Our techniques had become more refined and efficient, even though it was only our second day ice climbing (ever). We eventually all ended up in a climbing area near the entrance to the park called School Room. Around 1pm we witnessed a medium sized ice fall in this area, not too far away from some of our climbers. The ice park was getting late in its season, and the warming was starting to take effect. We felt even more epic in our climbs knowing that they were some of the final climbs of the season. We stayed until the park closed at four that afternoon, and the snow was coming down pretty hard by then as well. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to the chocolate shop we were planning on because it had closed, but the shack at the gates of the park did have complimentary hot chocolate and some sweet merch. We returned again for hot tubbing and napping before our final dinner. At dinnertime, we all relaxed on the pull-out couch (at least 7-8 of us did) and the surrounding space in the leaders’ cabin. Our mood was light and satisfied. We had all accomplished impressive feats that day and shamelessly enjoyed it.

This is Waterford’s first ice climbing trip. For some students, it was their first Waterford Outdoor Program trip. Everyone in the group rose to the occasion and helped to make it a weekend that I’m not likely to soon forget. I hope that the program will run this trip again, even make it a spring break tradition, because I’d heartily recommend it to anyone with any level of experience. It’s difficult to pull out highlights, since the whole trip was just a straight victory. Ouray is fantastic, and I learned a surprising amount about my ability for such a short amount of time spent. I hope students in the future will have the opportunity to do the same.

Waterford Students in Ouray, CO