Redstone’s ice climbing hit or miss
Hello, my name is Andrew and I climb ice. It’s an addiction I’m not proud of – I’d rather just climb sunny, warm rock. But until that happens in May, I’ll continue climbing the ice flows that pour into clandestine gullies around Redstone.Drive up Highway 132 from Carbondale, and the flat ranchlands along the Crystal River suddenly, just before reaching Redstone proper, jut up into steep, rugged rock architecture, appropriately called “the Narrows.” Throughout winter (and especially March), when the perfect balance of sunny days followed by sub-freezing nights is reached, snow-melted water pours down the Narrows’ gullies, building into fat, frozen structures that attract ice climbers from all over the state.Redstone’s classic ice routes, with names like the Redstone Pillar, the Pencil, the Drool, Avocado Gulley and the Pipeline, are tucked away from all but the most discerning eye. For dress, an ice climber wears a “shell” of waterproof/ breathable material to shuck away dripping water. Ice tools, about a foot and a half in length, are carried in each hand to swing into the ice. Stiff boots are constructed with toe and heel welts for affixing crampons, which are 12-point steel fangs that allow a climber to “frontpoint” up the vertical ice by kicking two points in. In popular media, climbing is reduced to a bunch of cheesy metaphors about life, and climbers are branded as reckless risk-takers. There may be some of that, but these stereotypes obscure the most basic and beautiful simplicity of the sport. That is, climbers have found a way to tap into our childlike earnestness to experience the vertical world, whether it’s tree, rock or ice. I met my friend Duane at 5 a.m. one morning in Carbondale to go climb the Pipeline, which is Redstone’s hardest and least likely to form route. Our ungodly hour of departure was necessary because we wanted to climb the Pipeline during the best conditions possible, i.e., the coldest period of the day, before the sun hits the ice and begins to melt it. The ice, as we discovered around 6 a.m., was no more than three or four inches thick. To “lead” the ice would be very dangerous, but the prospect of climbing such a rare-to-form route justified the risk in our minds.Here’s how it works: We each tie into one end of our 200-foot rope. One climber “leads,” and one climber “seconds.” The leader risks more by climbing first and clipping the rope through protection in the rock or ice that will (hopefully) hold any fall. The second climber has the safety of a taught rope from above, so any fall will be short. Because the Pipeline is too thin to offer any reasonable protection, I climb rock just to the right because it is safer and leads to the ice up higher. Combining rock and ice climbing together is called “mixed climbing.” The experience of climbing ice is amazing. The first time I did it, I swung my ice tools desperately, scared out of my mind. My hands clutched so tightly that all the blood in my fingers drained and my muscles were inflamed. When you’re this tight, a phenomenon called “The Screaming Barfies” happens, which is when very cold fingers suddenly thaw. The sensation of blood returning is one of the most painful things on earth. I’ve witnessed the Screaming Barfies bring burly climbers to tears.Now that I’ve climbed miles of ice all over the country, the sport is no longer a masochistic exercise. In fact, it’s extremely therapeutic, the circadian rhythm: Thwack!, Thwack!, Kick!, Kick! I know exactly how hard to swing my tools and how delicately to place my feet. I’m always amazed at how strong frozen water is, how a tiny patch the size and thickness of a quarter can support the entirety of my body weight. I reach the top of the flow in the state of calm that only strenuous, but very controlled exercise, could yield. The sun hits, and there is an audible increase in flowing water underneath our feet, suggesting the season is drawing to a close. Indeed, Duane and I come out, prepared to be turned away if the conditions weren’t right. That day, we were lucky. The prospect of spring has the rock climbing in me excited.But a few more weeks of freeze would be just fine.
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Policy that dictates what for-profit activities should be officially sanctioned within Glenwood Springs parks is being reviewed by city staff and will likely come before the city council for final approval later this summer.