Prime time for ice climbing nears
Some of Garfield County’s best ice climbs have just formed for the season, and recent snowstorms have likely helped others along.
As great as Garfield County is for rock climbing, it also holds several hidden gems for ice climbing, particularly the climbs in Rifle Mountain Park, said Mike Schneiter, who owns Glenwood Climbing Guides and teaches at Glenwood High School and Colorado Mountain College.
The ice formations in Rifle Mountain Park have just shaped up in the past week, though many people will likely wait another couple weeks before they’re confident enough to scale the formations, he said.
The ice climbing season typically runs from around mid-December until mid to late February, making for a two- or three-month window for the sport.
Now is the prime time due to the shorter days, while even during sunny days the sun doesn’t hit many of the formations, Schneiter said.
Ice climbing can be a fickle sport, he said. All you need is a water source and the right temperatures, but those can be more complicated than they sound.
Locations like Rifle Mountain Park and Glenwood Falls are fed by natural springs, but many others rely on snowmelt for their water source. So it has to be cold enough to snow, not so cold that the snow doesn’t melt and not so warm that the ice climbs never form.
The county’s best locations for ice climbing are on the western part of the county at Rifle Mountain Park, south near Redstone and east in Glenwood Canyon.
Redstone hasn’t been in really good shape up to this point, said Schneiter, but the locations in Glenwood Caynon are probably coming along nicely.
“And the recent snow storms has probably help them all out.”
One of the most popular ice climbs in Glenwood Canyon is Glenwood Falls, but while it’s fed by a spring and has plenty of water, it gets a lot of sun. Now that the sun stays lower in the sky, it’s likely getting into good shape, Schneiter said.
Hidden Falls, across from the Shoshone hydroelectric plant, and Mystery Falls, across form Grizzly Creek, are two climbs in Glenwood Canyon that face north, so they don’t get any sun this time of year.
Because they’re in the shade the whole season, some of those north-facing climbs can last into late March or even April, Schneiter said.
Getting started in the sport means making sure you’re prepared for the elements.
Ice climbing can mean very cold conditions, and the warm clothing you’ll need is much the same as if you’re going skiing.
You’ll also need crampons, spikes that strap onto your boots that you can kick into the ice, and ice tools, also called “ice axes.”
Ice climbing technique is relatively simple compared with rock climbing, Schneiter said. It’s mostly just “swinging your ax and kicking your boots into the ice.”
“And it’s generally straight up and down.”
But over time he said, students start to refine their technique and where they’re placing their ice tools and crampons.
It’s not uncommon for first timers to get up a difficult climb on one of their first tries, he said.
And of course every good outdoor sport needs a festival. The premiere ice climbing event of the year in Colorado is just a three-hour drive south at the Ouray Ice Festival, which will be Jan. 14 to 17 this year.
Lake City also has a small ice festival that will be on Feb. 6.
Garfield County is surrounded by opportunities for outdoor adventure, Schneiter said. “And rock or ice climbing is a great sport for high school students going to college who won’t be able to keep playing football or basketball.”
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