Sunday, February 11, 2001
Steamboat Springs More than halfway up the falls at Fish Creek, the ice has formed a large hump in a section of the frozen waterfall that must be three or four feet thick.
Kicking the points of metal-spiked crampons into the ice with each step up while wielding ice axes in each hand into the frozen water for climbing holds, the hump of ice looks like the perfect place to forge the tools in and pull and push up, close to the top of the falls.
While ice climbing toward the ice hump, a large gray spot, maybe the size of a door, appears in the wall of ice and is in the vertical path. An untrained eye might not even notice it.
"You don't want to kick your crampons into that," local Rocky Mountain Ventures ice climbing guide Dave Reitz says from the base of the falls. "You'll go right through."
At first, the comment seems strange, being the frozen waterfall looks as solid and unmovable as the rocks that line the side of the natural structure.
But after climbing to the side of the gray spot and leaning over to look into the gray door, the sight and sound of water rushing down the rocks is present through a layer of ice only a couple of inches thick.
For a first-time ice climber, while hanging 55 feet up from metal appendages and secured by a top rope, this can be a bit unsettling, but its beauty overshadows any fear.
The bare spot runs right to the bottom of the ice bulge, which up close looks like a little frozen wave, but a safe, solid path runs just to the right of it. Right below the bulge, under the breaking point of the frozen wave, a small section of ice is less than an inch thick.
"See if you can fit your ax in there and break the ice," Reitz says.
It fits, and the ice breaks like brittle glass. Inside, clear water is trickling down the rock face, presenting a small glimpse of a waterfall behind a frozen waterfall.
Finally, going past the bare spot, the axes do sink into the ice hump nicely. Kicking the crampons into the waterfall and using your feet to climb, the crawl over the hump is successful. The top of the falls is only an easy stretch up now. At the top, 70 feet up, while hands are aching from gripping the axes, a sense of accomplishment warms the body.
Simply, ice climbing is cool.
People who are wanting to give it a try have the perfect opportunity at Fish Creek Falls, which is really one of the only places on public land to go in this area. But it is one of the best beginner spots for climbers, Reitz says.
However, don't just go spend the money on the gear and go. To be safe, beginners always should go with someone who knows what they are doing someone to set the ropes and teach you how to be safe.
If you don't want to spend money on the gear, which collectively can bring you to the $600 to $1,000 range, guiding companies can get you started at a fraction of the cost. Rocky Mountain Ventures can set you up with everything you need, like crampons, axes, harnesses, ropes and a helmet. Plus, Reitz and the other guides are happy to teach you everything you want to know.