“Listen, I’ll get us up there, but you need to lead that pillar if its in.”
I laugh internally, well this is going to be hard. I make mental list of all the “hard” things I’ve done at the gym to prepare for something like this. The list is long, and this ranks surprising low on it. Onward!
I started training at Wright Training in the spring of 2014. I wanted to try sport specific training, because I had only done general resistance training on my own. I had hoped to see better results. I started with Brian’s climbing class, and it escalated pretty quickly from there. Some friends and I decided to make a trip to Ouray for ice climbing that following winter. The idea and format for training for Ouray in the fall 2014 came from the rock and ice climbing training I had done in that spring. This time, I would concentrate on ice and the approach.
I hadn’t touched ice since July and I knew I likely wouldn’t have time to ice climb prior to the Ouray trip. Before that, I hadn’t been regularly climbing ice in years, since the last Ouray trip. Even then, I recall getting beaten pretty soundly in Ouray and I wanted to do something about that. I had stuck to maintenance during the summer so jumping into training was fairly easy.
I was in Brian’s ice climbing class two days a week and Crystal programmed another two days week for ski touring training. I called it my ski mountaineering program, but in reality it applied to any style of winter approach/climb. The ice class focused a lot of work and time on ice tools. On the overhanging hinge wall I could work on grip strength, tool movement, lock offs, hand and foot coordination, and offset movement. Weighted step ups, Mr. Spectaculars, and sandbag get ups brought everything together along with a healthy dose of core work to top it off. Crystal’s program centered more on work capacity and general strength building. I would do more step ups but unweighted and for longer periods of time. Long AMRAPs and TABATAs, hang cleans, front squats, and more core worked well with Brian’s class. I worked hard for eight weeks.
Ouray, CO is home to the Ouray Ice Park, a mile long length of the Uncompahgre Gorge that has man made ice climbs. There are some 200 named ice and mixed routes ranging in difficulty, many of them taller than thirty meters. All free to access. Ouray also serves as a great point to access other ice climbs in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado such as Camp Bird, Engineer Pass, and Eureka. They also hold a huge annual ice climbing festival.
I arrived in Ouray the week after the ice climbing festival. Temperatures were warmer than I wanted to see but the ice looked good and trip reports from guides in the area sounded promising. My partners and I spent the first day in the park as a warm up day. They had come from sea level, and I needed to see where I was on ice. We crushed laps in the Schoolroom, Five Fingers, and the Scottish Gullies areas. A route that particularly stands out in the Scottish Gullies involved a short overhanging rock boulder problem to a hanging dagger. We climbed all day and I felt like I still had energy to spare at the end.
The following day we headed up to Camp Bird to get in some leads. While it was fairly warm out, most of the routes stayed in pretty good shape, while a couple others turned into waterfalls. The last ice lead I’d done had been the Black Ice Couloir on the Grand the previous summer, which is far less than vertical, and previous to that, I’m not even sure. I took a crack at leading Slippery When Wet. The crux section looked a bit thin but really fun yet. I was surprised to find my arms not burning as I hunted around for screw placements. Very enjoyable technical climbing, that required some interesting body positioning as the ribbon of ice curled around. Later in the day, I encountered, Mile 4, a bolted M6. I’d never tried sport mixed climbing before. What the heck I thought. Two bolts up, I weighted a tool on a tiny edge, and promptly exploded off, taking the little edge with me. On the second go, I found a much more creative and solid placement in a crack. I didn’t expect to get it clean, I was getting pumped silly at the fourth bolt. I recalled a similar feeling doing laps in the gym, and that if I could just control my breathing I’d be fine. I settled down, looked ahead for my final sequence, started moving upwards, and found the chains marking the end of the route.
I climbed several more days in and around Ouray, and had a great trip. However, it was the first couple days that really helped me see what all my hard work in the gym was going towards. I hadn’t consistently ice climbed in years, but here I was pushing myself to harder grades and climbing all day, day after day. I felt good but more importantly, I was excited. While I definitely improved strength wise, I was happier to see great amounts of endurance for both climbs and approaches. My ability to recover every night and be ready do it again the next day allowed me to get more of my fill of climbing. Brian and Crystal really helped me push myself to become stronger and that also led me to feel strong. I am looking forward to the next training cycle. Which is good, since I’ll need to work even harder before I head to Chamonix in the spring.