Sunday, January 13, 2008

Ouray: Day 4 and 5

Yesterday was pretty mellow as I woke up super sore. I wasn't able to get into the Beginner Mixed class so no mixed climbing for me this time. I really wanted to get some basic mixed moves in case I encounter rock on any ice climbs, but I don't really have any high aspirations just yet to be a mixed climber. So I hung out and watched the climbing competition, watched Kim kick ass in her clinic, drank some hot Chai and checked out the latest climbing gear.

I also took about 150 pictures. Ines Papert, my instructor from the day before took first place in the women's division and also climbed faster than all of the men. It's great to be a part of a sport where there is an even playing field. There are many women climbers who climb better than men.

Today we wanted to do some more climbing, but we also wanted to get some well earned sleep. The good thing about Ouray is that you can sleep in till 10 and still get a decent day of climbing in. We called this guy Ralph who is from Alaska and happens to be spending a month here in Ouray house sitting. He has been climbing for over 20 years and is a great guy.

We met Ralph at the festival and he said we should go over to the area where they have these big chain anchors. He told us it was steep Grade 5 ice. He said he would meet us there in about 40 minutes. We hiked over and found that it is basically a ledge that you rap down over and you can't see what you are actually going to climb until you get down. Once down there you are pretty committed and have to climb out, so you better be pretty sure that you can. Your belayer stays at the top and there is very little communication.

Kim and I picked the last anchor that was left and started to set up. It was crowded and we wondered why no one was climbing on this route. We flaked the rope, got our crampons and helmets on, set up the anchor and I got ready to rappel. Kim thought maybe we should find out if there was ice all the way down the cliff at this drop in point. One guy answered, "No, actually there is no ice there. It's a big rock cave with a huge overhang."

After averting having to be rescued from the bottom of the canyon, we moved to a different climb and hooked up with Ralph. I decided to go down first after being assured there was ice all the way down. It's always fun to rap down a route before you climb it. You slide down the ice scanning the area for the route you will take on the way up. This ice had so many features, blue ice caves, and overhanging icicles. There were long stretches of vertical ice followed by small gaps where there was no ice at all. As I rappelled down the route I became more and more nervous about how I was going to get out.

The first part was pretty straight forward. Vertical ice for about 20 feet. There were so many features that it was easy to practice the footwork that I learned on Friday. It's amazing how much energy you save when you get your footwork right. You can stand on the side of a vertical wall without putting much pressure on your arms.

I climbed up into this cave of ice and looked up at the blue spears staring straight down in my face. They were taunting me, as if to say, "Try and climb over us Julie, and see if we stay attached to the wall." I stood inside this cave contemplating how the hell I was going to get out. I turned to my right and saw a small pillar about 2 feet wide that was not attached to the rock but touched down. I tapped my pick on it, "Dink!" It was completely hollow. I looked to my left and saw chandelier ice and tapped my pick on it, "Crumble!" The delicate ice came crashing down.

I knew Kim, who was belaying me from above was probably wondering why I wasn't moving. Finally I told myself, well, I can't go down. The only way to go is up. So I hooked my pick into the back of the cave, planted my feet in good, pulled my hips in and leeeeeaaaned back. I guess I'll just have to go right over this overhang, I thought.

I hooked my pick in at the bottom of the overhang and started to stem out on the two pillars. I was moving and it wasn't that bad. I kept moving methodically, keeping my hips in and hooking in between the icicles the whole way. I pulled myself up over the overhang and onto a ledge. All of a sudden the rest of this climb did not seem that bad. I worked my way around the ice, using my feet for balance and my picks to steady my upper body. It took a long time but I gracefully got to the top.

After finishing a climb like that I realized that anything was possible. If I would have been able to communicate with my belayer I may have given up in the cave, but after I got out and believed that I could do it, the rest was easy. It's amazing how the mind works. If you believe that you can do something, you can be pretty sure that you will succeed. If you believe that you can't you most certainly are not going to succeed. It's kind nice to discover what is really possible. It opens your mind to so many possibilities.

I showed up at Ouray completely intimidated by the long steep climbs. Grade 4, 5, 6 ice like I have never even seen before. I was pretty sure most of the ice was out of my league. I'm leaving Ouray in a day and a half and now I'm sure I could work my way through most of the ice in the canyon. It has been an incredible transformation and I will go back to Alaska with a new outlook on what I can do.

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