Ouray Ice Park Climbing 2014

(me on Pic O' the Vic, WI4, Upper Bridge)
"We can say with confidence and a clear conscience that we have lived with a God-given holiness and sincerity in all our dealings. We have depended on God’s grace, not on our own human wisdom. That is how we have conducted ourselves before the world, and especially toward you." 2 Corinthians 1:12

"Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another." Ephesians 4:25
Ice! And tons of it...and I was going to climb as much of it as I could. This is my first ice climbing trip. There have been plenty of rock trips in the past...but I never experienced anything like this. I have been anticipating this trip for about a year now...ever since I learned that a few members of my rock gym returned from their annual "icecapades". I knew immediately last January that I would be on the next ice outing with these guys...And as time drew near, I began to wonder...
...many things. How was I going to do (climb)? How different is it? How will it feel? Is it hard...soft? What will it look like? How different are the skills? There were so many questions and feelings going into the week. Personally, curiosity peaked to an all time high. I have climbed rock (and plastic). And sure, there are variations of rock like granite, sandstone, limestone, etc, etc...but for the most part, I know what that's like. I've done it for so long, I don't even question what rock climbs feel like...it's almost routine: Show up, put on harness, tie in, check gear, Climb On! Don't misunderstand...I love rock, but there is no "New-ness" to it. So in a sense, there's no anxiety, questions, or doubt when it comes to rock.
As I eagerly anticipated the trip, I began to visualize myself on ice...first the swing of the ice tool (axe), then the second, then a kick step, then breathe, then...Wait a sec! What does climeable ice look like,...feel like? I've only seen a few large ice formations in person...have only seen ice climbing in pictures...but have never seen climeable ice up close. So naturally, I began to imagine the ice to be clean, transparent, and uniform (kind of like ice cubes in a tray). After establishing preconcieved notions, I then began to see myself climbing up these unstained, unblemished walls of beautiful ice.
(me on Pic O' the Vic, WI4, Upper Bridge)

Well, after three full days of climbing...I have a better understanding of climbing ice, and more importantly, a better understanding of true transparency. Please allow me to explain:

If you don't know much about ice...know this: It comes in all forms, shapes, sizes, feel, temperature, color, clarity, and so on...On Thursday, I heard climbers call the ice, "warm, wet, plastic, drippy, slick...", by Saturday the ice was, "cold, hard, brittle, unstable, dusty (as in snowy)..." Depending on temperature, the ice changes in structure and stability. The ice noticeably can feel different from one day to the next. In three days, I also saw a variety of color and clarity. There is opaque, solid white, shades of white, "blue ice", and I even saw brown (dirty) ice and even a few streaks of orange ice! No, I'm not crazy. Then there's the texture of ice, which comes in slush, crystal, slick, gritty, and bulletproof/rock hard ice. My ideas of uniformity went completely out the window...Ice transforms itself daily, and their is nothing clear about it.
All of this ice, and the different forms and characteristics it comes in got me thinking about myself. I began to question...what if I'm not as clear as I think I am? You see, recently I have prided myself in being a transparent individual. I think of myself as an honest, straightforward, transparent person...in hopes that you would come to know what I'm about, what I believe, and what I stand for. But what if I do not come across as clear as I think? Maybe I'm just like this ice...No, in fact, I'm a lot like this ice and depending on the day, I come in different forms. Unfortunately, I have these preconcieved notions of myself as a person...and truth is, I don't know how my community really sees me. Can they see through me? Am I transparent? Do people know what I'm about? Can they see The Truth in me? I hope so, but sadly, I'm not so sure.
So here's my goal if you will: If you know me or come to know me...then you should really know me. All of me. The good, the bad, and the ugly. So here's my attempt (hopefully not to futile) to true transparency...for myself and for our relationships (both friend or foe) so that I can be held accountable, be trusted, and more importantly...be real with you so we can have a shot at a real relationship, because I am realizing that we are in this thing together and members of one another.
So here we go:
Jut like the ice I climbed...my heart changes on a daily basis. Some days, my heart is warm...full of love, open, willing, sacrificial, giving, and trusting. I like to think that I am optimistic, full of life, and always seeking in adventure in my daily walk. I recently watched the movie "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" and could see myself in ole' Walter. I'm a daydreamer...I escape to my dreams...seeing myself experience the best of this world. I see myself trying to constantly be a hero to my family. I want to be William Wallace to Sarah...to fight bravely for our love and honor her in my courage. To be strong, willing, and sacrificial to the end. I see myself as a teacher, counselor, protector, comforter, and comedian to my girls Hannah and Pia. In many ways, I want to be the Bill Cosby of my home. For them to see me as both the biggest goofball yet most wise man they know. To my friends...they think I'm wierd. But hopefully in a good way. They know something is not quite right with me, but they know what I count for...I am loyal, I am a defender, and I am commited. Some days...I like who I am. I am light! I am the salt of the Earth! I am Forgiven and Redeemed...and I live like I actually believe it!
Then my heart changes.
Reality is, most days...I struggle. I fail to live up to what I dream about. I'm nowhere near it. Many times, my heart is cold and brittle. My heart is dark. When I really take a look inside...it's dirty in there. These are my struggles:
-Judgement...I am prideful and quickly find faults in others. I error in judgement because of wrong timing, wrong motivation, I play favorites, I stereotype, and because quite frankly...I'm often times blind.
-Unconcerned for others...I am a self-seeker. I am selfish. As selfish as they come. I think about what benefits me. How will this outcome end in my favor. I'm always hedging and strategically planning, maybe even manipulating outcomes in my favor.
-Impatient...I can't wait. I want results yesterday. I want answers yesterday. I am bothered when I'm slowed down. I have a plan, and I want to stick to it. When I become impatient, I no longer listen.
-Proud...and not in a good way. My pride leads to arrogance. Rarely outwardly, however...inside I beam with more confidence than you. I am better than you. I can beat you. This is my approach...overly competitive and for no reason at all.  
-I fail to trust and hope...in people. I've come to keep my guard up because I am often let down by those around me. I dont want more relationships, I dont want more friends, I dont want people in my life...I don't want community, because this means more hurt and more let downs. I can barely manage the hurt I already have.
And worst of all...I fail to trust and hope in Jesus. Sometimes I give up. I question my belief. I question His goodness. I question why our relationship even matters. Some days, I want to believe that He is dead. I am cynical.
So there you go...laying it out there. This is my current struggle. These are my daily thoughts. I hope that I've been clear.
Now, I saw this shirt at the Ouray Brewery, "What Would Jesus Brew." Of course, I thought it was funny...but strangley enough, Jesus was in fact brewing...brewing something inside of me.
And this is what has been bottled up until now:
I (we) am called to depend on His Grace, and to not lean on my own understanding...to put away all falsehood, and to know with full confidence that I live by His Holiness. Doing so, I can live this life with full confidence. I will struggle...but by depending on His grace and not my own wretched thinking, I will:
-not be judgemental, because I will be able to see the good in others and see their full potenatial. To avoid harmful words and find meaningful ways to speak the truth about others.
-be selfless, considerate and compassionate toward others. To be humble and tolerant...and express concern.
-Be patient. Slow to speak, slow to act, and to yield to others. I can serve by listening.
-To be humble. To give myself up for others. To understand that to be first, you have to be last. To be the least of these.
-To believe in each other. To know we are in this together. We are doing this life together. "To regard people less in the light of what they do or don't do, and more in the light of what they suffer" (Bonhoeffer).
-And ultimately, to allow Jesus to help me with my own unbelief. To know that regardless of my waivering faith, Jesus' love is always unwaivering.
So despite my struggles, my dirtiness, and sin...I remain unblemished, unstained, and beautiful in God's eyes!
All this in Sincerity, in Transparency, and in Christ!
(Mike on a telephone pole! Not really...)
What: Ouray Ice Park Climbing
Where: Ouray, Colorado
When: 01/29-02/1/14
Who: Brigitte Iafrate, Trad Daddy's (Mike Harris, Scott Nelson, and Paul Thibodeaux) and Big Ugly (me)
(Scott on Dean's List Ice, WI4, The School Room)
Most of this trip report will be information on the Ouray Ice Park and the areas we climbed. As mentioned earlier, these guys come out to Ouray on a yearly basis to ice climb and guys like Scott, make it a point to come out more than once a season. He was out here earlier in the season and hopes to make it a habit in years to come. Scott was even planning on going on a backcountry expedition to climb some classics, however the weather was not in his favor.
In our time in Ouray, a storm blew in and dropped over a foot of snow in our area. Snow blanketed everything...including the routes. This really did not affect our climbing plans, other than dusting off layers of snow on the routes...however it changed Scott's plan of climbing in the backcountry. Avalanche warnings were very high and it wasn't worth the risk of long approaches into the steep slopes of the San Juans.

(me on Dean's List Ice, WI4, The School Room)
We climbed at the Ouray Ice Park everyday. My understanding is the Ouray Ice Park has become a mecca for ice climbers all over the country. There are over 200 routes ranging from WI2-WI6 and mixed climbs from M4-M9. So this is the place to definitely hone your ice climbing skills.

(Paul in South Park WI4-5, can't distinguish route)

The Park is easy access with plenty of protection for anchors. There are several routes with chains above for top rope or plenty of trees to choose from. Also, if you would like to lead...it's also allowed. Just bring your ice screws and be aware of your surroundings.
(Mike on South Park Pillar, WI4)
The Park is owned and operated by the Town of Ouray in collaboration with owners and the town's hydroelectrical company. The ice is harvested or farmed by climbers for the winter season by setting up an elaborate system of hoses and pipes that runs parallel with the Uncompahgre Gorge. Volunteers then manage the ice by letting water flow each evening (weather dependant) to flow down into the gorge from above. As the temps remain at freezing for the season, the ice builds and forms an ice climbing wonderland that stretches for about a mile of ice climbing. There a varying degrees of difficulty and routes as high as 135 maybe 150'. Most routes are within 60-90'. But really, there is something here for everybody!
(Brigitte on South Park Pillar WI4)

The typical climbing season is from mid-December to Spring? I guess it depends on the season. Most climbs are only a ptich, however due to the gorge's bottom (where the river runs), you may be required to belay from above your climber. In this case, which I just learned...the Park wants you to belay from the anchors and not your belay loop on your harness.
 (Scott belaying near the Chai Tea River)
 (Mike and Paul going over proper communication...right?)
(Paul belaying from above)
Pictures above are a few examples of what belay stations look like...
So let me move on to some of the things I enjoyed about this trip. For starters, this was my first trip with this group. They are a great group to climb with and even better company to spend time with. I really enjoyed each person on this trip. Scott served as a teacher for me...taking the time to introduce me to ice climbing. He wasted no time and put me on the first route, the first day I arrived for climbing. He showed much confidence in me and really, has been instilling confidence in me for months now. He's also the person who invited me into the group...Scott, I can't tell you how greatful I am for this opportunity man. One of my dreams have been fullfilled because of you...Thank you!
Paul is a freakin machine! Really, they all are...but this guy does not stop! Just watching him, listening to him, and learning from him has been really encouraging. So, all these Trad Daddy's are 30 years my senior...and they just are full of life and energy. Makes me realize that I have another solid 30 years of climbing left! This makes me incredibly happy! In regards to Paul, he just doesn't climb...he adventure races! He's up for the challenge. He's also very optimistic...He is enthusiastic about life. This man enjoys what he does. He climbs, runs, bikes, enjoys food, enjoys beer, enjoys wine, enjoys dessert, enjoys relationships...he's doing things right! This guy was the first to set up ropes...and the last to pick up. He climbed like a mad man...and would still have energy to help in any way! I see men like you and hope I can keep up...
Brigitte is absolutely a joy to be with. She is wonderful. I don't care what those guys say about you! You are a treasure. She is humble, she is caring, she is a servant, and understands the importance of fellowship and unity. She knows what is good! And she is passionate about sharing that goodness with you. She wants you to be a part of the fun, and wants you to experience all the joys with her. Doesn't matter if it's climbing or sharing a piece of chocolate...she wants to be with you, include you, and love on you. I need more people like you in my life.
Mike is the man! I had the pleasure of spending the most time with him on the trip. This guy is a real man. I've never spent so much time with a person I didn't know intimately, and had very intentional, very meaningful, and very open conversation about themselves. I believe the first thoughts of real transparency came within the first hour of being with Mike on the drive to Ouray. So in many ways Mike, you help me come up with this blog post. This man loves...I mean loves his family. He spent hours talking about his family.... it was direct and truthful conversation about his life, his wife, and children. Both ups and downs and everything in between. It was very enjoyable for me to be with a person who was as passionate as he is for his family as I am. Refreshing is what I would call my time spent with Mike. Mike also reminds me of one of my favorite people and dear friend (Lu). They think alike...have the same sense of humor...and I get it. It was a pleasure my friend! I felt like I got to know you best. (BTW...Mike also served as counselor for me as I almost had a breakdown at the airport due to AA screwing me...but that's another story.)
I will finish the rest of this report with a picture collage of our time in Ouray...
One night, we ate dinner at the best burger joint in Ouray...Maggie's Kitchen. If your in town, stop in...
...and right next door, the local's bar is Ourayle House Brewery ran by Mr. Grump Pants (yes that's really him). This bar is great...I enjoyed it slightly more than the Ouray Brewery (though that place is great to). Good beerm good food...new friends...great fun! This has been a great experience. Thanks to all!


  1. Obviously the Jedi Mind Trick worked and we made Alf remember all the good stuff. We enjoyed every minute with you Alf. He tolerated our antics and jumped in where we would let him to help set-up / belay or whatever was needed. Mike


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