Scarpa North America Blog

Early Season Ice Climbing in Colorado

Nov. 14th 2013

Scott Bennett is a well-established rock climber and “dabbles” in ice climbing whenever the opportunity arises. Scott began climbing in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge and has since traveled the globe in search of new routes in areas including Patagonia, Pakistan, and the western states.

Here on the Colorado Front range, it’s been a wet season. Historic rains in mid-September produced massive “100-year” flooding from Boulder to Estes Park, leaving roads destroyed and residents inundated. After drying up, cleaning, and rebuilding, Colorado climbers welcome an unexpected gift of the rains: early season ice! Many longtime locals are seeing formations for the first time in years, or perhaps ever.

I’ve been embracing this windfall of climbable ice in the mountains on two “14ers”: Long’s Peak and Mt. Evans. Thanks to SCARPA, I also have the perfect boots for steep ice, technical mixed climbing, and alpine style ascents – the Rebel Ultras!

On the East Face of Long’s Peak, The Smear of Fear is the leftmost ice on the lower face, and Fields Chimney is below the tallest section of the Diamond.

Rob Coppolillo leading the first pitch of the infamous “Smear of Fear” (WI5 M6 R).

Myself hanging at a belay atop pitch two (WI5 R) on the Smear of Fear.

Doug Shepard leads on Fields Chimney (WI4 M6+).

Chris Sheridan leading the “Window Pain” pitch (WI6+)

On a new route on Mt Evans, Doug Shepard and I linked thin smears of excellent ice with short steep sections of rock. A footloose crux sequence culminated in a great heelhook, and I was thankful to be in such agile boots.

Monochrome, our new route on the Black Wall of Mt. Evans (WI4 M5). Photo by Dan Gambin.

The crux icicle hold on Monochrome (M5)! Photo by Dan Gambino.

One hazard of hiking in the mountains during fall is running water. Not everything is frozen, and creeks and swamps are frequently camouflaged by fresh snow. I punched through this “camouflage snow” many times during an approach in the Indian Peaks, leaving my pants frozen and boots coated in ice. My feet, though, remained warm and dry thanks to the stretch Gore-tex liners and integrated gaiter.

Feet are still warm!

This fall season in Colorado has given me a new appreciation for the power and wonder of nature, both for destruction and enjoyment. I feel lucky to be able to get out and explore in this unique season. Long approaches and dynamic conditions make success rare in Colorado ice climbing, and I’m glad to have the best equipment to stack the odds in my favor.

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