OURAY – The comp route that Vince Anderson has designed for this Saturday’s Elite Mixed Climbing Competition at the 19th annual Ouray Ice Festival could be summed up in a slight tweak on that old saying about the offspring of British royalty: “An ‘heir’ and a ‘spare’.”
“Air” is for the “frequent flyer miles” that Anderson predicts will be logged by many competitors as they plummet off the overhanging route. “Spare” is why they will plummet – there is very little to hold onto. Just a few dangling stumps, some devious smears of artificial ice and a few sparsely placed climbing holds.
The bottom part of the route is the same as last year, following an existing route in the Lower Bridge area of the Ouray Ice Park called Mighty Aphrodite, over which juts the 3.5 ton, 25-foot tall comp tower.
This year, the tower has been slightly repositioned, just a bit further out, so that it appears to teeter on the very lip of the Uncompahgre Gorge. It also hinges at a slightly steeper angle, both increasing the level of difficulty and protecting climbers from falling into the cliffs below, in the likely event that at least some of them fall.
“We tried to make it so people can fall as far as safely possible, so there is some element of the fear that you might get in a real climb,” Anderson explained. “It’s safe, but there is potential for big air. That was one of the nice things about bringing the tower farther out over the rim of the canyon. You can take a big fall, and you’re not going to hit anything.”
Anderson says that will make it fun for the spectators and climbers alike. “Some people don’t like falling at all, even when they know that it’s perfectly safe,” he said. ““That makes it challenging to make some committing moves, where the protection is a little farther away from you than you feel comfortable with. It’s a little bit more mentally engaging.”
One of the key features of last year’s route – when the comp tower made its Ice Fest debut – was a “tuna log” dangling from the tower’s bottom, serving as a transition from the gorge below.
The problem was that many of the climbers got stuck there, clinging to the log like koala bears as the log spun around on its swivel.
This year, the tuna log has been repurposed – chopped into three stumpy mini-logs that dangle in succession in an overhanging diagonal traverse across the midriff of the comp tower. In keeping with the name of the route – “Gold Digger” – the stumps have been spraypainted to look (kind of) like giant gold nuggets.
“I don’t think people will be able to utilize them with that kind of bear-hugging thing this year,” Anderson said. “Although you never know. The climbers never cease to surprise me.”
Last year’s route also saw many climbers executing a move called the “Figure Four Method” – a strenuous pretzel-like contortion whereby climbers wedge a leg inside the crook of an elbow to leverage their center of gravity up higher in places where their feet cannot find purchase.
Anderson expects more of the same on this year’s route. “There are people that eschew the Figure Four,” he allowed. “They think it is poor form. But if you don’t have a problem with doing it, that’s kind of the method they’ll use – I think – Figure Four-ing from one log to another log.”
This year’s route also makes use of the sides of the tower structure, with a few plastic ice holds for the competitors to take advantage of, should they wish to do so.
“The ice holds are kind of gummy so your ax sinks into it a little bit,” Anderson explained. But mostly, he admitted, the route is “pretty spare,” especially on the upper third of the route where some of the holds are well over six horizontal feet apart.
It is difficult to imagine how even the most bad-ass climber could make the last series of spread-eagled dry-tooling moves that would propel him or her to the top of the route.
“It’s very balancy,” Anderson explained. “The feet are on the right, the holds are on the left. It looks like a long span, but when you think about the extension of the ice axes, you get a lot more reach.”
Last year only two competitors – Frenchmen Simon Duverney (who took 1st place overall) and Jeff Mercier – got to the top of the comp route. “Which is good,” Anderson said. “It’s what you want. Ideally there would be just one. But it’s pretty impossible to make that happen by design. I think what we are finding is that the best are really good, so you just have to make it ridiculously hard and you can count on somebody probably making it. That’s the hope this year, that somebody will get close, even if they don’t make it all the way to the top.”
Competitors – men and women alike – have 15 minutes to complete the course, requiring them to rapidly ascend the bottom portion in the gorge so they have enough time to figure out the top.
The entire field of climbers this year is once again outstanding, from local ice heroes and crowd favorites Dawn Glanc and Andres Marin to French phenoms Jeff Mercier (last year’s overall runner-up) and Stephanie Maureau.
Sam Elias, who placed 3rd overall last year, is also back. “You can always count on Sam to do really well in our comp,” MacLeod said. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see him stand on the podium.”
And “youngsters” Logan Tyler (a Ouray native) and Justin Willis are “young, strong up-and-coming climbers” who will be fun to watch, MacLeod predicted.
Most of the competitors will be back again Sunday morning, joined by “the usual lineup of local characters,” to compete against each other in the Hari Berger Speed Competition, MacLeod said.
Climbing order for the Elite Mixed Climbing Competition will be determined at the competitors’ meeting on Friday evening, Jan. 9, and posted on the Ouray Ice Festival website as well as on Facebook.
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19th Annual Ouray Ice Festival Schedule of Events
Jan 9-12, 2014
NOTE: Ouray Ice Festival keynote speaker UELI STECK was originally scheduled to appear on Saturday evening, Jan. 11, but a commitment required him to be back in Switzerland on that day. Steck’s show has been rescheduled to take place at the Main Street Theater on Thursday, Jan. 9. Doors open at 6:30 and seating is limited. The event will be simulcast at Cavallo’s Restaurant next door. Steck will then appear later that evening at the Beaumont Grill for the 2014 Ouray Ice Festival kick-off party sponsored by The American Alpine Club. This is your chance to meet the Swiss Machine!
Thursday, Jan. 9
Main Street Theater: (630 Main Street) 6:30-9 p.m.
- Presentation by Ueli Steck, sponsored by Petzl. Beer provided by the Colorado Boy Brewery, $15.
Beaumont Grill: (505 Main Street) 9-11:30 p.m.
- Ouray Ice Festival Kick-off Party, hosted by the American Alpine Club. Beer, food, and prizes. Free admission.
Friday, Jan. 10
Ice Park: 8 a.m to 3 p.m.
- Outdoor Gear Expo; 8 a.m.-3 p.m., free gear demos, ask info booth about gear card.
- Interactive Clinics; 9 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., sign up online.
- Walk-up Climbing at the La Sportiva Zone; 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Ages 18+, free admission.
Ouray Community Center (340 6th Ave.) 5-8:30 p.m.
- Dinner, and beer provided by the Ouray Brewery, $20
- Indoor Gear Expo; check out the latest climbing gear and mingle with the athletes.
- Silent Auction; come bid on great gear.
Main Street Theater (630 Main Street) 8:30-10 p.m.
- Presentation by Adrian Ballinger; Beer provided by Ourayle House Brewery, $15. Free commemorative pint glass.
Wright Opera House (472 Main Street) 9-11 p.m.
- Film Tour – The Road from Karakol, presented by Kyle Dempster; beer provided by Two Rascals Brewery, $15. Ffee commemorative pint glass.
Saturday, Jan. 11,
Ice Park: 8:00am to 3:00pm
- Outdoor Gear Expo; 8 a.m.-3 p.m. The newest gear; ask info. booth about gear card.
- Interactive Clinics; 9 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., sign up online.
- Elite Mixed Ice Climbing Competition; 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
- Kid’s Climbing College, sponsored by Mosaic Community Project and the Woman’s Club of Ouray, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., ages 8-17. Free admission.
- Free Walk-up Climbing at the La Sportiva Zone; 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Ages 18 and up.
Ouray Community Center (340 6th Ave.) 7-9 p.m.
- Presentation by Kristen Kelliher, beer by Ouray Brewery, $15. Free commemorative pint glass.
- Live Auction; climbing gear, artwork and collectibles.
Wright Opera House (472 Main Street) 9-10:30 p.m. – Adventure Film
- Multimedia presentation by Aaron Mulkey. Beer provided by Two Rascals Brewery, $15. Free commemorative pint glass.
Ouray Community Center (340 6th Ave.) 10:30 p.m.-1 a.m.
- Petzl “Saturday Night Freezer” Party; beer provided by Ouray Brewery, $10.
Sunday, Jan. 12
Ice Park: 8 a.m.-2 p.m.
- Ouray Ice Festival Hari Berger Speed Comp, sponsored by Lowa; 9 a.m.
- Interactive Clinics; 9 a.m. Sign up online.
- Outdoor Gear Expo; 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Newest gear; ask info booth about gear card.
- Kid’s Climbing College, sponsored by Mosaic Community Project and the Woman’s Club of Ouray, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.; ages 8-17. Free admission.
- Free Walk-up Climbing at the La Sportiva Zone, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.; ages 18 and up.
- ASOLO Awards Ceremony at the Outdoor Gear Expo; 1 p.m.