Never again will wintertime pursuits be as accessible as they were during the winter of 2004. The ski lift was two blocks down the road. My personal ice park in Bear Creek was a 15 minute walk up the trail. And when I was done with that the bars were only a block in the other direction. Not that my snowboarding skills, ice climbing technique or alcoholic tolerance improved. I still managed to fall off the lift, stab my pant legs with my crampons, and was just too poor to afford beverages other than tap water.
It's not uncommon for the average ski bum to live close to taverns and ski lifts, but living so close to quality ice climbing is truly unique. Bear Creek Valley is well known to Telluride locals with its summertime and wintertime trail that cuts deep into 13,000 foot peaks of the majestic San Juan Mountains. In the winter ample shade allows the creek to freeze in two main locations. More well-known is the upper Bear Creek Falls, but lower on the trail is where the real climbing can be found. Lower Bear Creek is reminiscent of the famous Ouray Ice Park in that it features a long wall of pure ice with easy grade 3 climbs as well as tricky mixed climbs. "Our" ice park doesn't feature nearly as many routes and isn't quite as long as the climbs found in Ouray, but more than makes up for these shortcomings in other areas. In Bear Creek we didn't have to worry about ice bombing down on us from other groups climbing only a few feet next to us, in fact, I never saw another group climbing there the entire winter. Going ice climbing required as much planning as going for a jog. My roommate Will could sleep in until noon and still get several laps on the ice.
Someday when I'm forced to drive eight hours, pay for a hotel, and make dreadful two hour approaches just to find some decent ice I'll look back fondly on Bear Creek. That frozen jewel of a place that served as our personal ice park.
|Ice pillar catching some rare Bear Creek light.|
|Jared leading a short, but tricky section of ice.|
|Same climb, with me getting ready to take the above picture. Christian Prellwitz|
|Dave and Jared taking laps on steep grade 4-5 ice. Christian Prellwitz|
|Dave getting warmed up. Christian Prellwitz|
|Mixed master Christian bouldering sans leashes in a small cave.|
|Christian's foot is all the camera can catch as he scales this delicate ice pillar.|
|Spying on Christian from an ice cave as he rappels into Bear Creek.|