Ouray to celebrate 20 years of climbing on a sheet of ice

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(Photo: Courtesy of Ouray Ice Park, by Dan Chehayl)
<p>An ice climber tackling one wall of the Ouray Ice Park gorge.</p>

The Ouray Ice Park has over three miles of vertical frozen terrain, most on the walls of a gorge, which plunges downwards. Climbers have to rappel or scramble down before climbing their way out.

Mike MacLeod, who's on the park's board of directors, says that some first timers end up having second thoughts.

"By the time we put mountaineering boots on you and sharp crampons on, it's a little intimidating," he says. "You can barely walk."

Yet MacLeod expects many will show up for the 20th annual Ouray Ice Festival this weekend. Professional climbers will come in from around the world to compete in two events, and the park also offers clinics for the less experienced.

"Our emphasis is really on helping everyone climb," MacLeod says.

The Ouray Ice Park is one of very few in the U.S., and likely the largest. Each year the park's "ice farmers" release streams of water from about 150 shower heads, which freeze up to create the terrain. MacLeod says that makes each climbing experience truly unique.

"You’re climbing on something so ephemeral," he says. "Ice is only there for a little while."