Ice, ice baby

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Forearms. Antebracium. The region of the upper limbs extending from the elbow to the wrist. They are important pieces of our complex bodies, creating movements and motions in our hands. Without forearms, I would struggle to pursue my favorite childhood pastime: eating. Despite all this knowledge, I never really paid attention to that part of my body. That is, until I went ice climbing this weekend.

Yes, you read that right. Ice climbing. It’s exactly what it sounds like. Crazy people climbing ice. I never knew such a sporting activity existed until I moved to Ouray two years ago. Even when I heard about the town’s world-class Ice Climbing Festival — yes, there are festivals for it too — I couldn’t believe people were crazy and weird enough to climb ice. So, naturally, I had to try it myself.

This weekend, Ouray hosted its 20th Annual Ice Festival. “Celebrity” climbers from all over the world flock to this small mountain community every January to compete in a series of competitions. Even more ice climbing enthusiasts and adrenaline junkies flood the town just to catch a glimpse of the action.

About this time last year, I watched as climbers contorted their bodies up the ice routes in the Mixed Elite Climbing Competition. I thought to myself, “Oh, hell no.” Then I looked to the kid’s climbing wall and watched as toddlers scurried up icicles quicker than I can run up stairs. “Well, I guess it can’t be that hard.”

IMGP2080Unbeknownst to me, those weren’t toddlers but little body builders. I climbed that same kid’s wall this year and nearly passed out after only three short laps. In fact, walking back to my car I collapsed in the snow (aka tripped over my clumsy feet). I tried to ignore the giggles of little children as my burning red face melted off the rest of the snow cone I just ate.

Because I’m not a climber by any means, I enrolled in the novice ice climbing clinic on Saturday. The actual instruction portion lasted maybe 15 minutes and then it was axe-on learning for the next three hours. I’m not complaining, I learn best through trial and error, and trust me, there was plenty of moments of error on my end.

I can’t really describe the process of ice climbing to you. I barely remember doing so myself. Once I lodged in my ice axe and dug in my crampons at the base of a frozen man-made mini waterfall, my survival instincts kicked in and my consciousness faded. The next thing I knew, I was at the top of a 40 foot ice cube, peering over the frozen ledge and taunting the little rascals behind me. That didn’t last long though because I quickly snapped back to reality and realized that the only thing keeping me from falling off the ice mountain was a neon-colored rope hoisted by a complete stranger who was also just learning to ice climb. If there’s one thing I learned about myself while ice climbing it’s that I’m very trusting when it comes to risking my life for an experience.

What I do remember is becoming very aware of my body — more specifically, my forearms. I’ve never felt such a burning sensation in that area before. Mind you, I have zero upper body strength so that may explain why I was sipping my dinner from IMGP2092a straw instead of using proper utensils later that evening.

The best part about my ice climbing experience — and one that my mom truly appreciates — is the fact that I didn’t fall! Well, I did lose my footing and body slam myself into the ice a couple of times on the descent (I have plenty of bruises to prove it), but I lived to tell the story.

Overall, I had a blast at Ice Fest and I met a lot of cool people. It’s amazing seeing people from all over the world reunite once a year in a small town in Colorado. The ice climbing community is a growing family, and they’re always welcoming new members. So call me crazy, but I just may have found a new hobby and a new family.

Side note: I need to give a shoutout to the Ouray Ice Park and its board for hosting such a fun event that really brings life to Ouray in the dead of winter. The crazy part is that the Ice Park is completely FREE to use and is maintained through donations. Check out more facts about the Ice Park or donate at www.ourayicepark.com.

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