Time doesn't just flow It leaps tall lives in a single bound, creeping along like a stalking cat, then pouncing when you look away. It is hard to believe that over twenty years have surged by since the first ascent of this classic waterfall.
Bridalveil doesn't just flow either. In summer it crashes, pounds, plunges so gracefully from a distance, so thunderously amid the giant conglomerate boulders in its basin below. As you look up at the roaring column, face dripping with Spray, it is difficult to imagine any force formidable enough to still such awesome power.
But a Telluride winter is cold enough to freeze hell itself (To-HELL-you-ridei). In late autumn, the edges of the main fall sprout delicate white wings of ice. By December the whole cascade has hardened into a brittle pillar, narrow and spotty, with many cauliflowers and chande-liered sections in early season, much fuller and smoother by late February and March.
In 1974, waterfall ice climbing was in its infancy. While we waited for our Yosemite informants to let us know when the Widow's Tears had frozen (which never occurred that year), Mike Weis and 1 heard about an unclimbed challenge closer to home. We drove to Telluride from Lake City, where we were based as Outward Bound winter instructors, to take a look.
It was love at first sight. From the parking lot of the Idarado Mine we gazed in wonder at the beautiful, convoluted shaft of ice that rose 400 feet to an antique power station standing castlelike at the top of the cliff. Totally entranced, we made the one-hour ski approach, all the while vulnerable to the surrounding avalanche chutes,
The climb itself proved to be a landmark for Mike and me, and for the history of the sport. Although the Canadian Rockies classic. Nemesis, was climbed around the same time, it was ascended primarily with aid and fixed ropes. Using 70cm bamboo-shafted Chouinard axes and prototype Snargs my brother Greg had made specially for us, Mike and I free-climbed through the brittle bulges, insubstantial pillars, and numerous overhangs. In the conditions of the first ascent, and climbed free, the route was WI6+. More than twenty years later there are still very few climbs of greater difficulty,- the top end of the scale is now only about 7 on pure ice.
Later that year Mike and I went back to Bridalveil with Greg, who wanted to film the climb. Although still of excellent quality, we found the climbing to be much easier—about 5+—in the conditions prevailing that March. The third ascent was not made until several years later, when Scotsman Gordon Smith and Aspenite Steve Shea confirmed the quality and difficulty of the route. In 1978, ABC filmed Mike, Henry Barber, and me for a broadcast, and later that year Shorts Illustrated featured my first solo of Bridalveil as a cover story. The climb became the one to do for aspiring hard-people.
Location: Bridalveil Falls is located 2 miles east of the town of Telluride, Colorado, at the end of the box canyon. First Ascent: Mike Weis and Jeff Lowe, January 1, 1974 Elevation Gain: About 400 feet Difficulty: Grade lit, W16 Time: 4 to 6 hours
Equipment: Eight to ten ice screws, several long runners for slinging pillars Season: December to March
Comments: The approach is threatened by huge avalanches from the bowls and gullies of Ajax Mountain. Immediately after storms and at other times of high avalanche hazard, consult with knowledgeable locals before heading up to Bridalveil.
Approach: Drive east on Telluride's main street approximately 1 miles to a parking area just outside the gates of the Idarado Mine. (Do not block access to the mine.) Don skis and follow the snow-covered jeep road a mile and a half to the base of Bridalveil, which is easily seen from the parking lot. Route: Start in the middle, below the initial 75° to 85° apron. The first pitch ascends the apron and, usually, an overhang above, often using natural handholds on cauliflowers and pillars rather than tool placements. After 120 feet there is usually a cave to belay in The next short pitch goes up and right over more overhangs (in early season) to belay on a prominent ice ledge halfway up the climb on the right. The third pitch is a long and continuously vertical pillar up the right side of the falls, ending in a spacious cave belay. Above is a final moderate face, which leads into the exit chimney. Descent: Either rappel the route from V-threads, which is a good idea in sensitive avalanche conditions, or walk off left on the road behind the power station, then down the gully below the rock wall over which Bridalveil spills, and back to your starting point.
215 ▼ Birdbroin Boulevard, Ouray, Colorado
Birdbrain Boulevard, Ouray, Colorado
(Photo: Jeff Lowe}
(Photo: Jeff Lowe}
By 1980 1 had become somewhat jaded with climbing good, thick waterfall ice. It seemed that no matter how long or steep the ciimb was, so long as the ice was thick, a way could always be found to get up it. Although I now know better than this, at the time I turned my attention to ice and mixed climbs in the Andes, Alps, and
Himalaya. But in February 1985, several friends and 1 were in Ouray, Colorado, to shoot a catalog for my old climbing equipment company, Latok, so we took the opportunity to combine work with a little fun. Mark Wilford and Charlie Fowler, two of America's best ice climbers, and I made the first ascent of a 1,000-foot mixed route that 1 had first spotted many years earlier.
Birdbrain Boulevard slashes through black conglomerate rock in the high cliff band to the right of the classic moderate ice route called The Ribbon. It is mainly a chimney line, varying in width from I to 10 feet, sometimes coated with good thick ice, But the line seemingly ends in a hopeless overhang 200 feet below the top. Although the second or third pitches can sometimes be more difficult, the key to the route is the lead that climbs out the right side of the cave below the overhang, ascends a difficult icy crack, then traverses back into the main line above the roof, Each pitch of Birdbrain has a character of its own, unusual for a chimney climb.
Oh, about the name. The climb is located across the road that leads to Camp Bird Mine, which has been in operation since the late 1800s, and when we first looked at it seriously with the idea of climbing it, we felt we must all have birdbrains. Location: Birdbrain Boulevard is located a few miles west of Ouray, Colorado, off the Camp Bird Mine road, in the San Juan Mountains. First Ascent: Charlie Fowler, Mark Wilford, and Jeff Lowe, February 1985 Elevation Gain: 1,000 feet Difficulty: Grade IV, WIS, M6 S Time: 8 to 12 hours round trip from the car
Equipment: 180-foot ropes, four or five ice screws, several knifebiade and angle pitons, a half set each of Stoppers and Friends,- skis and skins, or snowshoes Season: February to early May
Comments: The area where Birdbrain Boulevard is located is especially subject to
Jeff Lowe on the Seventh Tentode. Octopussy <on be seen in the upper left comer.
(Photo: Brad Johnson)
avalanche hazard, both on the approach slope leading to the climb, and from massive avalanche drainages that flank the cliffs bordering the climb. Once on the climb, however, it is quite safe Approach; From Ouray take U.S. 550 south out of town to the first right-hand turnoff, County Road 361, or the Camp Bird Mine road, Follow this over a bridge across the Uncompahgre Gorge and go several miles further to a parking spot (usually plowed) at the base of a series of switchbacks up the right side of the canyon at a point where it narrows considerably. Ski down a short road leading to Cascade Creek, cross the creek, and zigzag up the slope to the climb. The approach should take about an hour, depending upon snow conditions.
Route; The first pitch is steepening snow and ice that leads to a vertical 2-foot-wide chimney with ice at the back (Wl4) Belay from ice screws where the chimney opens onto a wide sheet of ice. A short pitch climbs good 75° to SO" ice to a belay from knifeblades in a cave on the left (W13) The long (about 160-foot) third pitch begins on a little vertical ice and continues with poorly protected mixed chimney climbing (M6+ S) Pitch four has more mixed chimney climbing (M5), ending with a steep (90°) wall of ice (Wl5). At this point the chimney widens into a thinly iced face that leads to a belay in the cave below the big roof (M5). The crux pitch climbs vertical ice out the right side of the cave and a wide crack via mixed climbing above, then makes a hard snowy and icy rock traverse back left into a belay in the chimney, which is at that point narrow and deep (M6 S). The seventh and final pitch climbs the snow-filled chimney to the top (M4). Descent: Six or seven rappels from trees down the rib to the left of the climb bring you back to your starting point.
Octopussy, Voil, Colorado
Octopussy is by far the shortest route designated as a classic in this book, but it is historically significant for the new level of technical difficulty that it introduces. The climb is at least a full technical grade more difficult than anything else I have managed to climb. The route may prove to be at the upper end of the MS class, comparable to 5.13 rock climbing. It is also located in a very accessible area near other short high-end test pieces.
At the beginning of the 1994—95 ice season, with very little ice, 1 was completely unsuccessful in my attempts to repeat the climb. This was no doubt due, in part, to the extra ten pounds 1 was carrying around my waist at the time. However, the figure-4 moves at the lip of the roof, with the minuscule hook placements and the upside-down acrobatics required to execute them, will undoubtedly impress the most skilled climbers. Perhaps you will be able to find a less convoluted method to ascend this incredible test piece.
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