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Go Outdoors: Climbing on luck

I planned on writing about ice climbing. That was until I was hit by a chunk of ice, had the screaming barfies and almost broke my ass falling today while ice climbing in Ouray.

Who am I kidding, I am still going write about ice climbing. After all, bruises will heal and the screaming barfies will go away. To be truthful, I fell on ice in the parking lot. Plus, the joy that ice climbing brings is well worth any amount of pain.


Aaron Jensen climbing. (Nevin Fowler | Collegian)


This is only my second year climbing ice, and to be real, most of what I know about ice climbing has come from YouTube videos and an outdated Jeff Lowe book. I know enough to get myself into trouble, but lack the experience to know when I am in above my head.

Last year, my climbing partner Aaron and I were on a snowy trail hiking to an obscure waterfall. We had new found confidence after practicing our YouTube-learned skills on some easy ice climbs. While passing a group of ice climbers, we asked them how the ice was. They replied with “It was thin and sublimated.” To be honest, neither Aaron nor I had a clue what that meant. Thin ice sounded bad and sublimated ice sounded even worse. We nodded, said thanks and continued. Out of ear reach, we both turned and asked the other if he knew what thin and sublimated ice meant.

Though we didn’t fully understand just how bad thin ice could be, we decided it was out of our league. Not to mention we still had no idea what sublimated meant. In the end, we decided it was a good day to just hike.

After later research, we realized we truly made the right decision. Thin, sublimated ice was far out of our league. We undoubtedly would have been in trouble. I always try to do research ahead of adventures, yet it is often luck that saves me. When luck isn’t there, I usually come out looking like an idiot. Like yesterday, in the parking lot, when my feet flew into the air and I landed straight on my back. I laid there for a bit and regained my breath as other climbers laughed at my misfortune. If only there was a YouTube video for how fix one’s pride.

At least I now know what sublimated ice is, and now I know to check the status of ice climbs online before I head out to climb them.

The usual ice barrage. (Nevin Fowler | Collegian)

To be sure, learning how to ice climb has been an adventure. If anyone asked me how to get into ice climbing today, I would suggest finding a guide or a mentor. If I had the extra cash, I would have hired a guide to teach me the ins and outs of ice climbing. Maybe then I could have avoided the numerous dents to my pride, because rest assured, there are much more than just embarrassing parking lot falls.

I admit that a part of me has enjoyed the painful journey of learning how to ice climb. Plus, who needs a guide when they have circa 1980 Jeff Lowe ice climbing videos to learn from?

Collegian blogger Nevin Fowler can be reached online at or on twitter at @nevintfowler. Read more of Go Outdoors content on. Leave a Comment!!


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