Five years ago, I got on a plane from Switzerland to come and compete in the world class Ouray Ice Festival. Little did I know how much this event would change my life. Upon arriving here, I drove to Telluride to climb the classic Ames Ice Hose, a striking WI5 three pitch line. While rappelling the route, I mistakingly dropped my ice axes, which almost took out the leader of the party below. I apologized, he forgave me and six months later, we were married. During the event, I also met photographer/climber Jon Walsh, whom I met that following march in Canada with the perspective of climbing many routes in a day. We would climb anywhere from 2 to 7 pitches in a day, linking up stunning lines such as Nemesis and Suffer Machine, Nightmare on Wolfestreet and French Reality, the Weeping Wall/Weeping Pillar and Curtain Call, etc. Later in the trip, we focused on putting up new lines. They were hard and full value and when all was done, I wanted more. This was the beginning of my passion for first ascents.

Two years ago, I was back for the third time at the Ouray Ice Festival. Sitting across from me at breakfast one morning was fellow Petzl athlete Audrey Gariepy - an amazingly talented Quebecer climber. I was reading an email from Jon Walsh suggesting we meet up in March again to do first ascents in the remote Canadian Icefall Brooke Cirque. I looked up and asked Audrey if she might be interested. She immediately said yes. We invited two other women to join us - Ines Papert and Jen Olsen. Two months later, we flew into the Cirque and put up no less than 10 new routes in 10 days.

Since it had all started at the Ouray Ice Festival, it only made sense for me this year to present a slideshow of this amazing journey into the Canadian wilderness. Thursday night, the Main Street Theater in Ouray was more than packed to view slideshows by Andres Marin and me. It was a blast. The crowd was excited and that made me all the more at ease to share this amazing journey into the wild. Since Ines Papert was in the audience, she agreed to talk about putting up what might be the hardest multipitch route in the world during that trip - an amazing feat that await a repetition to confirm the M12 rating. And thus started the 15th Annual Ouray Ice Festival - my 5th edition since I moved to the USA in 2006.


Every year, I debate whether or not to compete in the event. Competing requires a lot of training and being a last minute kinda girl, I always end up feeling pretty stressed out about the upcoming competition. Sometime in november, I started hanging from my ice axes in the kids playground I have in my backyard in Salt Lake City. I would hang for 15 minutes at a time, doing pull-ups with one foot resting on a bar, then shaking out before doing knee raises and kicking my foot as high as possible in the air to work the core. This year, I also went to France and climbed on huge overhanging routes that have been set up especially for dry-tooling. Route setters drilled and painted holes in the rock to place ice axes in and hung logs on the route as well. This was amazing training. Yet, as I flew home from spending Christmas in Europe, I started getting sick. I had intended to drive down early to Ouray for some last minute training and getting used to the style of climbing down in Ouray again. Instead, I was bed ridden for three-and-half days with strepthroat. When antibiotics finally started working their magic, I got out of bed to drive down to Ouray. Ironically, once I got on the rock, I felt the strongest I had ever felt and I got excited about competing again. 

 

I was scheduled to climb at 10.40am on Saturday. I rapped down into the canyon a little before that and checked out the route once the previous competitor had fallen off. The route was long - 140ft - and overhanging, but it looked fun. Vince Anderson, the route setter, had decided on a sit start. I put my Nomics in the starting hole in the ice and started after the 3-2-1 count down. The little ice problem at the start felt easy. I was calm and really motivated. I clipped the second draw, put my tool on a piece of ice and just as I lifted my other tool to make my next move, the ice hold broke, and I fell. And just like that, it was over. I didn't even have time to realize what was happening. I lowered down and climbed the ice to get out of the canyon. Instantly, I looked for a partner to go climb with in the park. I was motivated and frustrated, and it proved to the perfect attitude I needed to redeem myself and send my little project: Mighty Aphrodite (M9).

List of competitors

Josh Wharton won the competition for the man and Ines Papert won for the women. While the competition was happening, multiple ice climbing and paragliding world champion Will Gadd was climbing as many pitches as he could during a 24hours period to raise money for the Dzi Foundation. Check out www.endlessascent.com to learn more about Will's incredible feat!

Sam Elias working his way to the top - and second place

The rest of the event was spent teaching clinics and meeting people from all over who share the same passion for ice climbing. Audrey Gariepy and I taught Advanced Ice and Advanced Mixed climbing together one day and then I taught a beginner's class solo. The Ouray Ice Festival is an amazing time to learn from professionals. Clinics always fill out so it's important to sign up early. The Ouray Ice Festival also hosts the best party. This year, Petzl hosted the outrageous Super Hero - Guy Lacelle Party, which raised $4000 for the Ice Park. People were dressed as Wonder Woman, The Incredible Hulk, Men in Black, Batman and Robin, Superman and many others!

After Ouray Ice Festival session with Ines Papert on Ames Ice Hose

The 15th Annual Ouray Ice Festival was a great success. Beyond the competition, the outrageous party, the avalanche of great slideshows and the clinics, this edition was also a great occasion for the climbing tribe to reunite and celebrate those who have left us too soon. I already look forward to taking part in the 16th Annucal Ouray Ice Festival!

Mighty Aphrodite, photo courtesy of James Q. Martin