The 16th annual Ouray Ice Festival took place this past weekend. I attended this year, on behalf of Petzl and The North Face, to give a slideshow and compete in the mixed-climbing competition. The Ouray mixed competition is a prestigious invite-only event that draws some of the nation's best mixed/ice climbers. It was my first competition of this sort, and I was anxious and excited to see how I would fare.

Because the ice didn’t form as well as the organizers had hoped, the comp route was set on a part of the wall that had been used for past competitions. In order to avoid giving an advantage to competitors who had climbed on the wall in the past, the format was changed last minute from onsight to redpoint, meaning each competitor would have 30 minutes to practice the route in the days prior to the comp.

Emily Harrington competing at Ouray
Emily Harrington dry tooling at the 2011 Ouray mixed-climbing competition, this year held 
in a redpoint rather than onsight format. Photo ©Petzl / Dustin Butcher

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t absolutely terrified and intimidated by the route when I practiced it. It started at the very bottom of the canyon, 130 feet below the upper bridge, and climbed a tedious section of snow-covered rock ledges to a technical dry-tooling section, followed by a slab covered with a thin layer of ice, and finally climbing a 50 foot long overhanging arête of rock and ice to the top. I was gripped the entire time. My hands went painfully numb right off the bat. My fruit boots kept skating off the rock and my tools popped off on more than one occasion. I felt like I was flailing miserably, and started feeling insecure. “I don't belong here,” I thought to myself, feeling defeated and dreading the competition, where I would be on display before hundreds of spectators.

Despite my lack of confidence, all my friends told me that I had done well, and that I would do great the next day. I didn’t believe them but decided to try and stop feeling so insecure and focus on just doing my best.

Emily Harrington climbing in the mixed comp at Ouray
Harrington at Ouray. Photo ©Petzl / Dustin Butcher

The day of the competition brought anxiety and nervousness just like any other comp I’d done, but I tried hard to stay composed. As I rapped down into the bottom of the canyon, I began to feel less anxious and felt a thrill of inspiration and excitement run through my veins. I started up the route feeling confident and precise. My feet were quiet and didn't slip. My tool placements were solid. I climbed smoothly and swiftly, without fear, and reached the ice covered slab at the midway point after only taking 10 of my allotted 20 minutes to climb, while it had taken me a full 20 minutes to reach the same spot the day before. I found an existing pick hole in the ice on the slab and pulled up confidently, but just as I did, I heard the ice pop and crack, and watched it fracture around my tool. I knew the placement was bad, but I had already committed. A split second later the ice exploded into my face and I was off. I had fallen when I wasn’t tired. I had had plenty of time to keep climbing. I was disappointed and angry with myself.

Ouray, Colorado: winter wonderland
The wintry San Juan mountains surrounding Ouray, Colorado. Photo: ©Andrew Bisharat

As I untied, my belayer told me I had climbed superbly, and that I should be proud. I thought about this, and realized it was the best I had ever climbed on a mixed route. Sure, I made a mistake, but competitions (especially of this style) do not always work out how we want them to. My performance was good enough for a third-place finish in the women's division (full results here). I’m proud of how I climbed, and that I even participated in the first place, despite feeling out of my element. I’ll be back next year…

 

 

Not long ago, Emily blogged about discovering ice climbing for the first time. That post here: Rock to Ice, Part 1