It was well below freezing in the Ouray Ice Park, but in the half-warmth of the winter sun, a gloveless Jeff Mercier climbed through a section of overhanging artificial wall festooned with old-school mountaineering ice axes and dense foam blocks. He alternated between whacking the picks of his ERGO ice tools into the foam, and gently hooking and mono-pointing into the spike holes of the dangling ice axes.
“I never do a figure-four in dry-tooling,” Jeff, a Petzl athlete visiting from France, told Rock and Ice magazine. “Because in France it’s forbidden." Many of his competitors relied heavily on the gymnastic "figure-four" technique, allowing them to pull long moves on the very overhanging wall. Despite this self-imposed stylistic handicap, Jeff was the first climber of the day to reach the top of the route.
All that time spent hanging from his tools in the cold mountain air, however, left Jeff with a crippling case of the "screaming barfies," a fiery pain that wracks an ice climber's arms as warm blood, and sensation, returns post-climb. (The pain was so intense that Jeff actually experience the barfing compnent of the barfies.) Luckily, he recovered in time to win the speed climbing event held the next day.
Later in the competition, another Petzl athlete hailing from France, Simon Duverney, took to the competition course. He floated through the M9 opening section of steep dry tooling on rock in about four minutes, pulled through a hanging ice curtain to gain the massive "tuna log" suspended vertically from chains, and, barely pausing to rest, set out onto the upper headwall.
Where Jeff finished the route with 35 seconds left on the 12-minute competition clock, Simon cruised to the final anchors with several minutes to spare. In the end, they were the only competitors to complete the pumpy, technical course, the brainchild of setter Vince Anderson.
Petzl climber Gord McArthur, of Canada, also fared well in the event, taking fifth in the mixed comp and fourth in the speed comp. Andres Marin, who'd finished second last year, ended up in 11th place.
In the women's event, two Petzl Team members, Marianne van der Steen (Netherlands) and last year's champ Emily Harrington (USA), placed second and third respectively.
Of course, the Ouray Ice Festival, now in its 18th year, is more than just a competition. Hundreds of ice lovers attend the event to try out the latest gear from their favorite brands and put it to the test on the fat water ice and mixed routes that line the Ice Park's Uncompahgre Gorge.
At this year's event, Petzl technical ice tools -- QUARK, NOMIC, and ERGO -- and other gear was in high demand. "We brought 65 pairs of tools and 48 sets of crampons," said Chuck Odette, Petzl America Event Coordinator. "They were gone within an hour every morning."
"What I really like about this event is that people come from all over the country, and the world for that matter, to be part of it," said Petzl America Marketing Director John Evans. "It's awesome to have the best of the best come and compete in a fun, grass-roots event and then give clinics, too!"
Petzl athletes led several popular clinics throughout the event. Majka Burhardt, Caroline George, Andres Marin, Gord McArthur, Jeff Mercier, and Matt Wade among them.
On saturday night, Petzl Customer Sales and Service Manager Pitt Grewe DJ'ed the Lost In Space party, co-sponsored by Arc'Teryx and Petzl. The event bumped late into the night and, as the saying goes, a good time was had by all.
A big thanks to everyone who showed up for this great event, to the Ouray Ice Park, and to all the volunteers and sponsors who made the Ice Festival possible. We're already looking forward to next year.