Ice climbing is a whole lot more than just swinging ice tools into frozen water: it’s a patient game of chess, waiting for elusive conditions, and then pouncing on an opportunity to climb dreamy (or nightmarish) routes. This fall, in an area high in the alpine in Rocky Mountain National Park outside Estes Park, CO, a small group of adventurous alpinists discovered all-time conditions on routes that had never been climbed before.
How does one get a first ascent on area so close to civilization? Well, the answer is simple: the routes had simply never formed before. On Longs Peak’s East Face, under the famous wall of rock known as the Diamond, water trickles out of cracks in the rock, and if conditions are just right, it freezes into huge curtains of ice that just barely stick to the rock. For some a frightful nightmare, for others a dream come true.
After scouting conditions for several weeks, climbers Wesley Fowler and Tyler Kempney teamed up with local video wizard Drew Herder to attempt a new route. Climbing the face required some of the boldest climbing ever attempted: the ice was so thin it was unprotectable for long stretches at a time, and with each swing of an ice tool, the climbers risked shattering the whole route and falling off.