Are you feeling inspired to climb Colorado's amazing frozen, vertical waterfalls, but don't want to make the 7-hour trek from Denver International to Ouray? Front Range ice climbing is closer than you think!
Just 20 minutes from Denver's Flagship REI, you can find spectacular ice in Clear Creek Canyon. Read below to find out more:
Ice climbing has become increasingly popular in recent years as curious adventurers seek new experiences in the vertical world. As Colorado begins its winter freeze in December, anxious rock climbers look for something to do outside of the gym.
You might choose to hit the ski resorts, snowshoe through Rocky Mountain National Park, or become a little too familiar with your local brewery staff. But those who try ice climbing - just once - often catch the bug! Why? It's an old fashion good time, and downright fun.
What could be better than swinging tools deep into a frozen waterfall, making foot placements where you please, and wearing stylish puffy coats? Certainly not a Caribbean vacation!
Clear Creek Canyon Ice Climbing Crags
Check out some of the awesome flows YOU could climb this week! Book your personalized ice climbing adventure HERE
So what's all the fuss about? YES, it's true, awesome ice climbs can be found just minutes from the center of Golden. One of the amazing things about frozen waterfall ice is that it's here today, and could be gone tomorrow. Unlike rock, ice is a living, breathing thing.
Waterfall ice generally forms on Northern facing aspects that are fed from springs, creeks, or other aqueducts that supply a consistent flow of water. As temperatures warm, ice grows from the increased flow. As those temperatures drop, the water hardens to that sweet, cool blue ice we're looking for.
Clear Creek Canyon is positioned East to West, allowing ice to form on crags to the South of Route 6. With this said, ice formation is quite seasonal and changes from year to year, especially as the climate changes. Some years are better than others, but Clear Creek Canyon continues to deliver!
The "Secret" is out on Clear Creek Canyon's premier waterfall ice - Secret Falls. Located past tunnel two and below Lookout Mountain's Windy Saddle Park, this flow is best accessed from Highway 6 during the coldest winter months from below. The Clear Creek (it's a raging river, not a creek) freezes over, and a path is usually well worn to guide safe passage, but proceed with caution, especially after a fresh snow event. An approach from the top is possible from Windy Saddle Park, but navigation is challenging; requiring an estimated 1500ft. descent. That means more hard work at the end of the day! Upon approach, watch for an active Mountain lion who is believed to live just West of the crag's approach trail. If you're looking to check out this flow, plan on climbing with a partner - hiking up and East to set up a top rope is very challenging and not recommended. You will have a lot more fun giving this one a solid lead.
This season, the flow filled in nicely with some fun near-vertical climbing at the top. If you want to work on your dry tooling skills like Petra Klingler, climber's right offers some mixed terrain.
Secret Falls is absolutely the closest, fastest access to ice in Denver. Keep that in mind! If you are looking for solitude, try to climb at obscure times on the weekdays. Venturing out in harsh weather conditions while others stay at home may yield solitude as well. Otherwise, keep an open mind and have an awesome time sharing the mountain with your rad new ice climbing friends!
Secret Falls is an awesome place to practice your skills, enjoy beautiful scenery, and get in the mileage to prepare for your upcoming solo ascent of Mt. Everest.
Little Eiger Area
The Litte Eiger area is another unique natural flow in Clear Creek Canyon that is shaded for almost the entirety of the day, allowing for clear, moderate ice to form. This area is even closer than Secret Falls - drive 3.5 miles up the canon from the intersection of Route 93 and Highway 6. If you find yourself driving through tunnel 2, you have gone too far.
First Time Ice Climbing?
Ice climbing is a unique and rewarding experience. No matter if this is your first journey into the vertical world, or an experienced rock climber, you are in good hands with our AMGA certified guides.
Golden Mountain Guides has all of the gear you'll need, aside from that stylish puffer jacket we were talking about, at no additional cost! Be prepared by dressing warm, packing a few pairs of extra gloves, and filling up a rugged thermos with your favorite winter beverage. We love tea and hot cocoa!
Wondering what else you should bring along? Check out: The Complete Guide to Packing for an Ice Climbing Trip
Ice Climbing vs. Rock Climbing
If you've tried free climbing outdoors or in the gym, ice climbing makes for a great winter activity. BUT, some of the best ice climbers do not start as rock climbers! The best ice climbers can be first-timers because they do not carry over habits learned in traditional skin-to-rock climbing.
Ice Climbing technique is more systematic, focusing on making solid placements that can be relied on. Your ice tools are essentially "Jugs" - comfortable, large holds that you can relax into. Once you make a solid placement, you will want to straighten your arm and relax into your shoulder. Keeping your hips low and knees bent, you can push your hips out to view your next foot placements. Kick your way up until your feet are solid, then stand up.
It's this procedure that varies from the flowy, balanced rock climbing we are used to. Beware of these two critical components of the ice climbing technique: keep your heels low, and swing your tools in line with your body. Those are the two biggest things I consciously work on, and have observed with other new ice climbers. Especially those with prior gym or outdoor climbing experience. SO, keep those heels low, engage the tibia, and relax the calf. Swing in line with your body, keeping the arms long and relaxed, not off to the sides with bent elbows. And as Ben might tell you; get those feet set!
Where to Get Started
If you're keen to get on some Front Range Ice and want to make some new friends, check out our Intro to Ice Climbing Clinics.
Worried about that dirtbag climber smell? Then a Private Day might be for you!
Not Extreme enough for you? Check out our adventures at Lincoln Falls and the Lake City Ice Park. We know you'll be hooked after a day of climbing in Clear Creek, and this is where we'll want to take you next!