There are only a handful of ice-climbing destinations in the United States—and Bozeman, Montana and Ouray, Colorado are both strong contenders for the top spot. When it comes to dancing up waterfalls and balancing up smears, where should you head? Let’s find out as these two frozen playgrounds face off to see which holds the crown.
To climb in Ouray, you park, rappel in from top-rope anchors, and climb whatever you want from WI 2 to M12. It’s by far the most accessible ice climbing in the world. On the other hand, to ascend ice in Hyalite, you drive up a sketchy road, hike or ski through the snow, and unless you’re climbing G1, you’d better be prepared to lead.
Amount of Ice
Ouray Ice Park boasts more than 200 ice and mixed climbs crammed into a one-mile stretch of the Uncompahgre Gorge. Only two of these climbs are natural waterfalls. Hyalite Canyon goes au naturel and has over 225 naturally forming pitches. While the raw numbers may be about the same, Hyalite is as real as it gets and gives its visitors plenty of elbow room. While you’re still in the great outdoors at Ouray, it can be akin to working out at a crowded gym.
Hyalite Canyon is part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem—the largest intact temperate ecosystem in the world. Grizzly bears, wolverines, wolves, and other wild creatures call this canyon home. Ouray Ice Park lies within walking distance of downtown Ouray. Enough said.
A good hot soak can make you forget even the most miserable ice belay. Ouray Hot Springs is a mile and a half from the Ice Park, and clothing-optional Orvis is a quick ten-minute drive. For those who want to soak their cold toes after a day of climbing in Hyalite, they’ll need to go a bit further—it’s a good 45 minutes to Bozeman Hot Springs and even longer to Norris, Chico, or the Boiling River.
Length of Season
Dedicated climbers can start climbing in Hyalite by November and keep on crushing into May. Meanwhile, Ouray has been known to be ice-free into January. Combine that late start with an early end and it’s clear who’s got the goods.
Score: 3 to 2
Good try, Ouray, but you just reinforced what we knew already: Hyalite Canyon can’t be beat.
This article first appeared in the 2013 Bozeman Ice Festival's official program.