Nathan Kutcher becomes the first climber in the Ouray Ice Festival Elite Mixed Competition to establish himself on the south wall of the canyon following an overhanging traverse from the blue ice bridge. Kutcher was the first climber to top out on the route, and with 1:20 left on the clock, he won the competition.
[Photo] Claire Hay
Mild weather and thick ice welcomed more than 3,000 climbers from around the world to the 17th Annual Ouray Ice Festival this weekend at the Ouray Ice Park in southwest Colorado. An early season of cold nights and warm afternoons created ideal ice conditions in the park’s flooded box canyon, which set the stage for the festival’s Elite Mixed Climbing Competition.
Nathan Kutcher, in his first appearance at the festival, took home the championship title, beating the only other competitor to top out, Andres Marin, by just six seconds. Kutcher climbed in bare hands. Emily Harrington, six-time Sport Climbing National Champion, set the highpoint among female competitors and won the women’s division. Dawn Glanc, the women’s champion in 2011, fell just below Harrington’s highpoint, but with a faster time.
Notably missing from this year’s competitor lineup was Josh Wharton, who had taken home the championship title for the past three years. Wharton decided to sit out the 2012 competition. “I really like to learn new things in climbing and try out aspects of the sport that make me feel like a novice,” said Wharton. “Mixing it up and trying out new things and new areas is an important part of that process.”
Wharton wasn’t the only one mixing things up this weekend. Local alpinist Vince Anderson has been setting the competition route at the festival the past three seasons, and worked for weeks to create this year’s competition climb. The result was perhaps the most creative ice route to ever challenge the Ouray Ice Fest Elite.
On Saturday, a lineup of sixteen climbers competed against the clock, trying to decipher Anderson’s complex route design. They were given eight minutes to make it from the bottom of the cave below the lower bridge through thirty to forty feet of slightly overhanging drytooling that led to a bulge coated with thin ice. Climbers found much-needed traction in the ice above the bulge as they climbed toward a narrow ice bridge spanning the twelve-foot gap between the north and south walls of the canyon.
More than 3,000 ice climbers from around the world converge on Ouray Ice Park each January for the annual ice festival.
[Photo] Claire Hay
The temporary bridge was a cage of metal beams between the walls of the canyon, with thick ice coating the metal infrastructure. After the bridge, climbers continued onto a vertical rock wall, drytooling for another twenty-five feet before finally reaching a forgiving patch of ice and the final two bolts. All of this had to happen in less than fifteen minutes.
The four climbers that competed before Nathan Kutcher had all fallen before establishing themselves on the south side of the canyon. Harrington and Kyle Dempster were able to make their way across the bridge with an impressive display of heel hooks and figure-fours, but couldn’t make the transition from hanging upside-down to clipping in on the far wall. Kutcher made much of the route look easy, finessing his way through the first five bolts of dry tooling, pulling himself over the icy bulge and committing to the bridge.
On the far side of the bridge, Kutcher slipped, and it looked like he might find the same fate as the four competitors before him, but he was able to maintain control and became the first climber to clip the tenth bolt on the south wall.
With only 3:30 left on the clock, Kutcher stalled at the twelfth bolt. The crowd yelled, “Three minutes! You only have three minutes!” and he shook his arms out, assessed the rest of the route and carefully made his way through the final few feet of rock. He took advantage of a thin layer of ice to help him reach a more forgiving patch of ice at the top of the route. After clipping the final two bolts, he crawled up the last few feet to top out with 1:20 to spare.
Andres Marin, the only other climber to top out, made it to the south wall before stopping to throw an arm in the air, egging on the crowd. He reached the ice near the top of the route with 2:35 to go, but wasn’t able to stop the clock until the time had ticked down to 1:14. When asked about his somewhat peculiar form as he scrambled to top out, Marin nicknamed himself the “Kickin’ Chicken.”
1. Nathan Kutcher (topout)
2. Andres Marin (topout)
3. Simon Duverney
4. Bryan Gilmore
5. Sam Elias
6. Josh Worley
7. Kyle Dempster
8. Whit Magro
9. Marcus Garcia
10. Will Mayo
11. Stanislav Vrba
12. Logan Tyler
13. Rob Cordery-Cotter
1. Emily Harrington
2. Dawn Glanc
3. Jen Olson