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Ouray 2010: Wharton Wins Again

Josh Wharton celebrates his competition win at the 2010 Ouray Ice Festival. He was one of two competitors to finish the route. Wharton also won the same event last year. [Photo] Erik Lambert

Josh Wharton has outclassed some of the world’s best ice-climbing talent again this year. The Colorado-based climber who won the Ouray Ice Festival climbing competition in 2009 triumphed again today at this year’s Ouray contest–winning by a huge time margin. One of only two competitors to finish the route, Wharton topped out in about 15 minutes; second place went to Sam Elias, who scrambled at the last moment to finish two seconds shy of the 20-minute cutoff.

The Ouray Ice Festival is an annual event, now in its 15th year, that brings together about 3,000 climbers and spectators. The elite competition is one of the world’s most prestigious. As such, this year it attracted 23 of the best competitors from around the world, from as far as South Korea, Japan and Colombia.

In recent Ouray compeitions, routesetters added man-made structures like hanging logs and overhanging plywood affixed with climbing holds to enhance route difficulty. However, this year head routesetter Vince Anderson chose a line that went au naturel. He found an extremely challenging series of ice and rock features that could test the best.

Earlier this year, Ouray Ice Park board member and head judge Bill Whitt gave Anderson instructions for setting the route. “Extreme pain is what they need to feel for the entire route,” Whitt told him. “Let them taste the wrath as the agony consumes them.”

Indeed, the 120-foot route was a test of technique and endurance. It began with a steep but short “sit-start” section of M7 that led to an icy slab. A nearly holdless squeeze chimney above brought competitors to a balancy rest and re-belay. Higher still was the headwall, a 50-foot section of blocky, overhanging rock speckled with ice globules and capped by an overhanging ice ledge that led to the top of the gorge and the finish point.

“It wasn’t just about power,” Whitt said after the competition. “You had to be a really good all-around mixed climber to do well on this route because there were so many different elements to it.” Most competitors fell or timed out on the headwall.

Second-place finisher Sam Elias nearing the top of the upper mixed section. [Photo] Erik Lambert

Elias garnered attention in the morning when his slow but steady approach brought him onto the final bit of ice with just a few seconds remaining on the time clock. In a bid for the top, he yanked off one tool–leaving it there–and scampered on his frontpoints just in time to reach the top.

A dozen competitors after him attempted also to reach the top, including favorite Ines Papert from Germany who took first place overall in 2005. Tools sunk in the last section of ice with six minutes remaining, it appeared Papert would take the lead. But when she weighted a tool, it ripped out a chunk of ice unexpectedly. She fell and the crowd gasped; she hung for a few moments, swinging slightly and dejected, before she was lowered to the ground. Nonetheless, Papert scored first among women this year.

The crowd favorite, perhaps, was Andres Marin, an animated climber from Colombia. An exceptional offwidth rock climber, Marin eschewed his ice tools for much of the route, somehow climbing the slippery rock and ice with gloves on. At one point, he swung a tool into the ice, broke off a chunk, then abandoned the tools to sink both arms into the hole he’d created. A slip higher up kept him from transitioning onto the final section of ice.

Wharton, the last competitor of the day, finished quickly and strong. Compared to his challengers, Wharton hightailed every section, attentively placing his tools then effortlessly pulling through to the next hook or swing. In no rush near the top, he looked out to the crowd with a smile and held a tool high before stopping the clock.

“Josh just smoked the thing,” Whitt said. “It just shows you what a great all-around climber he is.”

Japanese competitor Yuichi Enokido tackles the headwall. [Photo] Erik Lambert

2010 Men’s Results

1) Josh Wharton: TOP OUT (14:42)

2) Sam Elias: TOP OUT (19:58)

3) Will Mayo: 15.3 points

4) Bryan Gilmore: 15.2

5) Josh Worley: 15.1

6) Andres Marin: 14.5

7) Matt Giambrone: 14

8) Whit Magro: 11.7

9) Marcus Garcia: 10.5 (17:27)

10) Stephen Koch: 10.5 (18:37)

11) Mathieu Audibert: 10

12) Rob Cordery-Cotter: 9.1

13) Yuichi Enokido: 9

14) Gordon MacArthur: 5.9

15) Myung Chul Kim: 5

16) Pat Delaney: 4.9

2010 Women’s Results

1) Ines Papert: 15

2) Audrey Gariepy: 11.5

3) Dawn Glanc: 9.5

4) Zoe Hart: 6

5) Majka Burhardt: 5

6) Mattie Sheafor: 1.8

7) Caroline George: 1.5

Sources: Bill Whitt,

Andres Marin of Colombia leaves his tools behind to grab a newly created ice hold. [Photo] Erik Lambert