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Ouray 2011: Wharton Takes Home Third Win

Josh Wharton makes a delicate clip during the mixed climbing competition at the 2011 Ouray Ice Festival in Colorado. Wharton took first place in the competition, finishing the route nearly six minutes faster than second place finisher Will Mayo. [Photo] Christopher Nowak

Yesterday, Josh Wharton won the mixed climbing competition at the Ouray Ice Festival for the third year in a row. Wharton was one of only two competitors to finish the route. He topped out nearly six minutes faster than second place finisher Will Mayo, who reached the anchors with only 18 seconds left before the 20-minute cutoff.

January 6-9 marked the Ouray Ice Festival’s 16th year. Held at Colorado’s Ouray Ice Park, the festival is the biggest international gathering of ice climbers in the world. In addition to the competition, the festival also hosts slideshows, films, a climbing school for kids and clinics taught by competitors and well-known professional climbers.

Three weeks of temperatures in the 40s and 50s and several days of rain caused a meltdown in the park that nearly halted the festival completely. When the mercury dropped last week, Ouray ice makers closed much of the park to freeze new flows around the clock. The park opened 100 percent on January 6, the first day of the festival. General conditions were climbable but still thin, fragile and mushy.

For the past few years, alpinist and Ouray local Vince Anderson has created exceptionally challenging competition routes; this January was no exception. The 25-bolt mixed route, with a rating of M9, climbs a steep line up the deepest part of the ice park’s upper gorge. “Vince’s routes are going to be difficult from the bottom all the way to the top,” said Conrad Anker, who announced the competition.

Andres Marin climbs out of the gorge after popping off the bottom third of the competition route. The Colombian fell to 13th place in the men’s division this year after taking 6th place in the 2010 contest. [Photo] Christopher Nowak

Competitors agreed that the route was much more sustained than in years past. “The bottom part is really technical… there’s no gimme,” said Zoe Hart, who is in her fourth year of competition at Ouray.

Climbers were allowed 20 minutes to complete the route. When time ran out they were lowered and scored according to their highest controlled point. Normally, competitors are only allowed to preview the route from the top of the gorge when no one is climbing it. This year, given the difficulties, they were each given 30 minutes to climb the day before the competition.

The route starts on a short but steep overhang in the gorge below the upper bridge. Competitors then moved into 20 feet of easier mixed climbing before they tackled another sequence of totally dry, overhanging rock that required technical tool placements and contorted body positions. A small but awkward ledge halfway up this steep section allowed climbers to de-pump. The crux of the lower section came just below the halfway point on the wall, where the route transitions from the dry overhang to a verglas-coated slab.

Two climbers positioned on a platform at the top of the slab gave climbers a fresh belay to reduce rope drag. The final section of the climb led competitors along the edge of a nearly 45-degree roof. They drytooled for five bolts along this overhang before gaining an icy arete. This transition onto the arete thwarted most of those who made it past the re-belay station. The final boltline took climbers along the lip of the roof and around a corner, where a few swings on low-angle ice brought the luckiest and most talented climbers to the anchors.

Justin Spain barn-doors on the final overhang of the M9 route. Spain managed to get all four points back on the wall, but fell soon after. [Photo] Christopher Nowak

Dawn Glanc garnered loud cheers from the crowd of climbers returning from their afternoon clinics. Short on time and with six clips to go on the final roof, it was clear Glanc would not top out before the cutoff. In her last remaining minute, she gained momentum while pumping her fist to the music between sticks. Glanc smiled and danced while she was lowered back into the gorge. Her performance earned her first place in the women’s division and seventh place overall.

Jen Olson of Canmore, Alberta was another crowd favorite. She climbed steadily through the lower section of the route, stein-pulling through a steep overhang. She handed the belayers at the re-belay station a bag of Sharkies, a Canadian brand of energy chews, as an offering for a good belay. Olson moved into the roof, where she ran out of steam and finally asked the belayer to lower her.

The last competitor of the day, Wharton climbed with speed and confidence not seen yet in the competition. The lower section of the climb that challenged other competitors with difficult route-finding and delicate tool placements looked easy for Wharton. The other competitors who were watching were impressed by his smooth progress. He placed his tools without second-guessing or testing them before moving on. He reached the re-belay with an unprecedented 13 minutes left on the clock. Despite wobbly tool placements through the dry section of the roof, he moved through the crux with confidence. Wharton grinned as he clipped the anchors and finished with 6:04 still left on the clock.

Men’s Results (highpoint, time)

1 Josh Wharton TOP OUT, 13:47

2 Will Mayo TOP OUT, 19:42

3 Whit Magro 14.1, 15:31

4 Kyle Dempster 14, 17:19

5 Josh Worley 13.4, 15:31

6 Scott Backes 13.4, 19:11

7 Matt Giambrone 12.2, 15:55

8 Geoff Unger 12.1, 16:00

9 Jason Nelson 12.1, 18:16

10 Justin Spain 11, 19:43

11 Aaron Mulkey 8.7, 17:41

12 Jack Jeffries 5.4, 7:47

13 Andres Marin 3.3, 6:27

14 Marcus Garcia 2.8, 5:20

15 Sam Elias 2.2, 2:20

Women’s Results (highpoint, time)

1 Dawn Glanc 13.3, TIMED OUT

2 Jen Olson 11.1, 17:44

3 Emily Herrington 6.2, 10:54

4 Zoe Hart 4.9, 11:38

Final Results Combined (highpoint, time)

1 Josh Wharton TOP OUT, 13:47

2 Will Mayo TOP OUT, 19:42

3 Whit Magro 14.1, 15:31

4 Kyle Dempster 14, 17:19

5 Josh Worley 13.4, 15:31

6 Scott Backes 13.4, 19:11

7 Dawn Glanc 13.3, TIMED OUT

8 Matt Giambrone 12.2, 15:55

9 Geoff Unger 12.1, 16:00

10 Jason Nelson 12.1, 18:16

11 Jen Olson 11.1, 17:44

12 Justin Spain 11, 19:43

13 Aaron Mulkey 8.7, 17:41

14 Emily Herrington 6.2, 10:54

15 Jack Jeffries 5.4, 7:47

16 Zoe Hart 4.9, 11:38

17 Andres Marin 3.3, 6:27

18 Marcus Garcia 2.8, 5:20

19 Sam Elias 2.2, 2:20

Sources: Vince Anderson, Conrad Anker, Zoe Hart, Jen Olsen,,

2011 Ouray Ice Festival, Colorado. [Photo] Christopher Nowak