It’s winter in Colorado. No, I mean winter! The temperature here this morning was –12.2F (–25.5C). The high today was 10.7F (–11.8C). This weekend, then, was perfect for the Ouray Ice Festival, held each year at what is likely the premier ice park in the world — at the very least the best public park of its kind, the Ouray Ice Park.
(The weather data at my house really is at my house: I apparently have the only web-accessible weather station in Ouray County. Expect to see some pretty extreme conditions there over the next few days — and especially nights!)
This year’s Ice Fest was the 12th annual event, and it was fantastic. I was well suited up against the cold and snapping pictures of the climbers (there are several safe places to look down into the gorge from directly above so you can see things; see photo below). Climbing what? Ice! Frozen waterfalls. Challenging? You bet.
But Not for the Timid
Is ice climbing dangerous? You’re darned right! I hadn’t been there for 20 minutes when my pager went off — the Ouray ambulance was being dispatched to the Ice Park for an injured climber. I hiked up to the staging point to offer a hand.
They didn’t really need me: in addition to the well-staffed ambulance crew, the Ouray Mountain Rescue Team has members on scene during the entire festival. “But hey: you have a camera?! Would you pop over to where we’re bringing her up to get some shots of our new technique?” You bet! I only had my little Fuji digital snapshot camera, but for its size it takes great photos.
The gal had been hit in the head by falling ice. Luckily, one of the hard rules in the ice park is that helmets are required not just during any climbs, but anytime a climber is in the gorge. She was no fool: she was wearing hers, and her helmet broke so her head didn’t have to.
Still, being hit on the head that hard can cause significant internal injuries ranging from concussion to spinal cord damage, so they hauled her out in a basket and took her in for a check, as well as to stitch up the gash on her forehead. As they loaded her in, they decided they’d like to have another female on board, and my wife was standing there. Like me, Kit has just finished up her EMT class work, so she jumped aboard.
Happily, the victim was not seriously injured, and only one other climber received an injury during the event, and that one was minor too.
And if this all sounds (and looks!) really interesting, there’s just one thing better: come yourself next year! Bring warm clothes.
(Scroll down for more photos. You can click all to see them larger.)
Now to the Rescue of the Injured Climber
Again, you can click the photos to see them larger.
I later had the privilege to be the Incident Commander at another OMRT rescue, which is also described in this blog.
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