Ouray’s Ice Park Trail

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Jill, Day Hiking Ambassador

Ouray, CO is the Switzerland and mecca for ice climbers in America. This beautifully serene Colorado Mountain town has an easygoing spirit with a touch of spunk. After falling in love with this winter gem last February we knew it was an only a matter of time and snowfall before we would return.

With some patience and logistics the stars of snowfall and time off perfectly aligned allowing us to steal away for the weekend up North to the quaint San Juan Mountain town.

Overjoyed by the sheer volume of snow that we saw had accumulated in the Red Mountain Pass we could barely withhold the urge of jumping into the snow and giving it a big bear hug. “Oh how I have missed you my old friend!” I thought to myself with a smile resembling that of a giddy fool. This reunion had been long awaited and we were together again at last.

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The beginning of this happy reunion was to take place on the Ouray Ice Park Trail with our 30” Wilderness Tubbs Snowshoes. This trail is a loop that crosses over and skirts around the Uncompahgre Gorge where ice climbers are often sited scaling the frozen walls in the winter.

After reviewing our map we decided to start the trail on the west side of the upper bridge across the Uncompahgre Gorge by the Ice Park hut. Stepping into my snowshoes the crampons bit into the ice underneath my feet with a loud crunch. I snapped my bindings into place and gave them a quick tug. I was ready once more to set off on a snowshoeing adventure to seek the beauty of the world that wears white.

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Crunch! Crunch! Crunch! The sounds of trail-breaking echoed as we made our way along the gorge. There was little to no powder on the path today, just firm snow and ice underfoot. It had been over a week since the last storm and the higher than usual temperatures had hardened the snow into a tough crust.

I listened to the steady pace of crunching under my feet for a good half mile and then let my imagination take over. I imagined that the crampons built into my snowshoes where no longer just a part of my winter footwear. They were ice breaking ships cutting through the polar waters. Then they became the claws of a polar bear crossing a frozen land. Then they were the teeth of a shark biting into its prey as they chomped away at the ice. Chomp! Chomp! Chomp!

Chomp! Chomp! Chomp! Filled my thoughts until we approached the halfway point in our journey where we climbed over the pipeline using a stile. Almost immediately after a short decent from the pipeline we were elated to find powdery snow on the trail that had been protected from the sun by the crowding of tall trees.

The imagery of walking on pillows came to mind as I felt my Tubbs sink into the soft snow. An experience of Zen shortly followed as the sound of my snowshoes only spoke in a whisper and the snowflakes danced around my feet. This is something to be said and greatly appreciated about powdery snow on a trail.

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Coming out of the trees to a small opening we found a foot bridge that crossed the Uncompahgre River. Snow packed and narrow we shuffled across it cautiously and only lingered for a moment to take in the snow kissed scene.

From there we made our way out of the trees and ascended to the final peak of the trail where we took in the view of Mt. Abram and the surrounding mountains. It was astounding! Standing there we gawked at our surroundings and felt humbled to be among these giants. They stood there unyielding to the heavy snowfall as they have for hundreds of years. They were strong, unwavering, beautiful, and peeked out from the snow with bits of blue. Oh how I fell in love with this moment and quietly swooned. “Living life is better than a dream” I thought to myself.

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After some unmeasured period of time the clouds began to creep into view. Not wanting to yet move the wind began to nudge us with the warning that weather would be rolling in soon. With about a mile left to snowshoe we decided we needed to get on the move.

One foot in front of the other we made our way forward until we began to descend from the outside Uncompahgre Gorge walls. The view from walking along the gorge rim fell away as we climbed down the rocky path to the end of the trail. Arriving at the end we caught our breath and unstrapped our feet with a simple push of a finger. Click! The quick release bindings of the Tubbs set my hiking boots free.

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