The area around Montrose in southwest Colorado, is an isolated, yet remarkable, ice climbing destination for knowledgeable climbers, according to local experts. Montrose is surrounded by nearly 900,000 acres of public land and is the gateway to the magnificent Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and wide-open Curecanti Recreation Area.
Ice climbs are rated on a scale of Water Ice 1 (WI1) to Water Ice 6 (WI6), with WI6 climbs being the most difficult to ascend. Most of the ice climbs within the Black Canyon and Curecanti Recreation Area’s Blue Mesa area are rated W13 to WI5. According to Vic Zeilman, a Climbing Ranger at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, most of the climbs in the canyon require one to know how to rappel, lead, manage multiple pitches, as well as approach and descend climbs safely.
“The Black Canyon is an isolated and surreal place to ice climb during the winter,” notes Zeilman. “Routes like Gandalf’s Beard in the National Park require a 3.5-mile approach on skis, but you are rewarded with breathtaking winter views of the canyons and no crowds whatsoever!”
Zeilman says that for those who don’t mind a lengthy approach to climb, the Black Canyon and Blue Mesa are a “hidden gem.” “It’s a surreal place to be when everything is snow-covered and there isn’t anyone around for miles.”
Some of the most popular routes around Montrose include:
- Gandalf’s Beard: two pitches, WI3-5, Black Canyon National Park
- Shadowfax : two pitches, WI3-4, Black Canyon National Park
- Chipeta Falls: one pitch, WI3-4, can be top-roped, Curecanti Recreation Area
- The Train Route: one pitch, WI4-5, near Cimarron Visitors Center at Curecanti Recreation Area (If they get lucky, spectators can view climbers here from the warmth of their own car!)
- The Curecanti Monster: five pitches, WI4-5, Curecanti Recreation Area
Climbers should note that there is a permit system within Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Visitors must fill out a free wilderness use permit at the park’s South Rim Visitor Center. Climbers return the yellow carbon copy once they have completed their trip. There is no permit required for ice climbs in the Blue Mesa area (Curecanti Recreation Area).
Montrose is a uniquely-authentic town that has carved out a place for itself in the landscape and culture of Colorado. Montrose is the gateway to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison where the North Vista Trail was recently named a “Top 10 Canyon Hike in the U.S. Parks” by National Geographic. Additionally, Montrose was named to Outdoor Life’s annual list of the 200 best towns in America for outdoorsmen. Seventy-three percent of the land surrounding Montrose is public land, making it a Mecca for hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, road biking, four-wheeling and mountain biking in the summer and fall and snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling in the winter.