American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Colorado, Ames Falls, Near Telluride

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1977

Ames Fall, Near Telluride. The winter of 1975-6 was one of the mildest for years in Colorado. I had done only one short ice climb, leaving me ill-prepared for the shock of my first view of Ames Fall. No previous description could compare to its classic, imposing beauty. In late January we made an attempt, getting all of 20 feet before thin ice, lack of protection and fear dictated retreat. Two weeks later Lou Dawson, Steve Shea and I returned. What had before been a pleasant 45- minute ski turned into a four-hour epic; unseasonal rain and sleet rendered the snow terrible and several avalanches crossed our path. The first pitch was much the same, but I managed to control my fear and led it without incident other than a head-first 15-foot plunge into soft snow. It started out vertical and then seemed to overhang slightly as the ice came over a small roof. Above this, easy-angled ice led to the base of a very steep, ice-filled 18- to 30-inch chimney. Steve led this, the crux of the climb, by hacking, bridging, grunting, groaning, cursing and oozing his way up. It was late and we rappelled off, sopping wet, leaving our two ropes fixed. It took us six hours to jümar up the icy, frozen ropes the next day to where we had previously climbed in four! Lou led the third pitch. What had appeared, from below, to be good ramps and resting places turned out to be “only” 75° rather than 85° or 90°. He finished by going left to a tree growing out of the rock. Steve followed, unclipping from all the screws but leaving them in place. He neglected to clip my rope in, so I had to climb well or make a wild swing into the steep rock. The screws were mine and so I had an interest in getting them out. I had to lead the last pitch. It was short, steep and weird; a tied-off branch and one mediocre screw 75 feet up were all I could get in. We exited onto mixed rock, powder, vegetation and dirt at nightfall. We were in a serious position; no food or water, no bivouac gear and soaked to the skin. Lou managed to start a fire. After a miserable night we rappelled off.

Michael Kennedy, Elk Mountain Climbing Club

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