East Vail climbing season off to a good start | VailDaily.com

East Vail climbing season off to a good start

Ben Markhart
Special to the Daily
A climber rappelling the Pitkin icefall Dec. 6. East Vail ice draws climbers from around the state and country.
Ben Markhart | Special to the Daily |

VAIL — East Vail’s ice-climbing season is off to a good start.

Driven by cold weather, the many gullies above East Vail have become swollen with their winter ice flows.

Less than a two hour drive from Denver and stacked with many natural icefalls, East Vail ice draws climbers from around the state and even the rest of the country.

“We have ice forming for all abilities as well as world class climbs like the Designator and the Fang coming in,” says Mia Tucholke, a local guide who has been climbing in East Vail for over 20 years.

The Fang, a 120-foot freestanding pillar, is by far the most famous formation. The Designator is another well-known climb that is similar in length to the Fang but not freestanding.

“The Des (the Designator) just touched down yesterday,” continued Tucholke. “The Fang is touching but is only a foot and a half in diameter with only a couple inches of ice. It’s a straw with water flowing in the middle.”

While the world-class formations involve a little bit of a waiting game before they are safe to climb, there are many other icefalls that are safely climbable by the end of November.

The season is usually from November to March and in a typical year there can be over 15 pure ice climbs on the south side of the highway, says Tucholke.

“It’s pretty complicated, there is more to it than rock climbing,” says Eric Haskell, a guide for the Apex Mountain School who spends several days a week working in East Vail each winter.

Considering ice climbing involves the use of sharp picks for hands and boots with crampons for feet, there is an element of danger in ice climbing not found in its summer counterpart.

“There are definitely more hazards and more equipment,” continued Haskell.

But as long as you are with someone who knows how to be safe, East Vail is an amazing place to climb some ice.

“Other places you get more smears of ice,” says Tucholke. “In East Vail the ice-flows are in gullies where there is a lot of moisture and even water falls.”

“You get that thick solid ice that’s secure and a ton of it.”

Ben Markhart is a local photographer and guide. You can see more of these photos and others at http://www.benmarkhart.com or on Facebook at Ben Markhart Photography.

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