Editor’s Note: Due to motivational difficulties, the posts from the Ouray Ice Festival are being posted several days late.
In the world of outdoor living, few things go according to plan. When we load the car, raft or backpack for our next adventure we can never be sure whether weâ€™ll come back with stomachs filled with wild berries or stories of self-amputations. Ultimately, when we leave the comfort of our homes or apartments, we gamble with our happiness. All too often we know that, in this game, success is defined not as any great reward but as a tolerable level of misery.
I know this. We all know this. But, of course, very few of us have the forethought or understanding to see anything but the sunniest skies ahead of us when we plan our next big trip.
When the idea of traveling to the 15th annual Ouray Ice Festival first stuck in my head, it brought along no images of cold, pain or snow. Months before the festival, lounging in summer sun, my mindâ€™s eye was filled with images of a trim, tanned climber navigating the ice slopes with ease. After battling the elements (to the amazement of cheering throngs of amateurs) and watching the sun set behind the San Juan Mountains, our striking protagonist would find himself soaking his muscles in the ancient Ouray Hot Springs accompanied by two or three beautiful women of the â€œSwitzerland of Americaâ€.
As a trip that seemed months off quickly became days away, and each of my original climbing partners had dropped out for reasons of varying legitimacy, the trip seemed destined to be left as spare parts â€“ a leftover idea for another, more profitable year. Not three days before the festival began, however, the pieces began to come together seemingly effortlessly. Before I could register what had happened, I found myself huddled beneath the blankets of an underheated Ouray motel, staring across a pot of rice and pintos at a climbing partner whose chewing was audible from across the room.
Our wallets were empty, our car running on fumes, and neither of us had come armed with the knowledge or experience Iâ€™d imagined. Still, trying to glean whatever knowledge I could from a tattered copy of The Freedom of the Hills and sipping a lukewarm Winter Warlock (some things defy compromise), it was hard not to feel at peace. It was impossible to say whether the coming days would leave us feeling like iron-chinned mountain men or pasty suburban wimps, but we hoped for the best.