The Longest Route in Redstone I’ve Never Climbed

This guest blog is brought to you by Ryan Jennings. It’s a bit long (in fact, maybe the longest post ever on this blog!), but come on, like you have anything better to do sitting in front of your computer on this snowy Monday… You can watch the video here.

Well the dust, or should I say mud, has settled on the, hard to believe, fifth annual underground Redstone Ice Fest (referred to by some participants as “Stoneyfest”). Each year a small gathering of ice tool wielding misfits join together for a few days of mayhem in the remarkably beautiful rugged red cliffs of Redstone for some good ol’ fashion virgin ice bashing. Purposefully set to coincide with the Ouray Ice Fest, we always kick off the celebration on the second Friday in January. This night sees the majority of ice climbers driving right on past Redstone on their way to hack it up with the masses at Ouray. For us, Friday night signifies the start to a glorious weekend climbing seldom, if ever, climbed ice routes in the pristine and secluded Crystal River Valley.

Two weeks prior to this year’s festival, just as I was leaving town for a ten day family vacation, I noticed a rarely formed route to be in fatter shape than I had ever seen. Having studied this particular line for years yet never having the correct sequence of circumstances to allow an ascent I shrugged it off as misfortune and bad timing and pushed the thought of an ascent out of mind. I expected the route to subside within a day or two, as it does every year. Also, having nearly separated my hand from its smallest finger in mid November I was under strict doctors orders not to climb ice. This would be the first festival of which I would not be able to participate. This “dream route” would once again have to wait.


The family vacation came and went and the finger didn’t get much better. We returned two days prior to the festival. Thursday I made my traditional pre-event recon up to Redstone to scope the conditions. As I rounded the corner and the slabs came into view I looked up right in disbelief that the dream route was still formed and in fact had only gotten bigger in my absence. “It’s on!” was all I could think. Finally the timing appeared right and the pieces seemed to be in place for an ascent, that is, except for the fact that I was not allowed to climb!

Few venture here to climb ice. Those that do spend their days on the typical classics but for those with mental fortitude there is another world of ice and mixed climbing to be had here. Kevin Cooper is one such man whom we rely on when seeking the obscure. Always sure to entertain, Kevin is most at home run out on thin ice and scrappy rock. A great asset to Stoneyfest, many participants come merely to experience the next “Coopin” moment. I cringed at the thought of having to give this climb to Kevin but the nature of ice means that it may never form again and I wanted to see this thing climbed. “Perhaps the finger will be alright for following” I began telling myself.


As Kevin Cooper, Aaron Broderick, Robbie Williams and I slowly posthole our way up the approach gully we believe that the day will involve two major pitches and perhaps a boulder problem or two to get to the base. We reach the first approach ice step to look up to our right in amazement as a small drip has formed in a nice crack system low on the wall. “Let’s start with this” Cooper suggests. Thin hands and drytooling lead up to a rest and the first of the ice. The first tool placement hits rock but holds light pressure. Little does Coop know this will become the theme of the pitch. At the first difficult ice bulge the pro is adequate although Kevins groans make it seem questionable. The video camera I’m holding starts to shake as he leans off a slush tool for a blind cam placement while Robbie and Aaron shout directions. Grunting with every swing he surmounts a small pillar, slung for sanity. An off season for many of us, this is only Kevin’s second ice climb of the year. Soon the corner holding good ice comes to an end and a smooth wall signifies the point of no return. After pounding in a reportedly bomber Spectre Coop pulls onto the slab. Quickly ice begins to fall away leaving nothing but smooth rock. Tools continually bounce off and scratch through hollow ice only to catch on who knows what thus forcing our hero onward. The ice supporting every movement falls away as he releases weight and moves into a corner system. Twenty feet above the Spectre, and I’m worried I’m going to pass out from the adrenaline of just watching. Eventually the corner ends, yielding only to HB offsets pounded in the mud.


While Kevin grapples with the offsets I scramble across a ledge above the climb and fix a rope to a tree above. Another slab presents itself after the corner. Believing he can take no more, and having little faith in the offsets, Kevin calls down for the bolt gun. I assure him that the remainder of the pitch looks easy and offer to tie a loop in my rope for him to clip for bomber, although ethically questionable, protection. He accepts and we avoid a bolt that may be required by future ascents. Kevin finishes off the pitch with another large run out and ties into a tree thirty feet below the ledge that I’m secured to. I secretly hope to never watch him “Coop” up a pitch like that again. The pitch gets rated WI5 M6 R.


Above his belay a small wall of choss leads to a pencil of ice hanging from my ledge. I scope the moves and see that it will go but requires a bolt. Preferring not to bolt on rappel I set to work aiding off tools backed by choss cams and vice versa. We rig a strange but effective belay off Kevin’s tree and I hang off a bad cam to start drilling. The rock is much harder than anything I’ve experienced in Redstone and I’m forced to put serious pressure on the drill. An inch in and “POP” the cam pulls! I take a ride thankfully getting stopped just short of the ledge by a clipped tool placement on a dirt clod. I quickly climb back up and find a higher tool placement, back it up with the cam that just pulled, and start drilling again. Due to previous experience and laziness we’ve only brought one battery. We’ve also brought the biggest bolt on the planet. I curse the hard rock as the drill grinds to a halt leaving the hole just short. “Dammit!” I exclaim as the others arrive. We debate leading it without the bolt but wisely accept this setback and instead prussik my rope onto the next ledge. Pitch 2 will have to wait.


Having not followed the first pitch I am feeling a bit down and ask if I can lead the two small bulges above that appear relatively easy. The others question my ability to protect my protruding, unbendable finger but quickly succumb to my persistant desire. This will be my first pitch of the year. I’m psyched and head up scratching at thin ice on the left wall of an offwidth. An armbar and nonexistent frontpointing get me to decent ice for the feet. There is no protection and I worry about the belays quality although it appears I could self arrest before sliding off the ledge below. The ice gets better as I climb higher and soon I’m in a cave looking out ice that reminds me of Deep Throat, albeit on a tiny scale. Breaking away ice cycles I get a couple of solid pieces and begin to pull out the cave. A drip about the width of my leg is plastered to the left wall. It’s just enough to hold both feet in a strange position similar to an Indian Creek jam fest. Suddenly I slip, “Holy F@#%!” I scream as my finger smacks the right wall. This time I fear passing out from pain. Regaining composure I pull the lip only to find the inevitable snow covered rock and am forced to fight into a highstep to finish the pitch. Here I look up to see we are finally to the base of the route.

This is where the two quality pitches we came for begin. I laugh at the thought of the beautiful climbing we’ve already done. I figure we’ve got an hour to go before dark and decide to head up into the large crevasse above. This pitch reminds me of a small Skylight. The ice covered left wall allows me to gain height as Cooper belays me and the others below simultaneously. This time the belay is based on one good screw. Halfway up a 60 foot pitch I place the only screw and continue into the thinner chimney above Rotten steep ice, reminiscent of pitch one, yields to stemming and eventually good cams in a flake out left. The others finish off this pitch as the sun sets. I’m forced to apologize for robbing Robbie of his lead. A very fine looking wall of ice hangs above us as we study the rock leading up to it. “Tomorrow” we decide.


Saturday night is reserved for mayhem and debauchery as we climb in the gym and watch video from the day and the past. The wives and children are forced to “deal”. We wake up a bit later on Sunday and it feels warmer. Kevin amazingly doesn’t have a headache.

Re-approaching the final pitch, we have high hopes of finishing the day on Dishin It Out and some pillars in the next amphitheater up the mountain. Traversing in from the gully we quickly get back to the base of the last pitch. This pitch is quite remarkable but the sun is shining and the rock has begun to look wet. After not much debate we decide to send our gun up again. Kevin starts up but slides back down the initial slab once before attaining the start of the real climbing. A left leaning open book hangs above him. A few difficult moves appear to lead to pick placements in the ice out left. After a short fall Kevin gracefully works his way up the thin crack and successfully latches onto the ice for a ride to the top. After getting a good screw he pulls around onto the 90+ degree wall of ice and heads up. One more screw for the strange looking overhanging ice above and the climb is complete. An explosive “Wooo Hooo” screams down off the longest, best route I haven’t entirely climbed in Redstone. Robbie and BJ (having joined us) successfully follow this final WI5 M6 pitch while I decide to finally follow doctors orders and save this pitch for next year. We all agree that the women would prefer us home early and wisely decide to bag the enticing pillars above. A day at Highlands and another Stoneyfest…….errrrr I mean “Redstone Ice Festival” ends without casualties and I’m satisfied.

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, I may never return to this climb. For next year on the same Friday night, we’ll be drooling over photos of recent Redstone conditions. Slowly and methodically scouring the images for signs of weakness, drips unseen to the untrained eye, something new, something believed to be untouched. We’ll make a point to avoid areas that we’ve been, seeking adventure in place of the known and the safe. We’ll find routes that most would contend are yet to be formed for it is here that we test our skills and our minds. It is here that we “Coop out”!

Ryan Jennings is one of the most motivated ice climbers in the Roaring Fork Valley. He’s spent countless days scanning the red cliffs of the Crystal River valley, looking for that next elusive dream line to come into perfect condition…. This is his first guest blog on

2 Responses to The Longest Route in Redstone I’ve Never Climbed

  1. Wow great pics and vid, great story!

    backcountry skiing guy January 28, 2008 at 8:45 pm
  2. Pingback: Stoneyfest vs Ouray | Splitter Choss

Locals Corner

Bulldog Creek Dog Walk (IV WI 4+)

Hayden Carpenter and Tom Bohanon recently repeated an obscure ice climb on the south side of Mt Sopris. Given a brief mention in Jack Robert’s ice guide, Bulldog Creek Walk is described as being 100 meters of WI 4. What they found was seven pitches of ice in a remote setting that makes for one […]

Connect with Us

Real Time Web Analytics