"The best story I know of Bridalveil Falls," says Vince Anderson, "involves a couple of friends who ended up in an all-night chase through the forest, eventually eluding the police." Some climbers who poached this iconic ice climb -- has been closed due to its location on private property -- weren't so lucky.
At least two of Anderson's friends have gone to jail for four pitches of ice-climbing heaven.
As of December 5, Bridalveil Falls (WI 5/6), a stunning icefall in Telluride, Colorado, is open for the first time since 2002.
In 1974, when Jeff Lowe and Mike Weiss completed the FA, Bridalveil Falls was considered one of the most difficult water-ice routes in America. The route was suddenly in high demand, bringing increased traffic and with it, a tangle of land rights that closed the route for much of the time since.
Now, thanks to tireless efforts by members of the Trust for Public Lands and San Miguel County, with assistance from the Access Fund and Telluride Mountain Club, a deal has been struck with the Idarado Mining Company, the property owner of land on and around the falls, again allowing legal climber access. Steve Johnson, Access Fund regional coordinator, calls the agreement "a pleasant surprise to County officials and local climbers alike."
Negotiations between town officials and Idarado for climbing access began in 1991. An easement was approved in 1992, but, due to insurance issues, not enacted until 1997. Over 300 climbers registered to climb the falls that season, though Johnson believes many more climbed it. By that time, poaching had become the norm.
Johnson, an attorney, has backed access to Bridalveil Falls since joining negotiations in 1992. A self-denoted "Bridalveil virgin" until legal access was granted in 1997, Johnson had kept busy by establishing the FA of nearby Ingram Falls with Robert Warren in 1996. His efforts to open the ice climb in 1997 won him the Access Fund's Sharp End Award.
"With Bridalveil Falls re-opening, legally accessible ice climbing in the Telluride region has been restored to world-class status," Johnson said.
With this access comes responsibility. The latest agreement carries specific rules with it, and failure to adhere to them could result in yet another closure. Climbers must register at a kiosk before and after climbing, only descend via the established rappel route and avoid the power house area at the top of the cliff.
"It is important for climbers to remember that this license can be revoked at any time," stressed Brady Robinson, Access Fund executive director. "Too many people have worked for too long on opening up Bridalveil Falls for ice climbers to have one or two careless people ruin it for everyone. Our combined efforts can help keep this landmark climb open for years to come."
ACCESS: Drive east out of Telluride toward the Pandora Mill. Park by a fence marking the Pandora Mill property line and hike County Road K69 for two miles to the route's base.
GEAR: Double 60-meter dry-treated ropes, ice screws, slings, extra cordage for V-threads. All protection must be removed.
ROUTE: Access is restricted only to Bridal Veil Falls. The climb is four pitches, though it can be done in three by doing one short pitch to where it gets steep, followed by a 200-foot pitch up the steepest section to reach a good stance, leaving one final short pitch to exit.
DESCENT: Do not anchor off the porch or wood structures at the top. Use the rap anchors to the climber's right. Spotting the middle rap anchors can be tricky. For a complete list of rules and a route map, visit www.sanjuaniceclimbs.com.