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Lake City: Colorado’s Newest Ice Sensation

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Lake City’s first brush with fame came in 1875 when expedition guide Alferd Packer notoriously returned to town after surviving in the snowy backcountry by eating the rest of his prospecting party.

Today, Lake City’s fame is again on the rise thanks to its outstanding winter recreational opportunities. Considered the most remote place in the lower 48, Lake City in the San Juan mountains offers access to endless miles of trails, 21 public campgrounds, five fourteeners, three National Forests, one BLM district, four wilderness areas and two wilderness study areas. Most notable, however, is the town’s ice park, which draws climbers from all over Colorado and beyond.

Lake City’s Ice Park was created in 2005 when a group of local climbers formed Lake City Ice Climbs, a grassroots organization that, after obtaining permission from the town and the BLM, used water donated from the town to create a manmade ice wall. More than a decade later, Lake City’s Ice Park is now managed by the town, and it’s easy to see that the ice park has hit its stride.

The water used to create the ice is farmed from the city’s water tower and piped over the edge of the cliff above Henson Creek. Bolted anchors and abundant trees mean you won’t need ice screws, but they’re set fairly far back from the edge of the cliffs, so you’ll want a static 60-meter rope for anchors to avoid having to pick apart the frozen water knots in your webbing at the end of the day.

Most routes are about 60 to 100 feet, though a couple of shorter routes offer a chance to warm up or try out a new pair of ice tools before committing. The approximately 15 routes are mixed grades, WI 3 to 5.

The ice park’s toprope access means it’s approachable for those putting on crampons for the first time, though experienced climbers will relish the opportunity to top rope a tricky mixed route. With the ice being so easy to access, this park is an ideal location to learn to ice climb or work on advanced skills and technique before heading up with your guide to check out one of the big backcountry ice or alpine climbs.

Lake City is also considering expanding its ice park. “The current wall we work with is about 100 feet tall. However, we’re working on a plan to expand up the valley to a cliff face that’s probably in the 130-foot range. This could potentially open up four times the area we have now,” says Ben Hake, Parks and Recreation Director for the town of Lake City.

The Lake City Ice Park is located, with permission, on BLM land, and it’s free to use, although climbers must sign a release. These waivers are available at several spots around town, such as the Chamber of Commerce Tourist Center and Lake City Auto.

Without the name recognition of other ice climbing parks, you won’t have to fight crowds to get on the ice. In fact, lines at the Lake City Ice Park are rare, even during February’s Ice Climbing Festival, which features top-roped and lead speed events, men’s & women’s categories, and awesome prizes for the best climbs.

Lake City also features some of the most amazing natural ice climbs in Colorado. Aside from the town’s ice park, climbers can check out Sherman Falls, a 4-pitch WI 5 line backcountry waterfall, and North Clear Creek Fall, an easy climb rated as WI 3+.

Getting There

From Denver, it takes about five hours to drive to Lake City. Follow US-285 S and US-50 W to CO-149 S in Gunnison County. CO-149 becomes Gunnison Avenue in Lake City. After signing a waiver in town, take a right onto Second Street, followed in three blocks by a left of Bluff Street. Almost immediately, you’ll see the climbs on the left—park on either side of the road.

Sherman Falls: From Highway 149 just south of Lake City, turn west onto CR 30 towards Lake San Cristobal. Continue about 12 miles and then take the left fork in the road. The Sherman townsite (ghost town) and waterfall will be less than a mile from here.

North Creek Falls: just ½ miles from Highway 149 about halfway between Lake City and Creede. There’s a road, parking lot, and overlook. Please note, this is not plowed in the winter. Park on the highway and walk or ski into the waterfall.

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