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25th Annual Ouray Ice Festival and the Russian Invasion

The Russians won the day in the competitions at the 25th annual Ouray Ice Fest.

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2020 Ouray Ice Festival. Photo: Brook Hayer.

In 1996, Jeff Lowe, who died in 2018, organized and staged the first ever Ouray Ice Festival in Ouray, Colorado. Little did he know that 25 years later the Ouray Ice Fest would have evolved into the largest ice climbing festival in the world, attracting thousands of attendees at the end of January each year.

This year’s 25th anniversary edition of the festival brought elite climbers from all over the world to the quaint little town next nestled in the San Juan mountains. The mixed competition on Saturday, January 27, provided spectators a view into acrobatic World Cup-style mixed climbing. On a hybrid route set by locals Andres Marin and Vince Anderson, competitors began on a short section of vertical ice followed by Ouray’s original competition route Mighty Aphrodite¬†(M8), then transitioned onto an artificial overhanging tower, and finally finished on free-hanging boxes suspended from cables over the gorge below.

[Also Read Sam Elias and Marianne van der Steen Win Mixed Competition at 2019 Ouray Ice Fest]

Rebecca Lewis, of Canada, finished first for the women, after finishing in second last year behind Marianne van der Steen. Behind her were Sarah Hueniken, also of Canada, and Ekaterina Feostistova, of Russia.

Though they missed out on the podium spots, the American women who competed turned in strong showings, with Catalina Shirley, who is on the U.S. World Cup Ice Climbing team, finishing in fourth, and Emily Harrington—better known for her exploits on rock than ice—in fifth. Harrington in particular got the crowd going as she battled on the overhanging tower, twisting into wild positions to try to get to the next hold.

Emily Harrington on the mixed comp route. Photo: Brook Hayer.

Russian climbers won the day on the men’s side. Maxim Tomilov, and Alexey Dengin, both from Russia, finished first and second respectively and were the only two competitors to top the route. Their standings were determined based on time—climbers had 14 minutes to climb the route, speed being the tie-breaking factor. Time officially stopped for each once they took a swig from a small bottle of liquor atop the final box.

Tyler Kempney, a member of the U.S. World Cup Ice Climbing Team, gave the Colorado crowd extra reason to cheer, as he was the lone American to podium in the mixed competition. Kempney fell while trying to transition between two of the free-hanging boxes. Finishing just behind Kempney, in fourth, was Liam Foster, also a member of the U.S. World Cup team.

Liam Foster on the mixed comp route. Photo: Brook Hayer.

The speed competition on Sunday again saw the Russians dominate, with Ekaterina Feostistova placing first among the women and Egor Trapeznikov placing first among the men. Americans Catalina Shirley and Beth Goralski finished in second and and third for the women, while Liam Foster took second on the men’s side, followed by Maxim Tomilov in third.

Watch Will Gadd Top Out and Take a Shot at the Top of the Mixed Route in 2018

Just as much a part of the Festival as the competitions are the nightly presentations given by prominent climbers at the Ouray Community Center. On Friday, Ari Novak, Karsten Delap and Karn Kowshik screened their film Himalayan Ice. Following their film, photographer and climber Nikki Smith gave a powerful presentation about her journey as a transgender woman in the climbing world.

Saturday night featured two more exceptional presentations. First, British alpinist Tom Livingstone regaled the crowd with tales of first ascents on Latok I and Kyo Zom, both in the Karakoram, Pakistan. Up next, Jesse Huey, Maury Birdwell and Whit Magro told the story of Gambling in the Winds, a route the three climbers established on Mount Hooker in honor of their late friend Hayden Kennedy.

Mixed Comp Results


1. Rebecca Lewis

2. Sarah Hueniken

3. Ekaterina Feostistova

4. Catalina Shirley

5. Emily Harrington

6. Beth Goralski

7. Susan Vachon

8. Katie Seymour


1. Maxim Tomilov

2. Alexey Dengin

3. Tyler Kempney

4. Liam Foster

5. Nathan Kutcher

6. Tom Livingstone

7. Justin Willis

8. Ryan Vachon

9. Grant Kleeves

10. Marcus Garcia

11. Sam Elias

12. Christopher Gibisch

13. Graham Zimmerman

14. Joe Wagner

15. Todd Felix

16. Dave Roetzel

17. Keenan Griscom

18. Egor Trapeznikov

19. Aaron Mulkey

20. Jonathan Zaugg

21. Logan Tyler

Speed Comp Results


1. Ekaterina Feostistova

2. Catalina Shirley

3. Beth Goralski

4. Hannah [No last name provided on results list]

5. Emily Harrington

6. Katie Seymour


1. Egor Trapeznikov

2. Liam Foster

3. Maxim Tomilov

4. Marcus Garcia

5. Alexey Dengin

6. Todd Felix

7. Keenan Griscom

8. Nate Foster

9. Aaron Mulkey

10. Tyler Kempney

11. Jonathan Zaugg

12. Christopher Gibisch

13. Grant Kleeves

14. Christian Mcconnell

15. Lance Sullins

16. Charlie Faust

17. Devo Derby

18. Joe Wagner

19. Scott Reed

20. Jack [No last name provided on results list]