“He’s making it look easy!” exclaimed a shocked spectator while watching Simon Duverney style the final route at the 18th annual Ouray Ice Festival mixed-climbing competition this Saturday.Duverney, one of 18 male competitors, climbed through the route’s opening M9—the Ouray classic Mighty Aphrodite—at a decent pace, but when faced with a cruxy artificial wall dubbed the “tower of pump” by event emcee Conrad Anker, the 24-year-old Frenchman seemed even more in his element.
“I tried not to climb too fast, because then you might have to stop and rest,” Duverney told Rock and Ice. “So I just climbed steadily and in the end I was not too pumped.”
In 2012 Duverney, a world-cup mixed competitor, placed third, behind Andres Marin and Nathan Kutcher who did not return to defend his title. Same as this year, last year Duverney moved quickly and easily to the exit, only to have a tool surprisingly skip off a placement.
This year, Duverney sealed his victory by clipping the chains at the top of the wall a little less than eight minutes after leaving the ground, shaving over three minutes off Jeff Mercier’s second-place time of 11:25.
The French stalwart, Mercier, who won the Ouray competition in 2008 at age 40, was the only other competitor besides Duverney to finish the finals route this year. Interestingly, both Frenchmen employed similar tactics to send the route, which involved mono-pointing into the holes at the bottom of the straight-shaft ice axes that hung from the artificial wall.
“I never do a figure-four in dry-tooling,” says Mercier, “because in France it’s forbidden. But as a joke, my friends say ‘if you go to Ouray and want to win, you must do some figure-fours and I say, ‘oh, I can’t do that!’ But I remembered the holes at the bottom of the axes, so to solve this problem I just put my picks and crampons into the holes.”
Sam Elias, who broke a hold at last year’s comp to finish fourth, then rebounded with a vengeance to win the Teva Games Mixed Competition in Vail, did not shy away from the figure-four technique, and applied a series of pretzel-like body positions to move up the steep headwall and onto the podium in third place. Elias, climbing in the late-afternoon cold when temperatures hovered in the teens in the shade, lost feeling in his hands. “I couldn’t tell how hard I was squeezing the tools,” he says, “and when I got down my hands were numb from the wrist up.” Despite this, Elias battled up the overhanging wall, timing out a the 12-minute mark to place third.
“The route is like a carnival ride,” says Elias. “You had some proper ice, and a rock pitch into a hanging ice curtain, and then it goes into a circus ride.”
The “circus ride” was on an artificial headwall that guarded the chains for most competitors. Designed and constructed by route setter and alpinist Vince Anderson, the wall boasts a free-hanging “tuna log” that climbers could straddle, bear hug, and tool their way up, and then once they awkwardly transitioned back onto the wall (the crux), they could navigate through a pumpy sequence of gym holds, free-hanging straight-shaft ice axes, two plaques of high density foam (imitation ice), and finally two equalized tennis balls on a cordellete serving as the clipping holds.
“It was like being in a bad hangover,” said local competitor Andreas Marin of the headwall. “Everything was spinning.”
Despite the difficulties, the German powerhouse Ines Papert cranked through the hanging log and transitioned onto the wall with relative ease, beating a strong roster of seven other women. Applying the unique hybrid technique of carrying a rock climbing chalk bag to improve her barehanded grip on the tools, Papert romped through the lower section of the wall, but then slipped from the first foam plaque higher up. Her performance still led to a first place finish in the women’s field.
“It was really, really, cold,” said Papert of the conditions. “I couldn’t feel my fingers at all.”
Papert, 38, mother to a 12-year son and one of the world’s top mixed and ice climbers of any gender, dominated the Ouray competiton, even winning the overall title in 2005. In 2010, after winning the women’s division, she retired. Saturday’s competition marked her return.
Runner up in the women’s field went to the Dutch competitor Marianne van der Steen, who had an impressive showing, climbing to the top of the swinging log and falling before transitioning to the headwall. Coming in a close third place, Colorado native Emily Harrington also climbed to the top of the log and even managed to wave to the crowd before falling.
Overall Champ: Simon Duverney
1. Ines Papert
2. Marianne Van Der Steen
3. Emily Harrington
4. Dawn Glanc
5. Christina Schlesener
6. Caroline George
7. Andrea Charest
8. Berglind Aoalsteinsdottir
1. Simon Duverney
2. Jeff Mercier
3. Sam Elias
4. Whit Magro
5. Gordon McArthur
6. Will Mayo
7. Kyle Dempster
8. Jason Nelson
9. Ryan Vachon
10. Bryan Gilmore
11. Andreas Marin
12. Marcus Garcia
13. Robert Halldorsson
14. Aaron Mulkey
15. Geoff Unger
16. Logan Tyler
17. Jamie H. Quintana