Anyone can ice climb Fish Creek Falls |

Anyone can ice climb Fish Creek Falls

Justin Dillie, owner of Love Climbing Adventures, leads Emily and Devin Sandlin on a climbing excursion at Fish Creek Falls early Thursday morning.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Emily and Devin Sandlin had never gone ice climbing before. At 9 a.m. Thursday, they pulled into the Fish Creek Falls parking lot with Justin Dillie, owner of Love Climbing Adventures, for their first attempt.

Love Climbing Adventures, or LCA, is the only outfitter authorized by the U.S. Forest Service to offer ice climbing exhibitions at Fish Creek.

The early morning sun had yet to stretch into the canyon as the visitors from Texas shimmied on their harnesses, helmets, mountaineering boots and crampons. The temperature read 7 degrees. The tops of the trees were barely brushed with gold as the trio descended toward the falls.

Dillie dashed ahead on the narrow path, weaving around rocks and sections of exposed stream. He reached the bottom of the falls first, scaled the snowy section and installed a belay rope at the top. He lowered himself back down to the Sandlins and began showing them how to use the ice tool.

“Ice climbing, it changes. A rock route, it generally stays the same for the most part. It doesn’t really change much over the course of a year or even a day,” Dillie said. “Where ice climbing can change dramatically in a couple of days. It’s quite fun because you can pour more water over the top of an ice climb. It’s like a breathing being. It doesn’t stay the same every year.”

LCA may be the only outfitter, but other private citizens can climb Fish Creek Falls as well, as long as they pay the day use fee.

With winter in full swing, adventurers speckle the solidified falls every weekend, pecking away at the blueish ice with their tools, ascending up the rippling tower in minutes.

Justin Dillie, owner of Love Climbing Adventures, leads Emily and Devin Sandlin on a climbing excursion at Fish Creek Falls early Thursday morning.

Steamboat Springs resident Jamie Lamb and her husband, David, frequently ice climb, or at least as often as they can while still spending time with their young children.

“I love ice climbing. It takes you to really incredibly beautiful places, and it’s really challenging and wildly satisfying,” Lamb said. “My husband needs sports that provide adrenaline, and ice climbing is his favorite adrenaline sport of choice. It’s a really hard workout, and it’s really fun. It makes you use your brain and every part of your body all at once.”

Due to the need for specific equipment, ice climbing isn’t a sport that someone can casually try. It’s best to use an outfitter like LCA or find a friend like Lamb to tag along with. Backdoor Sports in downtown Steamboat Springs has equipment, such as ice tools and crampons, to rent out, but they can’t rent out harnesses and ropes.

“Going with someone who knows what they’re doing is probably a good idea, so we’re not putting any extra burden on (Routt County) Search and Rescue,” said Brendan Kelly, a recreation staff member at the Hahns Peak-Bears Ears Ranger District.

Upon arriving at the bridge at Fish Creek Falls, Emily Sandlin paused for a moment, taking in the massive slab of ice in the distance. The trek from the bridge to the base of the falls was challenging, giving the Sandlins plenty of time to get nervous then excited then nervous again.

Justin Dillie, owner of Love Climbing Adventures, leads Emily and Devin Sandlin on a climbing excursion at Fish Creek Falls early Thursday morning.

Lamb and her husband brought two friends to Fish Creek last February. The friends were not the most athletic, according to Lamb, but still “crushed it.”

Climbing the falls may seem as impossible as climbing the column in the training scene of “Mulan,” but supposedly, it isn’t intimidating for long.

“Whenever I’ve taught people to ice climb, they’re always terrified going in,” Lamb said. “I think it’s one of those sports where because you don’t know about it, it seems scary. There’s sharp blades all over you, falling ice, but I’ve never taught someone to ice climb that didn’t just absolutely love it.”

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