A sewage treatment plant makes an unlikely lure for outdoor recreation, but Durango’s ice climbers utilize the runoff from Cascade Village’s wastewater treatment plant.
Clean water from the treatment plant spills over the south rim of Cascade Canyon and covers summer rock climbing routes in a curtain of ice.
During the recent Winterfest event, climbers that are trained on routes, that varied between thick slabs of low-angle ice, to overhanging routes where climber’s placed their ice picks into rock fissures and frozen moss more than ice.
The annual festival, put on by Durango Mountain Resort, offered dogsledding, snowshoeing, Nordic skiing, and Cascade Canyon ice climbing demos taught by Kling Mountain Guides.
Cascade canyon is located 40 minutes north of Durango on Hwy 550 N, and the trailhead for climbers is accessed 0.3 miles east of the highway on Old Lime Creek Road, on the north side of the canyon.
“The appeal of Cascade is the access and low avalanche hazards,“ said Dan Wright, local climber. “It’s easy to come out here and set up top-ropes on hard, dry routes.”
Highway 550 and the wastewater treatment plant are a stone’s throw from the climbs, but the murmur of Cascade Creek bubbling up through icy pools quashes highway noise.
Atypical of most ice climbing areas in the San Juan Range, the climbs here are not exposed to avalanche slopes and climbing is possible during storm cycles, said Dylan Welden, president of the F.L.C. Climbing Club.
The Climbing Club, explained Welden, is a resource for students that want to learn to ice climb or find partners, though it doesn’t provide equipment.
For students needing gear, he recommends spending $40/year to join the Outdoor Pursuits program.
Climbing Club students went to Ouray for the Ice Festival in January.
The event had a big turnout this year, and Ouray’s ice park has been crowded since, said Bill Grasse, the Senior Guide at San Juan Mountain Guides.
Backcountry routes have seen average traffic, since a long, warm fall contributed to late ice formation this year, Grasse said.
“Things started out a little slow, but it’s turning out to be a pretty good year,” he said. “Most of the climbs around Ouray and Silverton are now in.”