Backcountry Ice – Climbing Dexter Creek Slabs in Ouray

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After Sameer’s departure, I continued climbing with Justin and Jason–the early arrivals from the DC group. Tuesday morning we just happened to connect with John and Jim from Salt Lake City when we were all climbing around one another in the School Room in the Ice Park.

They let us in on their plan to get on some backcountry, multipitch ice the following day at Dexter Creek Slabs, and they kindly invited us all along to join them. Very cool! We jumped on the opportunity to tag along with some folks who knew the route (they had climbed it in previous seasons).

Dexter Creek Slabs is a 2-4 pitch, WI3-4 climb located a few minutes north of Ouray. It is situated pretty spectacularly, high on the hillside with commanding views over the valley below. The climb was a lot of fun, and one that I would wholeheartedly recommend.

We rendezvoused early Wednesday morning (January 23, 2013) and caravanned up to the trailhead. You head north out of town approximately two miles before turning right up Dexter Creek Road (County Road 14) and following it up the hill.

It was a low snowfall time when we did it, so the gate that sometimes restricts driving access to the upper portion of the road was not a problem. We drove up to the big switchback with a small pull off parking lot which can hold maybe 4 cars or so (see the map below for clarification).

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From the trailhead you can hike up the obvious nearby drainage, steadily gaining elevation on the 30-45 minute hike. The drainage can by icy depending on snowpack, and I opted to put my crampons on right at the trailhead (you are going to do it sooner or later anyways).

There are different ways to pitch out the route depending on what you’re feeling like. There are a couple little ice bulges/falls below the real climb and I know some parties (particularly guided groups) opt to climb those and pitch them out / short rope the sections in between in order to maximize the climbing.

We just stayed right and bypassed the short ice steps to get to the base of the climb proper. The hike leads up steepening snow and increasingly sketchy terrain. A tumble here would not be fun–crampons and maybe one axe would be a prudent decision at the point where the terrain opens up and you can actually see the climb.

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The five of us finally arrived at the base and began to get our gear and ourselves situated. Jason tied in with John and Jim since they had more familiarity with the route and would likely climb quicker than Justin and me.

That way Justin and I could also more easily swing leads on the route. The base of the climb was not as fat as it usually is, I guess, and the right side was really the only section that was viable–limiting the route to one party climbing at a time. The trio set off first and Justin and I hung back waiting for them to climb.

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Justin would be leading the challenging pitches, including the first pitch, which was the crux of the route when we were there. It was a steep section of probably WI3+ ice. Justin did a great job and placed 5 or so screws through this section, from there you can set up a nice ice screw belay station off to the right.

We swapped gear and I led the easy middle pitch–snow/ice bands that gradually ramp up to some WI2 climbing. Easy climbing sure, but I still felt the exhilaration of being on the sharp end, it was only my second ever ice lead. I climbed along the right side of the undulations and toward the base of the final steep ice curtain.

I noticed the ice giving way to crummy rock and vegetation and ended up setting a pseudo hanging belay before the last bulge–hoping those ice screw placements of mine are solid! 🙂

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The upper curtain was easiest along the far right side (WI3) and it gets harder and more vertical as you move left (WI4, maybe 4+).

Justin handled it with ease, and he felt that it wasn’t as stiff as the first pitch. Some parties belay off the trees on the side above the final curtain, but he built an ice screw anchor and belayed me up.

We joined up with John, Jim, and Jason at the top, where they quickly rapped down. We decided to set up a top rope and hop on the steeper section below. All in all the route probably took around four hours with the approach, delays between the two parties, and so forth.

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By now it was early afternoon and the sun was beating down on the climb. There is substantial risk of rock and ice fall on this route, particularly in the afternoon sun–and I did see some pretty big rockfall off to the side while we were there. I wasn’t super psyched to continue hanging around. John and Jim continued rapping down the route, and Justin and Jason each got in a lap on the steeper side.

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Justin topped out and rapped off the slung trees up top (climber’s left side)–two 60 meter ropes brought us to another tree slung with slings and cordage (still trending left). This stance was awkward, particularly for three of us, and each rappel would knock down more of the loose rock and unconsolidated ledge.

After the fact, talking with others, it would probably be best practice to rappel with v-threads in order to avoid kicking and knocking down more of that rock. Two rappels off of two 60-meter ropes brings you back to the base of the route where you can hike back out the way you hiked in. Again, the terrain can be somewhat sketchy and may require some down climbing (I did, at least).

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We got back to our car and John and Jim had already taken off, but they did leave us a couple beers stashed in the snow by the car! All in all, it was a really fun route.

It had a distinct alpine flair in my mind, what with the approach up to the base, and the height and elevated nature of the climb itself. Both Justin and I agreed that the descent felt reminiscent of the Cascades, particularly so since it was such a warm day.

Map to Dexter Creek Slabs

More Beta on Dexter Creek Slabs

Additional Photos

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Backcountry Ice - Climbing Dexter Creek Slabs in Ouray trip-reports, ice-climbing, colorado


Head Writer and Adventurer at Desk to Dirtbag
Ryan is an author, adventurer, perpetual wanderer, and self-proclaimed dirtbag (but that might not mean what you think). Originally from Seattle, he headed to Washington D.C. where he spent five years working for Congress before heeding the call of the wild. He set out truck camping to road trip across the American West, and then across all of Central America and South America. When he isn't on the move, you can find him living as an expat in Colombia. He is also the author of the best selling book: Big Travel, Small Budget that will help you travel more for less. Follow the adventures on social media or read more.

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