Classic Climb: Bridalveil Falls

At the far east end of Telluride, Bridalveil Falls is breathtaking in its beauty. Standing 430 feet high, it pours over a north-facing wall in a canyon. Come winter, the falls freezes into a delicate blend of hanging icicles, cauliflowers, and brutally steep ice.

In 1974 steep ice climbing was still in its infancy in the U.S. Greg Lowe, who started Lowe Alpine, had led the first ascent of Mahlen's Peak Waterfall in 1971, which really opened the door to steep, technical ice. Lowe created a pound-in ice piton called the Snarg. The Snarg didn't fracture the ice the way the old warthog ice pitons did.

When Greg's brother Jeff headed to Telluride in December, 1973, with partner Mike Weiss, Greg lent Jeff six prototype Snarg's, which proved invaluable on the ascent.

The two made their attempt in early January. It had been exceptionally cold in Telluride in late December, with a two-week stretch of daytime temperatures of 15 below, so the ice was exceptionally brittle.

Weiss led the crux, a steep section capped by an overhanging ice roof. After leading up and getting in a Snarg, Weiss lowered off, having become exhausted, then started up again. The roof was surrounded by long icicles, which Weiss knocked off with his axe. He got his tools placed above the roof and did pull-ups over the roof.

At the time of its ascent, Bridalveil was probably the hardest ice climb in the world led free; hard ice had been climbed in Canada, but those ascents involved direct aid, where the climber would attach web ladders to their tools and stand in the loops.

As difficult as Bridalveil is to climb, the actual ascent would, in later years, prove to be the easiest part of the climb. By 1979, the Idorado Mining Company, which owns the land Bridaveil is on, started to enforce its no trespassing policy. Climbers would return exuberant from the climb to find the Sheriff waiting for them.

Since that time, Bridalveil has enjoyed periodic bouts of being open, such as the winter of 1994-1995, when I managed to sneak in an ascent before it was closed again. However, last year, the Trust for Public Land succeeded in getting Bridalveil open to climbing again.

There are restrictions, however. Climbers need to sign in at the trailhead. During the hour long walk to the climb, you must stay on the road. At the ice, you can only ascend the main falls, not Bridaveil left. At the top, you cannot, in any way, touch any part of the Power House. When descending, rappel the route, or go around the Power House, descend the gully, and hike out the road.

While there are no restrictions on the number of climbers on the route, it's probably best to keep a low profile and not create a long line at the base, nor climb under another party. Access can disappear again at any time, so tread lightly.

In March 2009, in celebration of Bridalveil being opened, blind climber Erik Weihenmayer made an ascent of the route, along with Chad Jukes, an Iraq veteran who lost the lower part of his right leg in the war. Watch the inspirational video of their climb below.