Ice Climb Pumphouse Falls in Vail

Rate this Adventure Colorado East Vail Nordic Track

Added by Spencer Williams

This is an ice climbing adventure that offers beginner to advanced single pitch routes visible from the main highway in East Vail, Colorado. Just minutes from the resort town of Vail, Colorado, Pumphouse Falls is one of the many premiere frozen falls visible from Colorado Interstate 70 offering free and easy parking and a short approach.

To get to Pumphouse Falls take Interstate 70 toward East Vail, Colorado, get off at exit 176 S. Frontage Road headed east. At the traffic circle take the third exit and continue on South Frontage Rd. for 2.5 miles, turn right into the small parking lot next to the Nordic ski track. Follow the signs from the parking lot showing the footpath across the Nordic track and walk straight toward the gully. Be sure to stay on the footpath and off the Nordic ski track, locals tend to get angered by climbers leaving footprints on the track. The approach to the falls is approximately 1 mile with 600 feet of gain. Depending on the depth of the snow the approach can between 35 to 60 minutes hiking or more. At the base of the falls you will see that there is a belay station to the climbers left and a backboard on the same side in case of emergencies.

Once at the falls you will have multiple route options to choose from ranging WI2 to WI4. The outside sections are easier with WI2 on the climbers left and WI3 on the right, but these sections tend to have less quality ice. The middle lines of the falls are the most difficult around WI4 but provide the best quality ice. All routes in this area are single pitch and top out around 100 feet requiring between 6 to 10 ice screws to safely lead. For anchoring there are a number of options. About 10 -15 ft back from the top of the falls you will see a large boulder on the right that has been equipped with bolts, webbing and a few rappel rings. There are also multiple trees that you can be used and if you prefer, the ice on the center route is strong enough to use V-threads.

  • Be courteous and conscious of the Nordic ski tracks on the golf course and stay on the marked climber/snowshoe trails. The parking is currently free but the Nordic Center at the golf course is thinking of charging due to foot traffic damaging the ski track.
  • Pumphouse Falls are north facing, the area rarely gets sunlight and can be very cold so be sure to bring extra layers to put on between climbs.
  • Bring lunch and snacks (I bring camp stoves such as a Jetboil to make warm drinks and soups).
  • Ice climbing is a dangerous sport requiring proper knowledge, experience and equipment. Do not attempt anything that you do not feel comfortable doing.
  • Guide services are also available in the area and can make your adventure easy and care free. They provide all the technical gear, place anchors and protection, and will give you the knowledge to be safer on your own in the future. I recommend Apex Mountain School, they are very knowledgeable of the area and provide quality gear and assurance.

Pack List

  • Day pack
  • Helmet
  • Harness
  • Belay device
  • Technical Ice Axes
  • Crampons
  • 60 meter dry treated rope or longer
  • Ice Screws
  • Quickdraws
  • Climbing anchor supplies
  • Sturdy boots (must be able to accept clip on crampons)
  • Very warm socks (multiple pairs)
  • Gaiters
  • Warm clothes to layer
  • Shell Pants
  • Waterproof Shell
  • Two pairs of gloves (one for climbing)
  • Sunglasses
  • First Aid Kit
  • Lunch/Snacks (recommend a camp stove for hot drinks or soups)
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Photography, Rock Climbing

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