Defining vacation in Ouray, Colorado, where hot and cold make a day

His name was Gump, as in Forrest Gump, and he was Marc’s truck when we first met. He got his name after a tragic slack-lining incident when Marc and his college buddies thought they could use the tailgate as one end of a slack-line anchor. These guys were engineers and they should have known better, but alas, college. Marc collected stickers for the inside of his truck box and one bright yellow one would soon come to define our travels. “My best vacation is your worst nightmare.”

Breaking the Ice
ice park approach
The author hiking the short approach to the easily accessed Ouray Ice Park.Marc Bergreen

As we began building a life together, that life consisted of hours of fun balanced with a healthy dose of suffering. In fact, we met on my first ever ice-climbing trip. It was one of those experiences that makes you vow not to do an activity again, only to find yourself falling in love with it. I soon learned that ice-climbing can be fun, it just requires a little more finesse and technique born from experience.

In Ouray, Colorado
An overview of the town of Ouray covered in snow.Marc Bergreen

Since those fateful days early in our relationship, Marc and I have made numerous trips to the adorable town of Ouray, Colorado. It’s a town that boasts both intimacy and adventure. It’s home to luxurious hot springs as well as the famous Ouray Ice Park. If you haven’t been before, you can akin Ouray to your most accessible rock-climbing crag with world-class routes. Only this is ice. While most of my previous ice climbing experiences required snowshoeing long distances to access remote waterfalls or hiking mountains to reach glaciers, Ouray cuts down the approach significantly if not completely. You can climb countless routes and be back to the hotel in time for dinner.

Ice Climbing
ice climber
An ice climber making his way out of the canyon in the “Pic O the Vic” area.Marc Bergreen

Ice climbing in Ouray is one of those perfect vacations for when you need some adventure but are also looking to unwind and destress. The more limited vacation days are, the more valuable they become. We’re not the type to sit all day on the beach, but hand us snorkels or some cliffs to climb and we’re happy. Similarly, as much as I love to window shop in a quaint town, eat delicious food, read a book by the fire, and soak in the hot springs, maybe we should first tire ourselves out on the ice.

There is something powerful about exercise, adventure, nature and pushing our limits. Overcoming our fears and accomplishing ours goals give us self-confidence. Exercise increases our endorphins. Even nature is being studied as an antidote to stress and depression. It seems to me that even if the goal of a vacation is to rest and recharge, running around outside might be the first step.

And yes, we subscribe to a tribe of people whose vacations force the very definition of vacation into question. Even so, we too need a break. We need escape, leisure, rest and relaxation. Maybe that means laying on the beach and doing nothing. Or perhaps it’s like a vigorous Vinyasa Yoga class when only after you feel like you have no more sweat to give does the teacher let you lie down and rest in savasana. Isn’t it true that those ten minutes of post workout rest are the most rejuvenating ten minutes of your week? There’s something about the physical exertion that gets you out of your head, gives you something else to focus on, and allows you to really rest when it comes time to rest.

Hot Springs
Mountain reflections as Marc Bergreen takes a relaxing sunset soak.Brenda Bergreen

Heading to the hot springs after just an average day is nice. How much more satisfying is heading to the hot springs after testing your physical strength on an ice climb? Eating a hot delicious meal is good, but scarfing down scrumptious food after a long day of climbing is a transformative experience. But I’m preaching to the choir. Not everyone feels this way but those of us that do, do for good reason.

Our brain is a wondrous thing the way it can take our environment, perceptions and experiences, and spit out a complex result bordering on life-changing. 

Never do I feel more rejuvenated than after time spent in nature. Never do I feel stronger than when I push myself past some self-imposed limit. While the definition of a perfect vacation may vary from person to person, an ice climbing retreat in Ouray strikes a good balance for me.

BRENDA BERGREEN is a storyteller and photographer living in Evergreen, Colorado, with her husband and adventure partner, Marc Bergreen. As a Colorado Native she loves exploring all that the state has to offer both through adventure and relaxation.


Where to go for a soak: