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Rigid Designator

WI5-, Trad, Ice, 115 ft (35 m),  Avg: 3.9 from 126 votes
FA: Bob Culp
Colorado > CO Ice & Mixed > Vail Ice > Rigid Designator Amph…


This is perhaps the most spectacular ice formation in the area. The Designator usually forms in a massive pillar of ice detached from the rock with a giant cone at the bottom topped by nearly a hundred feet of vertical ice. Surprisingly, the cone at the base is the crux of the route. The cone usually forms like an open artichoke with layers of petals six or more feet high. Protecting these is difficult and climbing them is awkward. Attacking them directly would involve pulling the short overhangs on picks hooked on the tops of the petals. Fortunately, these petals can be avoided more easily by making short traverses. The upper column is often smooth 90-degree ice to the top. Late in the season this section develops closely spaced dimples from repeated ascents. While it's possible to toprope the Rigid Designator, it is bad form to lock up the ice all day while doing laps on it. If you toprope the Designator, limit your climbing to a few ascents and take your ropes down quickly to allow other teams to enjoy this spectacular climb. Descent: Lower or rappel from anchors above. This rappel requires two ropes.


Screws, Long screws work best here as the ice is often foamy in the lower cone or chandeliered on top.

Toprope Protection

There are good anchors on top consisting of several fixed slings and rap rings. An additional ~15 foot sling and a biner for a backup is a good idea. Bring two ropes.

Photos [Hide ALL Photos]

Glen Maxson gets it done on Rigid Designator.
[Hide Photo] Glen Maxson gets it done on Rigid Designator.
Jonathan on Rigid Designator. Jan. 11, 2014.
[Hide Photo] Jonathan on Rigid Designator. Jan. 11, 2014.
First trip of the season, 12-08-01.
[Hide Photo] First trip of the season, 12-08-01.
Andy Hansen on the Vail amphitheater classic, Rigid Designator.
[Hide Photo] Andy Hansen on the Vail amphitheater classic, Rigid Designator.
Cracker-Boy on The Des.
[Hide Photo] Cracker-Boy on The Des.
Logging operations above the Rigid Designator by Rob & Brad.
[Hide Photo] Logging operations above the Rigid Designator by Rob & Brad.
More mid eighties solo madness with the late Eric Goukas.<br>
[Hide Photo] More mid eighties solo madness with the late Eric Goukas.
Ross Swanson gettin' er' done on the Des.  On 12/19/2009.
[Hide Photo] Ross Swanson gettin' er' done on the Des. On 12/19/2009.
Carl crushing up the Des.
[Hide Photo] Carl crushing up the Des.
Dempsey, my 9 year old son, made it to the top!
[Hide Photo] Dempsey, my 9 year old son, made it to the top!
Looking up the central cone, 3/3/2007.
[Hide Photo] Looking up the central cone, 3/3/2007.
Photo by Rob Griz.
[Hide Photo] Photo by Rob Griz.

Comments [Hide ALL Comments]

[Hide Comment] SOLID... a true WI5+ - WI6 .. We got first bags on it this weekend.. it was wonderfuly complicated and challenging...

The stairway is fat but chopped. Dec 8, 2001
[Hide Comment] You don't have to rappel off the Rigid Designator. Walk east along a well-packed trail that is usually visible a little distance from the top of the climb. There is a (sometimes scary) little chimney in the rock that will dump you out (on your ass, if you aren't careful!) just a little west of the Spiral Staircase. I soloed the Rigid Designator 10 times and never abseiled once to get back down. Jan 17, 2003
[Hide Comment] One can rap from the top anchors on a single 60m rope. Bear to climbers right as you rappel and prepare for a two meter down climb (maybe). Remember to knot the ends of your rope... getting dumped on your ass, however funny, could send you sledding down to the parking lot on your back. The Designator had a six foot wide chimney gaping from the back and flowing... little scary, very thin at top right! Mar 24, 2003
Jon Dinsmore
Kittredge, CO
[Hide Comment] It seemed fun, healed, and OK to us on 4/11/03. But given the warmish weather, I kept my eyes on the flanking widowmakers. Apr 14, 2003
[Hide Comment] The Fang formed up and almost connected over Thanksgiving week, but collapsed over Thanksgiving weekend when it got warm.

The Dez needs to thicken up. A lot. If you climbed it now you would bring it down.

Other climbs in the area are in. Octopussy is in. Pitkin Falls is in and respectable. Firehouse everything is in. Racquet Club Falls is in and fat.

The cold temperatures during the week of Thanksgiving did a lot to improve the climbs up here.

The recent warm temperatures during the day bring snowmelt, and many of the flows around Vail are primarily fed by snowmelt. Dec 2, 2003
George Bell
Boulder, CO
[Hide Comment] FYI, this climb is NOT named after a dildo brand and has no X-rated connotation. It is in fact an esoteric linguistic term, I believe it was given this label by Bob Culp. Found on the web: "A rigid designator is a singular term that refers to the same thing in or when evaluated at every possible world in which it has any reference at all. A flaccid designator is a singular term that refers to one thing in one possible world and something else in at least one other possible world."

Something to contemplate on lead, anyway. Perhaps someone else can recall more of this name or the history of this climb.... Jan 19, 2004
Leo Paik
Westminster, Colorado
[Hide Comment] Anyone ever do the 2nd pitch of ice above RD? Feb 8, 2005
Meredith DB
Boulder, CO
[Hide Comment] Please, do not toprope this climb when others are trying to lead it. If you insist on toproping while others lead, please, be polite and stay out of the leader's way. Being pummeled with ice while leading is not so fun. Apr 26, 2007
[Hide Comment] There were 3 guys that finished their climb on Rigid Designator yesterday and they let my friend use their rope. I needed to pass the knot, so they handed me their belay device and carabiner. When he was done climbing, we all were side tracked and the device and carabiner weren't returned. Let me know if these are yours, so I can get them back to you. Sorry! Feb 22, 2009
[Hide Comment] Hey PaulPaulMan. Thanks for posting about my belay device and carabiner. It's an orange Black Diamond carabiner, autolocking. I've been looking for that! That was a awesome day up in Vail. Especially the glissade down. Shoot me an email at so we can figure something out. Thanks man. Mar 19, 2009
Justin Deal
Denver, CO
[Hide Comment] Can someone give me any detailed info on the "walk off"??? I was hoping to go up this weekend and ascend the chimney mentioned above to set up a top rope on Spiral. Is this possible? I really want to climb at Vail this weekend, but I just started leading and I'm not comfortable leading WI4 yet. Thanks. Jan 7, 2013
[Hide Comment] The walkoff is west of the Dez - you can see a purple fixed rope from below and a well traveled boot path above. To answer Justin Deal's question about accessing the Spiral from above, this descent is much closer to the Dez than the Staircase and any attempt at traversing all the way over there would involve lots of bushwhacking and wallowing through waist deep snow. How fun! Jan 25, 2013
MattCranston Cranston
Ouray, CO
[Hide Comment] Beautiful! Funky ice this time of year, but unique. Getting out of the cauliflower was SICK! and higher up on the left was uber-awesome. A little thin to protect, wasn't too sure about my screws holding, ice seemed to be a bit airy in spots. Feb 12, 2013
Jay 1975
Bonedale, CO
[Hide Comment] Must do classic and big. Feb 11, 2017
Mark Younkins
[Hide Comment] Can easily climb and rap with one single 70m. Feb 17, 2019
Austin Gardner
Boulder, CO
[Hide Comment] Fantastic climb. Long, sustained, vertical ice. The first section is a bit tricky with pro, since it forms a bit like an artichoke.

There were 3 fixed slings at the top that anchored to 3 separate trees. Rap with a 70m or walk off via climber's left, and downclimb back to the trail. Jan 6, 2020