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Gravity's Rainbow

WI5 M3, Trad, Mixed, Ice, 500 ft (152 m), 3 pitches, Grade III,  Avg: 3.5 from 41 votes
FA: J. Lowe, D. Breashears, K. Donald, 1977
Colorado > CO Ice & Mixed > Ouray (Ice/Mixed) > US Highway 550


Just S of Ouray is a beautiful amphitheatre at the Engineer Pass turnoff with some gorgeous ice climbs like Mixed Emotions, Kennedy's Gully, Blue Condition, Abraxas, Gravity's Rainbow, & Over the Rainbow. J. Roberts' Colorado Ice describes this as one of the top 5 ice climbs in the Ouray area. Perhaps with wonderful books like Vertigo Games by G. Randall or simply a drive over the Million Dollar highway towards Red Mountain Pass, the curiosity of many of climber is peaked and someday you find yourself with the right conditions and the right energy and there you are. Gravity's Rainbow.

According to Vertigo Games, the name for the climb comes from a rainbow visible independent of the angle in the 1st pitch on the first ascent & T. Pynchon's war novel.

A 15-30 minute wander/wallow up the road and then up a snowfield brings you to the base of this climb. Start early as the climb comes into the sun about 2.5-3h hours after sunrise. It faces SSW. Ice conditions on the route can vary tremendously. Supposedly on the 1st ascent, the bottom half of the climbed melted by the next day. A cold or cloudy is preferable. It is not always in shape.

P1. Multiple options possible although the left side of the ice seems to be most inviting. Find weird, mixed terrain up a sloping ramp with difficult pro to a short vertical step. Follow lower-angled waves of ice to a small, sloping, rock ledge on the left. Protect yourself by hiding behind the small rock wall on the L. There is a low fixed angle here. Ice can be thin. Water can be running on this pitch. Don't expect to sink 22cm screws. 190 feet.

P2. Water runs just to the right of the start of this pitch. Start up a short, steeper bit of ice and then continue up lower-angled waves to a protected rock anchor (angle plus slings around a rock horn) on the right. Most likely you will break out into the sun on this pitch. The anchor at the top of this pitch is the 2nd to last rappel anchor. 150 feet.

P3. Move left up easier ice, now likely hollow, to a groove/runnel. Find some mixed rock moves whose difficulty will depend on the consistency of the ice/slush in the groove. Gain a small ledge below the headwall. Gun for some rests about 40 feet up. Follow waves of ice up & right, up, and then left to the top. Find a creative, fixed, rock on the left. This is the 3rd to last rap anchor. 190 feet.

P4. Continue up deep snow up & right to find an left-angling chimney to the top. This pitch can be significantly melted out. Many folks rappel after 3 pitches (like us). Rap.

To descend: Rappel P3's anchor down to P2's anchor, 190 feet. Rappel a shorter bit (?100 feet) to a less-than-awe-inspiring anchor with very old slings and a newer loop of rope around a large rock horn. Rappel 190 feet to the base. You rappel to the nadir of the ice.

It is fortunately easy to assess if you will be 1st (much preferable) on this climb from the parking spot.

Beware with parties above & below you on this climb. Lots of ice goes flying on P2 & P3.

A classic.


Medium screws, some stubbies, a few thin pitches, small rock gear. 60m ropes strongly recommended.

Toprope Protection

One heck of a long rope, Texas-sized.

Photos [Hide ALL Photos]

Gravity's Rainbow, WI4-5, in fat conditions, Feb., 2008.
[Hide Photo] Gravity's Rainbow, WI4-5, in fat conditions, Feb., 2008.
Super fat, super fun.
[Hide Photo] 1/25/08. Super fat, super fun.
P3, 2/13/4.
[Hide Photo] P3, 2/13/4.
Let's try the easy rock rather than the rotting ice.<br>
3rd pitch.
[Hide Photo] Let's try the easy rock rather than the rotting ice. 3rd pitch.
Conditions on 2/08.
[Hide Photo] Conditions on 2/08.
Looking down GR.
[Hide Photo] Looking down GR.
Leading the first pitch in '08 and staying right to avoid the many spindthrift avalanches.
[Hide Photo] Leading the first pitch in '08 and staying right to avoid the many spindthrift avalanches.
Joe Tebbe's first major ice climb in 2008.
[Hide Photo] Joe Tebbe's first major ice climb in 2008.
The climb in '08.
[Hide Photo] The climb in '08.
Leading the last pitch in '08.
[Hide Photo] Leading the last pitch in '08.
Looking down Gravity's Rainbow.
[Hide Photo] Looking down Gravity's Rainbow.
Going out, Jack Tackle on P3, 2/13/4.
[Hide Photo] Going out, Jack Tackle on P3, 2/13/4.

Comments [Hide ALL Comments]

Leo Paik
Westminster, Colorado
  WI5 M3+
[Hide Comment] Gravity's Rainbow - 2/10/4 was thinner with rock showing significantly on P1. 2/11/4 it snowed all day lightly. 2/13/4 it was significantly fatter on P1. 2/15/4 looked already like it was thinning down with lots of sun 2/13-2/15/4. Changes likely daily here. Thanks Kevin & Jeff! Feb 20, 2004
[Hide Comment] When Jeff and I lead the first ascent of these pitches around 1975, the ice was very thin and tenuous by the standards of the day. Water ran between the rock and ice on all but the last pitch, and much of the pro was obtained by chopping a small hole the ice and dropping an ice screw with a sling slip-knotted in the middle behind the ice like a nut (Jeff was great at coming-up with this stuff). During the ascent, the temperatures warmed steadily throughout the day, and when we looked up to check-out the route after rappelling down Abraxus (after dark), our new route was completely gone. Damn! It had fallen off in a matter of 1 hour during our descent. Here's the story behind the name. Jeff lead the first pitch, and when I arrived at the belay he was really excited to show me a small prismatic reflection a couple of inches deep in the ice. It was in fact, a little, full spectrum rainbow that appeared to be frozen in the matrix of ice. Now the truth is, both Jeff and I had done a bit of space travel during the early '70s, but this rainbow was the real deal, and since Jeff was reading Thomas Pynchon at the time he named the climb after the book. On my pitch (2nd) I kept looking for more rainbows but alas, Jeff had found the only one. We really had a great adventure on this climb. It was still early in the International Alpine School days and we were blown-away by the potential in the Ouray area. On this same trip, we discovered the area below the water pipe that I named the "School Room" and Camp Bird Mine Rd. Fun times indeed!
Kevin Nov 15, 2004
Meredith DB
Boulder, CO
[Hide Comment] Beta on anchors/descent of Gravity's Rainbow: there is a decent anchor in the rock on the climber's left, at the top of the ice (after the 3d pitch of climbing). Currently the anchor is a slung block and 2 pitons with relatively new cord tying it all together.

From this anchor rappel 55 m directly down the climb to another rock anchor just to the (climber's) right of the ice. This anchor is currently 1 block and 2 pitons with relatively new cord.

From here, you can do a rope-stretching 60 m rappel to the base of the ice. Whether or not you can reach the ground depends on how heavy you are - I downclimbed about 5 ft from the ends of the ropes to the ground; my partner reached the ground. Dec 27, 2007
Todd R
[Hide Comment] Gravity's Rainbow is still in and fat, although a bit funky just over half way up. There are multiple lines to be had and we actually climbed parallel another party this morning. It took good screws the whole way. Jan 4, 2008
Jason Nelson
Ouray, CO
[Hide Comment] This climb generally only comes in after a couple days of cold cloudy weather. Don't be on this route on a sunny day! If you top out, the entire cliff, you can go left and rappel the Lightline rappels (See rock climbing topo on mtnproj for Lightline, or Darkline in the Ouray Rock section). After the ice, anchors were buried in the snow (?), so I continuted to up to a tree to belay (about 70M pitch). To rappel, we climbed down snow to lower trees where there is a fixed anchor on the lowest tree. 2 raps got us to the base. After climbing this route, you may want to stop into Ouray Mountain Sports and get your ice screws sharpened (Bill has a machine to do it). Dec 17, 2008
Santa Monica, Ca.
[Hide Comment] Gravity's Rainbow - The seminal work by Thomas Pynchon, author of "V" and other late 20th century gonzo novels (read postmodern). It is not for the faint of heart, putting up with sentences that last for a page and a half. The background premise is about the Nazi V2 rockets that rained down on London. Traveling faster than the speed of sound, you didn't hear them coming in, first the explosion and then (if you were far enough away) you would hear the approach. Dec 18, 2008
Greg Sievers
Bozeman, MT
[Hide Comment] 2-10-11: conditions are plump this year, but this week of blazing sun may have just ended that.
The route can be done in 2 long, rope-stretcher pitches with a 70m rope with about 40' of simulclimbing on P2.
I am surprised that while 2 of the 3 rap stations (on the left) have fresh skinny cord on them, the old nuts, rusty pins and tat have not been upgraded to bolts, especially since I heard this route is regularly guided.
Things that make ya say "hhhmmm". Feb 15, 2011