Two of the wildest and most difficult water-ice pitches in the state are in plain view from Highway 50, en route to Ouray and Telluride from points north, plunging down the sheer face of Grand Mesa. Yet few people notice them, and far fewer have climbed them. The routes are tough, to be sure, but the main obstacle is the approach: Once the snow flies, they are at least 8.5 miles from the car.
Douglas Lossner probably did the first ascent of both routes. First up was Mrs. Mesa. “I moved to Delta back in 1997, and I was up exploring the Grand Mesa that summer when I came across that waterfall,” he said in an email. “It can’t be seen from the [Land's End] road even though you are within 100 feet of it. I figured that Coal Creek going under Land’s End Road had to go over the rim, so I checked it out. That November, I drove up there with a coworker of mine [John Rybal] and climbed it…. I’ve done that three times, and it is awsome.”
Yes it is. Mrs. Mesa is about 175 feet of dead-vertical ice (WI5+/6), with possible roofs to surmount, usually climbed in one long pitch. The ideal time to catch it is in November, when the road may still be drivable to within 100 feet of the rappels, but at that time of year it will be at its thinnest and steepest. Later in the winter, it fattens up considerably, but then it’s a 17-mile round trip by skis or snowshoes. Or snowmobile—the road is open to snow machines, making it a no-brainer if you have one.
Mr. Mesa is even farther from the car—and even more daunting. The 200-foot route (WI5/6) forms where Whitewater Creek pours over the rim, two miles from Land’s End, and about three miles from the car—if the road is open. If not, it’s about 11 miles in. Mr. Mesa may only have been climbed once, in 2005, when Lossner and Brad Winters caught the route in climbable condition in October. “As soon as we saw it, in we went back the next day and climbed it,” Lossner said. “Extremely hard climb. I followed the Whitewater Creek back to its source and found it to be dam-controlled. I’ve been told they turn off the water on October 15th, so if it’s not in by then it’s not going to come in.”
Both climbs are found by following Land’s End Road (Forest Road 100) from Highway 65 (get a good map!). If the ice is in, rappel to the base with two 60-meter ropes and climb back out. You can see more photos at Mountain Project.