Teens Tackle Ice Climbing in Ouray

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Wielding an axe and a tenuous grip, Heidi Duce is precariously perched along a 10-story vertical curtain of ice. The 17-year-old high school senior is exactly where she wants to be. As Duce prepares to continue picking her way up the frozen face of the Uncompahgre Gorge, she hears a voice calling out from below, "You climb like a one legged girl!"

Photo of Heidi Duce courtesy of Shriners Hospital for Children.
Photo of Heidi Duce courtesy of Shriners Hospital for Children.

Duce glances back at her best friend Sydney Tall, smiles, and says, "Thank you!"

Duce was born without a calf bone—a rare disease known as fibular hemimelia. Tall was diagnosed with bone cancer at age six. Both girls had a leg amputated at a young age.

Despite growing up in Ouray, Colorado, Duce didn't enter the sport until this season. When she did, she turned to family friend and mountain-rescue team member Chris Folsom for help. She recalls saying, "I've been living in the ice climbing capitol of the world and I've never been. I'm like, Chris, I want to go!"

Folsom began talking with Duce's prosthetist at Shriners Hospital for Children in Salt Lake City, Utah. Scott Hosie, CPO, provided the SACH foot adaptor and the technical expertise necessary for Folsom to build a crampon Duce could screw into the bottom of her leg.

Duce tackled a kids' wall first, a 60-ft. WI-2 rated top-rope climb. Twenty feet up, her crampon snapped and Duce fell. Instead of losing her composure, Duce concluded she could trust her ropes. She also discovered an insatiable hunger for harder and higher climbs. "I love every bit of it," she says. "When you top out, it's the world's greatest high."

Duce shared her new addiction with her best friend, and Folsom says their learning curve has been phenomenal. Now Folsom and the girls hope to share their passion with more amputees. They are forming a nonprofit called Amped, which they hope will host up to ten war veterans or youths with disabilities in Ouray every winter. The qualities that make ice climbing treacherous also level the playing field for athletes like Duce and Tall. Duce says, "I can be better than people with two legs. It's all about work. It has nothing to do with what you are given."