First ascent

Posted: March 5, 2014 by kirisyko in Climbing, Ice Climbing
Tags: , , ,


Sean O’Neill climbs frozen Bridal Veil Falls on Wednesday. O’Neill is the first paraplegic to summit the falls. [Photo courtesy of Kevin Ziechmann (Sparkshop)]

On Wednesday, Sean O’Neill hauled himself up Bridal Veil Falls, becoming the first paraplegic to ice climb the frozen waterfall.

Looking out over the valley after about eight hours on the ice wall was huge relief, he said.

“Reaching the top, it’s a major relief,” O’Neill said. “You build up and hope to get up there before dark. I got up there and looked out at the valley … and tried my best to express my gratitude to my climbing buddies.”

O’Neill is a pioneer of sit climbing who has helped design an adaptive system of pulleys for ice axes and other equipment to help him get up pitches. Unable to use his legs since he broke his back jumping into the Mississippi River 22 years ago, O’Neill pulled himself up the imposing 365-foot wall of ice using just his upper body.

Helping O’Neill with his first ascent was friend and climbing partner Andres Marin, who lives and guides in Ouray. Marin said Bridal Veil Falls is a very challenging climb with overhangs and technical moves and his job was to find the path of least resistance for O’Neill. Bridal Veil, first summited by Jeff Lowe in 1978, is known as a very difficult waterfall ice climb.

“You have to be an expert on ice climbing because of the nature of how hard the route is,” Marin said.

Wednesday was the fourth time O’Neill and Marin have climbed together and Marin said it was an honor to help O’Neill reach the top.

“It was truly, truly inspirational,” Marin said. “I almost cried. It’s hard to explain the emotions. It’s beyond anything else. It’s amazing.”

Marin said the climb was a team effort, with a huge support crew and about 30 people tied to the project.

Wednesday’s climb was documented by Sean O’Neill’s brother, professional climber Timmy O’Neill, and will be featured in a short six-minute film that explores the theme of struggle. Timmy O’Neill is a well-known figure in the climbing world and the executive director and founder of Paradox Sports, a nonprofit organization that runs adaptive sports programs. Paradox Sports is holding its seventh annual adaptive ice climbing weekend in the Ouray Ice Park this weekend. Participants include military veterans with PTSD, amputees and the visually impaired.

Timmy O’Neill, who used to live in Telluride, said he wanted to make a film about his brother’s experience because it tests the limits of what people think is possible.

“I knew it was going to be spectacular, and I knew it was going to be difficult,” Timmy O’Neill said. “It’s very audacious to go up there in the first place … It’s just gnarly. It’s just crazy.”

Sean O’Neill has been climbing since 2005. He has since climbed Yosemite’s iconic El Capitan three times and became the first paraplegic to ever do a lead climb. The Brownfield, Maine resident now invents and develops adaptive equipment to help paraplegics climb on the rock or ice instead of ascending the rope.

He said the movie of his Bridal Veil ascent will make a wild and crazy sports event accessible to everyone.

“It’s an example of the human drive to accomplish, to take on challenge,” Sean O’Neill said. “A lot of people who see someone with an obvious disability accomplishing these things, it can rev them up to try harder at their own tasks.”


  1. betunada says:

    this is THE B V F near Telluride, right?

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