Winter Climbing – hot tips for cold climbing!

Davy EICA Ratho Winter climbing
Davy EICA winter climbs1Davy EICA Ratho Winter climb 2
Davy at EICA:Ratho, 12 December 2011
The last two winters have been a dream for climbers and mountaineers in the UK – cold, snowy weather and plenty of it, and this winter is again shaping up to be good!
If you’re new to winter climbing and mountaineering, or just want some tips, here are my top-ten:

1.    Movement skills – If you’re coming from a rock climbing background, learning to use axes and crampons can be alien. Winter hillwalking and mountaineering are a great way to get good at using these sharp pointy things and learn about the winter mountain environment.

2.    Start low then wind-up – if you’re a strong summer climber you will be gagging to get on hard mixed routes straight away – but having an apprenticeship on easy gully and ridge routes will give you invaluable experience in loads of techniques that you won’t have from summer climbing.

3.    Learn to navigate! – Map and compass skills are essential for getting in to a climb, finding the right route and getting off safely! Can you navigate in the dark and in a blizzard? A GPS can be a useful back-up – but remember, a tool is only as good as its user.

4.    Weather or not to go? – Weather is everything in winter climbing. Do the routes have enough snow and ice on them? Do they have too much? Is there a gale blowing? Check the web, check again and get as much information as you can before you go.

5.    Whoompf! – Don’t get avalanched! You can’t learn avalanche safety from a book – go on a course!  Check the SportScotland Avalanche Information Service AND the weather forecast to give you an idea of what to expect before deciding on where to go and what to do.

6.    Be flexible – Winter climbing is all about being flexible. Don’t plan a trip with the intention of climbing a certain route on a certain mountain – it’s best to have a range of climbs in case the route is out-of-condition, dangerous because of avalanche conditions or has other climbers on it. Blogs and websites are great for seeing where other folk have been, but remember – everyone else is reading them too, so this can mean crowded venues! Try picking another cliff at the same altitude and face-aspect – you may be pleasantly surprised!

7.    Don’t over stretch yourself- If conditions “full-on”, don’t be tempted to push the boat out too far – dial back your expectations and climb an easier route.

8.    Get a belay jacket – A synthetic belay jacket that layers over the top of your outerwear is superb for standing at cold belay ledges.

9.    There is no such thing as the perfect glove – Thinner gloves give more dexterity and make climbing easier; but they tend to be less warm and tend to let water in. Solution – have several pairs and swap them throughout the day.

10.    Go on a course! – Hiring an instructor or going on a course may seem costly, but you will learn loads and loads in a short time and the instructor will zoom-in on your needs and get you on the right track for where you want to go. It will pay for itself quickly.

Davy Virdee is a Climbing Instructor at EICA:Ratho near Edinburgh. Davy holds the Mountaineering Instructor Certificate (MIC) and is a full-member of the Association of Mountaineering Instructors (AMI)

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