Climbing in the Winter Months

Posted by Matthew Woodfield on Tuesday, November 27, 2018 Under: Top Tips

A winter approaches the air cools, the sun sets early and the rock can be cold and wet; you could be forgiven for just visiting your indoor wall to keep fit until Easter and the promise of sunshine and fair weather. 

There are many "Fair Weather" climbers out there and I can see why, I've spend more days than I'd like to remember rock climbing in wind, rain and sometimes even snow showers. Your hands freeze, water runs from wrists into your jacket as you place your arms above your head, you start to wonder if its really all worth it...

It took me some years of reflecting on these experiences, and comparing them to the hazy January days climbing in Pembroke in just a t-shirt, for me to work out what you need to do to carry on enjoying outdoor climbing all though the winter months. Its all about planning, so before you head out think about the following things:

Weather: Obviously dry is best, but what was it doing last night or for the last week, this can have an impact as some rocks dry quicker then others. I use the met office’s app for my forecast and use their “Rainfall Radar” to keep an eye on where rain has been falling over the uk. This tool really helps me make decisions about whether to sit it out as its only a shower or head home because its lasting all day.

Wind: This has the biggest impact on how warm you feel, more so than air temp or rain. Have a look at the wind forecast and then plan your day so you can tuck out of the wind at a sheltered crag. The downside, crags exposed to the wind dry faster, so if its been wet the rock might still be damp.

(A busy Tirpentwys in mid February, the walk-in way icy but we were in the sun and out the wind - almost like summer apart from the big coats)

Aspect: If you pick a north facing crag expect to be in the shade all day, that means no warmth from winter sunshine if there’s any expected. South East facing crags will warm up early with the first light, but be in the shade from midday, where as South West facing crags will get the sun all afternoon, the warmest time to climb in the winter months.

Altitude: The higher you go the colder it is, by about 1°C every 100m on a clear day, that means sea cliffs can be 4°C warmer than lots of crags in the Valleys.

(Calling the Met Office to complain as snow ends our day early at Stennis Head)

Style: I love Trad, but it is a slow process and you’ll end up at the top of the crag where it’ll probably be windy and cold. Save winter Trad days for a fine forecast and really pick your spot, consider dropping your grade too and keep thing moving more. Sport climbing is quick so you won’t spend long on the rock before returning to your big coat and warm treats. Bouldering is always good in winter, you can have lots of tries as problems and never be far form warm layers – you even get better friction on rock like Gritstone.

Timing: An early start wont make for a good day. Allow the air and rock to warm up and dry out from any overnight rain, but plan around your forecast, if there’s rain due in the afternoon its best to get out sooner and get stuff done, just be prepared to retreat to a café for tea and cake. 

(Abseiling in to Mother Carries for another classic line in January, the coast had to come off the climb - just too warm!)

Tips to stay happy:

Warm up well, walk the long way in to a roadside crag, jog, skip or jump to get your blood flowing, it all helps you feel happier, climb better and prevent injury.

On cold days stick your rock shoes in your coat for the drive or walk-in to get them feeling warm, it’ll help your feet stay happy and preforming well.

Fill you bag with warm treats; a thermos or better still little stove for drinks, soup for lunch and sugary sweets to top up energy levels as you’ll burn a lot staying warm. Invest in a big warm coat, down is super warm but only if it stays dry. Gloves, mitts and wrist warmers will keep your hands happy, as will some “hand warmers” placed on the pulse point of your wrist to warm up the incoming blood. 

Layer up, its better to regret wearing thermals and have to remove them than being cold all day. It can be hard to get the right layers for the day, think warm, windproof and insulated, if you have 3 spare layers in your bag you didn’t need then that’s really not a problem.

Always take a waterproof, because you never know, and they do make a great shell to keep the wind off. 

Pack a head torch, if its dark at 4:30 and you’re still finishing up then a torch takes off all the pressure and means you wont accidentally forget your rock shoes when you leave.  

Mostly remember that climbing should be fun, and if you only climb in the summer you are missing out on a lot of that fun. With some careful planning, the right kit and a positive attitude, you can climbing the whole year through...

In : Top Tips 

Tags: climbing winter tips 

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Matthew Woodfield An infrequent collection of tips, tricks and ramblings about climbing, walking and the great outdoors...