Cold weather climbing

Winter is upon us. But we're from Queensland, Australia's home of hot weather. This leads to two things:
  1. Numb fingers
  2. Bad fashion
We ain't used to this.
Beanie stolen from small infant.
Mrs Upskill adds a splash of colour to the crag, and puts up a first ascent to boot.
Heat packs. Ammo for six shots on the project.
"How do you plead?"
"Your Honor, we plead ... insanity."
Locate me under that mound of clothing.
Michelin man O'Halloran
Body fell, fingers remained frozen to the rock.

Climbing in the cold. I don't know how Dave MacLeod does it. If you have cold weather climbing tips, leave a comment. God knows we could use them.

Cold Weather Climbing Tips

Well, we might as well compile the little we have learned about climbing on cold rock. Try these tips to get feeling back in your ... tips.

#1 The run around
Before climbing, run around, walk up and down a hill, anything to get your heart rate up. This does seem to be the single most effective way to keep fingers warm enough for a decent go on icy cold rock.

#2 The heat packs
These are little gel packs (see pic above) which you crack and a chemical reaction happens and warms up the pack instantly. A decent level of heat lasts about 20 minutes. You can put them in your chalk bag for long pitches. You could also try a stove, but not in your chalk bag. I'm also not a big fan of people lighting fires at crags, or in chalk bags.

#3 The hot bottle trick - contributed by Owen
Buy a high quality plastic drink bottle. Buy an insulated sleeve that fits. Fill the drink bottle with the boiling hot beverage of your choice. Stick it inside your down jacket. It will sit on your stomach and your hands are right on it when it's in your pocket. It will pump out dry heat for at least an hour, then you can drink the still warm beverage, then recharge from a thermos. Leave it in your downie on the ground when you're climbing.

Beth on Meltdown.
Photo by Corey Rich — Aurora Photos
#4 The pre-freeze
I heard about this when Beth Rodden was trying her hard trad route Meltdown in Yosemite. She would pre-freeze her hands in snow or the icy stream until they went numb, then rapidly warm them in Tommy Caldwell's armpits. Presumably what this does is a Lewis-reaction type way of rapidly getting hot blood into the hands and fingers, enough for a good shot on your route. Good luck finding Tommy when you need him though.

#5 The 'burn a shot, have a shot' technique
I fell into this method while trying my hardest routes in winter. It is probably more applicable to short climbs than monster endurance pitches, but see how you go. Anyway, all you do is blast up your route until your fingers freeze and you fall off. Lower to the ground, put on your gloves and warm gear and de-pump for about 10 minutes. At this point you are super warm from the effort of climbing, and with any luck, not brutally pumped. So you're now ready to have a proper shot. If you haven't rested too long your fingers will be warm all the way.


Neil Monteith said...

You do realize that cold is when it's below zero don't you? I'm mystified by why you need heat packs in Queensland, let alone Australia. Winter is primo ticking conditions!!

Lee Cujes said...

And to think you were born in Queensland Monty!

Gareth Llewellin said...

16! That would be sweaty and spoogy

Lee Cujes said...

Lol. It may have been 16 in the Boonah cafe. It was considerably colder on the Back Wall in the shade with a gusty wind.

Jason said...

'tis true - it took me about 3 winters to acclimatise to the Bluies after Townsville

Isaac Paulsen said...

Check out this heated chalk bag that solves this very problem of having poor circulation to your hands, or on those cold or shaded days. The chalk bag has an integrated heating circuit that you can turn on and off when ever you want!...