28 November 2010

Tactics: Climbing in the cold

On my main blog I just added the video above about a new 8b I did in Glen Nevis. It was climbed in temperatures of Minus 2 or 3 with a light breeze. I thought it would be a good idea to write a post about working around the cold for doing redpoints like this. The tactics are fairly simple:
1 Start off very warm. Make sure you wear enough clothing so you arrive at the crag at the point of overheating. This way, by the time you’ve faffed and put your gear on, you’ll be at the right temperature to start climbing, instead of freezing already and ripe for an injury or at least a cold pump. If there's no walk-in, you'll have to go for a good 10 minute run in your duvet instead, even if you just got out of a warm car.
2 Warm up on the project. Go bolt to bolt, still dressed in your warm clothes. Make sure you finish by doing a medium difficulty link that gets a bit of a pump on and leaves you feeling a little overheated.
3 Lower down and don’t stand still. It doesn’t matter (for most people anyway) how big your duvet jacket is, if you stand still in the cold for any length of time, you’ll struggle to keep warm enough muscles and fingers to go for your redpoint. Ideally your light pump will have been recovered from after about 15 minutes. During that time don’t stop - get everything ready, blow on your hands, run and jump around. And then get your shoes back on and go for it. You don’t want your heart rate to drop towards resting at all in the whole session.
4 If you do need to stand still, usually to belay. You’ll need to fully warm your body up again. Walk off for a good ten minutes and then power back up the hill to arrive at the crag really hot. By the time you have your shoes on and tied in you’ll be set. Jumping around at the crag to re-warm doesn’t usually cut it. It follows that sport climbing sessions in the cold are much better done in blocks, i.e. Your partner belays you for a whole session with warm-up and redpoints before switching and they re-warm by walking somewhere else for their session. It’s pretty hard to do it swapping belays without a lot of aerobic work in between.
5 Hands - They’ll start off warm from a gloved and duvet clad walk-in. Keeping a warm core is by far the biggest thing you can do to stop them getting too cold and to rescue them if they do. Ideally you don’t want to have gloves on after your warm-up because it’ll soften your fingertips too much. Instead, keep the heart going and jam your hands in your roasting hot armpits to keep them warm before you go for the redpoint. If they aren’t roasting hot, go back to point 4. If it’s short route (like 15 metres) you’ll be fine, but any longer or with a shake out during the redpoint and numb fingers will be a problem even if you started off with hot hands. A ‘teabag’ style handwarmer in your chalk bag is often enough, and was used in the video above. Make sure you open it at the start of the session as they take a good while to reach maximum temperature. You might want to supplement it with the armpit treatment on your shake out if it’s a really good rest.
So, nothing complicated really. Where people go wrong is they just cant resist the temptation to stand still if they start to feel cold, or they go for a jog but not nearly for long enough. Enjoy your cold rock sessions!


gian said...

great post.

do you think there's an element of "numb hands/feet tolerance" as well that one builds winter after winter?

i ask because i notice that "beginners" in winter climbing seem to always fall in this "numb hands-flash pump" syndrome even if you suggest them all the tactics you know, and they try to apply them. (i've been one of those as well)

then maybe you walk in the street with the same people and the situation is swapped : you are the one complaining about cold in that bibendum-looking duvet, and they're happy in a sweater and light jacket...wtf???

Anonymous said...

Dave - what type of handwarmers do you use? I have seen disposable ones on Amazon for a reasonable price.

Jack Folland said...

Hi Dave

Great post but what can you do for your toes and feet in general. I tried running around the crag with a really thick pair of socks on but when i came to the crux move my toes were numb and i couldnt quite stick the crucial smear?? Any thoughts apart from manning up and coping

Cheers Jack

Angus N Clark said...

a bit of target but after making a relatively sucessful comback from last years ankle injury ive dislocated my elbow. I hear research into recovery and treatmests is sparse and wondered if you had come across anything. Im at the first stage and following the RICE method with some light gripping excercises while im in a cast. Switch to a full cast next week im told, which im not keen about due to muscle atrophy etc..also pretty concerned as many people seem to say only 50% of people get a full ROM back. If youve read anything or have any tips id really appreciate it. Cheers


Roel said...

If you're not already doing this: keen your climbing shoes warm in your duvet and with warm socks on them. Remove socks right before start of climbing and voila: warmer feet.

Simon D said...

Warming your hands on the back of your neck is always a good one. Especially if on route and you get a to a rest/shake point.

Peter Beal said...

Great post, I will be writing a similar post on bouldering. One note of caution with applying cold hands to the neck or armpit is that it can cool your core quickly. The handwarmers and thick mittens should do the trick if your hands are reasonably tough to start. A few seconds in dry cold air and they will harden up very quickly.

Also a thermos of something hot and sweet to keep the calories on hand seems useful.

4Recauxutats said...

good post