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Need some winter rockclimbing advise

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Need some winter rockclimbing advise

Postby effectsofaltitude » Thu Dec 02, 2010 3:42 am

Rock climbing has always been a 3 season activity for me. I usually stick to winter backpacking / mountaineering in the colder months, but this winter, I want to try and get out on some rock, and I was hoping someone would have some sage advise to send my way.

How do you keep your hands from freezing solid? I am typically climbing trad routes (hand cracks, and such), so I usually just tape my hands up mummy style. Gloves are pretty much out of the question, unless they were fingerless, and that kinda defeats the point. Someone suggested one of those hand warmer waist packs (like the kind quarterbacks wear), but I was hoping someone might have something else they have come up with.

I'm sure all you old salty dogs out there will just tell me to "just suck it up," but even old guys have tricks up there sleeves.

Thanks in advance.
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Re: Need some winter rockclimbing advise

Postby mtndonkey » Thu Dec 02, 2010 4:28 am

Shake your hands out often, warm them on your neck when you get a chance, climb in the sun whenever possible, and climb efficiently. There is no magic trick to have warm hands when it is below 45, just gotta go into it knowing your hands are gonna get cold. When you are belaying or not climbing do everything you can to keep them warm; you don't want to start out the route already cold.

If you are climbing at the Red River Gorge, avoid Fortress Wall, hardly any routes there get enough sun in the winter unless you do some of the upper ledge routes or Bedtime for Bonzo.
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Re: Need some winter rockclimbing advise

Postby SpiderSavage » Thu Dec 02, 2010 4:39 am

I learned to climb in the winter. Just use gloves when you can and bare hands when you have to. Good leather work gloves as intermediate protection, rappelling, belaying, etc.
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Re: Need some winter rockclimbing advise

Postby drjohnso1182 » Thu Dec 02, 2010 5:59 am

Head south. A sunny January day at T-Wall, for example, can be downright pleasant.

If you stay closer to home, you can throw a hand warmer in your chalk bag, but your hands will be too numb to feel it. Pick sunny days and south-facing crags with longer approaches so that you get the blood moving before you start climbing.
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Re: Need some winter rockclimbing advise

Postby The Chief » Thu Dec 02, 2010 1:45 pm

Get out and train up.... in the cold. Your hands will develop calluses and get accustomed to the cold after a while, trust me.

Spend half my day without gloves at work, it is necessary in order to complete many of my assigned tasks. The days avg 10-25 deg F and that is five days a week.

When I go get on the ice on my days off, it means nothing to take my gloves off on regular basis to do what may need to be done etc.

Try it.


PS: Messner shares in his first book, The Seventh Grade, of putting his hands in cold ass mtn streams that ran next to his house, for 1/2 an hour to an hour at a time prior to heading up to the rock and then climbing. All for cold conditions training and prep for his many winter solo gigs.
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Re: Need some winter rockclimbing advise

Postby CClaude » Thu Dec 02, 2010 2:06 pm

As Chief said, your hands will get used to it, but somew things will make life more enjoyable.

Throw handwarmers (slap and warms) into your chalk bag. Before your fingers start to become wooden, squeeze the slap and warm for a second or two.

If you are cragging or if you are hauling a bag, throw in a warm belay jacket and a thermos of tea or coffee. Starting out warm with circulation to the hands and fingers helps.

If you can put your climbing shoes inside your jacket, the rubber on the sole will warm up a bit. Climbing rubber looses a lot of its smearing ability when its below 36F (I haven't tested to see where its transition temperature but that would be a fun thing to do on my instruments at work).

Find routes that are facing the sun and life will be fairly enjoyable.

No reason that you can't climb quite a bit in the winter. I worked on these routes when it was between 25F and 45F. Image

You will also probably see Matt on Lifeline (5.13b'ish) in the next Alpinist (assuming the editor goes with the image) as we were working to get the second ascent (has yet to go) and when the photo was taken it was snowing out. Also this image of Matt was taken when it was 34F out


so go out and go after it. Note: In the above photo you can see Matt wearing polypro underwear, pants, polypro top, long sleeve top and a hat. Find things that can be layered loosely.
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Re: Need some winter rockclimbing advise

Postby The Chief » Thu Dec 02, 2010 2:13 pm

I need to add that we also go down to the ORG in the dead of winter and early spring to clip bolts as well as early spring rock gigs in the Eastern Sierra. No gloves. All in 30-45 deg temps as CC posts above. We think nothing of it actually.
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Re: Need some winter rockclimbing advise

Postby asmrz » Thu Dec 02, 2010 5:10 pm

For alpine rock climbing in freezing conditions without snow, I use carpenter's gloves found in many hardware stores. They are inexpensive, have ruberized grip on the palm and work very well. For technical rock climbing where snow is encountered, I use insulated (not too heavy) leather gloves. I use waterproofing gel on the outside leather to give it a bit more water resistance. For long alpine climbs I also carry second pair of gloves. This second pair is the best quality alpine gloves I own (BD Guide). I also have a pair of BD mittens, although I have not used those much for climbing in the Sierra. This set up works for me. Miguel Carmona and I climbed the MoonGodess Arete last March with the above set-up and it worked well. There is not one system that works, people use all kinds of combinations to get up the rock. Try your system before you go into the mountains. There are plenty of places locally that get cold and can serve as a testing ground.
Last edited by asmrz on Thu Dec 02, 2010 11:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Need some winter rockclimbing advise

Postby welle » Thu Dec 02, 2010 6:25 pm

+1 everything what CClaude said.

I also usually throw chemical handwarmers in the chalkbag. When cragging, just stick to 1 pitch routes facing sun (get lowered back to the belay parka and thermos, and let the second climb on a TR to clean). Winter is also a great time to climb easy stuff - you can make climbs more challenging say by climbing in boots/approach shoes or only using passive pro. Grunting up off-widths also is a good way to stay warm.

As for alpine gloves, most guides in Tetons climb in cheap hardware variety work gloves (contrary to what Marmot wants you to believe - they make expensive version of "Work" gloves). Depending on temps, you can go either with padded variety or just plain leather ones.
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Re: Need some winter rockclimbing advise

Postby fatdad » Thu Dec 02, 2010 6:26 pm

Although lots of folks rock climb in the winter, lots don't as well (at least where you have real weather). Like most folks have already said, however, you have two options: keep them warm until you're ready to use them or get them used to the cold so you get used to it. Those two approaches [edit: aren't] mutually exclusive though. If you climb when it's cold, your hands will have to adapt.

About twenty years ago, America's most prominent Himalayan climber was (is) a guy named John Roskelley. He made a point of not climbing with gloves whenever he could. He noted that people who habitually wore gloves often got frostbite whereas he and other people who avoided them did not. I've heard stories of folks skiing with snowballs in their hands just to encourage capillary formation in their hands and fingers, just like Messner did with the cold running stream thing. It makes sense. That's how they treat Renault's Disease.
Last edited by fatdad on Thu Dec 02, 2010 8:06 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Need some winter rockclimbing advise

Postby effectsofaltitude » Thu Dec 02, 2010 7:19 pm

I am absolutely astonished by the amount of solid advise, I received on this topic. I was expecting much less, and am glad to have been proven wrong.
My big worry is not the discomfort of cold hands, but that the intimate "feel" of a proper gear placement, would be diminished when my hands start to go numb. It is not like clipping bolts... you really need ALL of your senses to make a solid placement (sound, sight, and especially touch). Also, anyone who has fumbled to set an ice screw (or even zip a zipper for that matter), knows how greatly dexterity is reduced, in cold temps.
I will seriously be looking into the benefits of conditioning my hands for cold temps (the cold stream treatment), and its ability to improve capillary formation.

Thanks to everyone who contributed!
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Re: Need some winter rockclimbing advise

Postby mvs » Thu Dec 02, 2010 8:15 pm

+1, great thread. I'm going to use some of these techniques.
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