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Winter Climbing Grades and Soloing

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Winter Climbing Grades and Soloing

Postby apethought » Fri Sep 17, 2010 8:00 pm

Hello,
This January, I'm planning a five day solo trip to Scotland and I'm having trouble deciding what climbs will be safe for me to do alone. I just start climbing at a gym (still doing V1s) and want to get out for some rock trips this fall, but am not sure that will happen. I'm climbing at the gym three to four days a week and before I leave for Scotland I'll take a Intro to Winter Climbing course through EMS so I have some experience with crampons, doing self arrests, etc.

Now, I'm not a total idiot here, and I have no fantasies of scaling ice walls or tackling V,6 ascents, but I'm also in good shape, have experience hiking and scrambling, and would like to challenge myself. I'm just not sure if I need to stick with all grade I climbs or if it's reasonable to believe I could do a Grade III alone. I've read descriptions of what the grades mean, and seen photos of representative climbs, but with no first hand experience it's hard for me to judge.

Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.
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Postby bird » Fri Sep 17, 2010 8:12 pm

Start with the easiest one and move up from there until you have sphincter issues.
:D
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Postby nartreb » Fri Sep 17, 2010 8:14 pm

Missing information: what's your experience being outdoors in the winter? (And I mean Adirondacks winter, not New York City winter.)
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Postby apethought » Fri Sep 17, 2010 8:31 pm

I used to live in New Hampshire so I have experience hiking in the winter, but not overnighting. I'll be camping through December, but only locally so the conditions won't be too difficult.
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Postby asmrz » Fri Sep 17, 2010 10:53 pm

Last January was our first ever trip to Scottish Highlands. We have about 40 years of experience, but still, we started with Scottish Winter grade I (solo), then II (solo) and found that at times, we wanted to have a rope with us and even use it on at least a part of Scottish Winter Grade III. So listen to BIRD above, start at the lowest grade, it will quickly show you how the difficulties there compare to US winter alpine grades.
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Postby Lolli » Sat Sep 18, 2010 1:21 pm

Not wanting to be discouraging or so, the Scottish hills are nice and rounded, beautiful to hike and climb in
but the winter weather is a force to be recognised
a local partner maybe? Try to the European board, the Scot's team thread?

Scotland in winter, well, it might be mild, but it might also kill you
it can be a gorgeous adventure
or not
so get all the advice you can get, from the locals at least
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Postby JackCarr » Sat Sep 18, 2010 4:30 pm

Don't solo grade III's. They will contain a few stretches of vertical or near vertical snow or ice, you wouldn't want to take a fall on a III trust me.

I've soloed a few grade II's and obviously I's are pretty safe. What area of Scotland are you heading to? You might get some recommendations of routes if we know where you're going.

Also, how flexible with dates are you? In my experience, late Feb/early March is the best time to go to Scotland. Still fantastic snow conditions, but more daylight and slightly more reliable weather than January.
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Postby apethought » Sun Sep 19, 2010 4:42 pm

Hi. You guys are awesome. This feedback is exactly what I needed. I'll check out the possibility of finding a partner in Scotland but I'm also interested in getting out alone so maybe I'll just stick to grade I routes. I'd like to be more flexible with my trip schedule, but I'm tacking this on to the end of a business trip to London, so I'm pretty stuck. I'll pick a few locations, though, and finalize my trip plans a week or so prior to leaving based on where the conditions are mildest. Thanks again.
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Postby nattfodd » Sun Sep 19, 2010 4:55 pm

As the others said, definitely don't solo grade III, especially if you have little winter climbing experience. Also be very careful about conditions - grade I with unstable snow is an avalanch death trap (cf Buachaille Etive Mor last winter), and the wrong conditions can make a II feel like a IV.
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Postby apethought » Mon Sep 20, 2010 12:32 am

Follow up question: If I'm sticking to Grade I and II, do I need to wear a helmet or is the risk of falling debris on such routes too low to warrant that? Thanks again.
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Postby JackCarr » Mon Sep 20, 2010 12:13 pm

Depends what route you're doing really. If you're doing a ridge traverse, you probably won't need one but I'd take one anyway. If you get onto grade II snow or ice climbing then yes definitely.

As mentioned before, make sure you know as much as you can about snow conditions. Avalanches are very common in Scotland and kill and injure plenty every year. Windslab avalanches are especially common so make sure you know what you're looking for in snow conditions. If you plan on doing a course, make sure you ask the guides about snow analysis especially.

For the few weeks before you go make sure to check the Scottish Avalanche Information Service (www.sais.gov.uk) which is updated daily with snow conditions and avalanche possibility. It's made up of a slightly odd circular graph showing conditions on the compass points, but once you know how to read it it's vey simple and makes a lot of sense. I think that's done from about November till April so your trip is covered.

Scotland is an amazing place, and without a doubt the best winter climbing in the UK. There are endless possibilities on plenty of routes at every grade, and plenty of climbers have spent a lifetime there and could still not experience all it has to offer. However it is notoriously fickle! The weather can be nothing short of atrocious and that alone can notch up the route a grade or two.
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