First proper winter climbs this year?

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 Harrie 21 Jul 2020


I’m looking at making this season in Scotland my first proper winter climbing season. I’ve been up in winter for a couple of years either Munro bagging or doing some mid-grade scrambling. I climb trad at about HS/VS and do this often, so happy with that side of things from a technical point of view. 

I just wondered if there’s anything I should be doing to properly prep myself? I’ll likely be going up with friends who have only done one or two seasons themselves, so they’re not mega experienced either. Is it worth doing a proper intro to winter climbing course in my situation, or should I get stuck in to some low grade mixed climbs? Anything else I can do to prepare myself?

Its worth mentioning that I do have a fair amount of winter mountaineering experience so I’m happy with that side too. 

Thanks in advance! 

 ena sharples 21 Jul 2020
In reply to Harrie:

If you plan on anything remotely technical climbing wise the best advice I could give would be to take a  course in winter mountaineering-steep hills covered in snow/ice are not the place to be winging it and learning the ropes (sic) from a pro will be about the best money you will ever spend.

 carr0t 22 Jul 2020
In reply to Harrie:

You should really do a winter skills course if you haven't already. The skills are super important when you winter climb, particularly when approaching routes and assessing conditions.

 DaveHK 22 Jul 2020
In reply to Harrie:

I'll buck the trend here...

A course isn't essential, doing one can save you time and give you confidence but building skills yourself/with friends can be incredibly rewarding.

Whether you choose to do a course depends on your confidence in your own current skills and ability to build them safely yourself. Sounds like you already have a decent knowledge base but only you can make that call.

If you choose to go down the independent route get reading. Particularly weather/avalanche awareness/decision making stuff. There are lots of online resources for this. Make sure your buddies are doing the same and proceed with caution, gradual steps up from the winter walking/scrambling you are already familiar with.

Edit: something else to think about if you're going down the self taught route is to commit days or parts of days to practicing stuff/skill development rather than trying to do it 'on route' as it were.

Post edited at 08:36
 biggianthead 22 Jul 2020
In reply to Harrie:

Looking at your logbook it seems like you've only climbed single pitch crags. I suggest that you climb big multi-pitch rock mountain routes (in all weather conditions) to get the hang of looking for belays, route finding, finding descent routes etc. Then when the snow and ice arrive just go for it. Start at low grades , shortish climbs, where escape is feasible. And enjoy yourself.

 ianstevens 22 Jul 2020
In reply to biggianthead:

To add to this, I'd suggest seconding a few HS/VS is not "climbing trad at HS/VS". The OP has had literally 3 days outdoor climbing (based on their logbook), and one Severe lead. All three days are on pretty major crags with obvious gear placements, nothing like the digging and hunting winter requires. I'm in agreement that some good value can be gained from doing some multi pitch first and foremost, then some mutlipitch up the hills somewhere remote-ish (with the caveat that outside of the Highlands there is nothing really remote). 

To the OP: none of this stops you going winter climbing, but you will find it hard work teaching yourself - I'd suggest going on course; if you're under 25 have a look at the Jonathan Conville Memorial Trust for a good and subsidised one. No dates released for 2021 yet though. 

In reply to Harrie:

In common with the other posters I'd say there are a few skills you need to look at: 

Walking in winter: using your boot, crampons and axe so you don't slip or fall over on the approach/descent. I know a pair of really strong lads who climbed the Message (IV,6) as their first route. They got up it successfully but on the descent both slipped and sustained lower leg injuries.

Navigation in winter: so you don't get lost on the approach or descent. You also need to know where you are to help avoid the next problem...

Avalanche avoidance: they do happen in Scotland and they do kill. If doing study in advance make it UK/Scotland specific where you can. Whilst many principals are common the Scottish avalanche problem is not precisely the same as the N American/Alpine one. Start with, do further reading and then go back to the SAIS website to put it in context.

And all that is before and after the actual climbing!

As others have pointed out there are plenty of ways to learn: learn for yourself with support from books and (careful-it can be hard to know the quality and relevance) youtube. Learn with more experienced partners (from a club or individuals). Learn on a course (declaration of interest- I'm a Winter Climbing and Mountaineering Instructor). All have pros and cons. Personally I believe that a combination of these works well, the exact balance will depend on the time and money you have available and the access to people to get out with.

Enjoy! (and if you want instruction feel free to PM me ;-) )

 Michael Gordon 22 Jul 2020
In reply to Harrie:

Do more multi-pitch rock if that's lacking. Either do a winter skills course or read up a lot on avalanche awareness (or do both). Getting guided on actual routes is less necessary - just start low and build up gradually. The first few years of doing routes with equal partners under your own steam are often some of the most memorable when you look back later, and not to be missed IMO. Hopefully having done a "fair amount" of winter walking, you'll be already able to ice axe brake and have good hill fitness. 

In reply to Harrie:

Harrie- I think people will be able to give more specific advice if you clarify what you mean by ‘a fair amount of winter mountaineering experience’, and having done ‘some mid grade scrambling’ in winter. Your logbook as others have pointed out only lists a few single pitch gritstone routes, but I appreciate that it may not reflect what you’ve actually done. Mid grade winter scrambling in Scotland would mean to me things like Ledge Route, Liathach traverse, Forcan Ridge- is that what you mean? If so then not sure I can advise, as thats more than I’ve done!  But I’m sure others can help. If not- updating your logbook or specifying what the mountaineering experience means will get you more relevant advice

Post edited at 20:47

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