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Scottish winter ice climbing for a semi beginner?

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 Sanfairyanne 19 May 2020

This winter I would like to go somewhere where I can gain some winter ice climbing experience. I'm from the UK, so it would be easier (and I assume cheaper)to go to Scotland.  Unfortunately, I don't know anyone in the UK that climbs, so I wonder if I was to head up there would I stand a chance of meeting any like minded winter climbers who I may be able to get out and master some techniques. I'm a 48 year old guy, I'm in peak shape, so it's rare that I would slow anyone down on an approach. I know obviously a lot depends on C-19, I'm thinking that by winter time there will be less restrictions.  I would describe myself as 'time rich, cash poor' so it ideally I would like to base myself in one area for perhaps as long as a month. I had thought of making a start with going to the indoor ice climbing wall at Kinlochleven and trying to meet people there. Any suggestions would be hugely appreciated, perhaps some would suggest I head to Chamonix? I will gladly explain my experience in more detail should anyone like to message me.
Many thanks in advance.

In reply to Sanfairyanne:

Try the Scottish Winter Climbing Partners FB page.

Don’t go to Cham in winter if you’ve never climbed in winter. A lot more to think about there. Unless you want to go skiing. Scotland would be a lot cheaper as well.

 tjdodd 19 May 2020
In reply to Sanfairyanne:

Firstly, have you done any general winter walking/mountaineering?  Have you used crampons and ice axe at all?  Even for just walking?  If not then that is the first thing to get used to.  Getting the basics right and moving safely and confidently on even moderate ground is really important.  For this I recommend doing an introductory winter mountaineering course.  It may not be cheap but will be invaluable.

I think it is next worth thinking about whether you want to go water ice climbing or winter climbing (mixed, ice, neve etc)?  Your answer may dictate where will be best to locate yourself.  The UK weather and winter conditions are obviously very fickle and even for a month you could end up with little or no winter climbing.  You will certainly need to be flexible with the type of climbing you do and water ice will be the most fickle.

I will give my perspective from someone who is time poor and cash not so poor.  May not be what advice you need but hopefully a useful perspective.  I went from general winter mountaineering (including courses and overseas mountaineering) to soloing some low grade gullies to wanting to do some water ice climbing.  For me I decided the best approach to maximise the chance of good conditions was to go to Cogne and it was guided to get instruction.  The other client had winter climbed in Scotland on and off over the years and said that he did more ice climbing in 5 days in Cogne that all the time in Scotland.  I have since water ice climbed in a number of overseas locations and always had really good conditions.  I've had a few weeks in the UK but also had winters when I have not managed anything (like the winter just gone).

So I think overseas will be more guaranteed but will most likely cost more.  However, on the basis of cost per climbing it is probably better value for money going overseas?

Apologies if any of that is assuming you have less experience that you have.

 Sanfairyanne 20 May 2020
In reply to Misha:

Thanks I will look straight into the Scottish Winter Climbing Partners FB page, great idea.

P.S. Yes I have winter climbing experience. 

 Sanfairyanne 20 May 2020
In reply to tjdodd:

Thanks tjdodd, this is precisely the advice I need. I am nearly 50 so, while I describe myself as time rich and cash poor I still can't hang around year after year going to Scotland if the conditions are less than perfect. I'm looking primarily at mixed climbing. My goals are to climb mountains rather than frozen waterfalls. I do have quite a lot of winter hiking experience and I have climbed some relatively serious mountains in Argentina, my first climb ever was the Amy route on Cerro Guillaumet in winter. I have also done a mountaineering course with crevasse rescue in Cham'. I will look further into Cogne. 
Many thanks.

 tjdodd 20 May 2020
In reply to Sanfairyanne:

Cogne is mainly smallish icefalls (although some bigger ones as well).  For a combination of ice and mixed climbing and somewhere cheapish look at Slovenia.

 Andy Hardy 20 May 2020
In reply to Sanfairyanne:

Where are you based? If you're in London then it's as easy to get to the alps as Scotland (putting aside environmental concerns for the minute)

 dunnyg 20 May 2020
In reply to tjdodd:

I can recommend Canada (Canmore etc.). Loads of ice. You can meet up with partners out there (or hire a guide), or best bet is to find someone like minded to go with so you don't waste time sorting out partners once you are out there.

 Exile 20 May 2020
In reply to Sanfairyanne:

I am also 48 but have winter climbed in Britain each year since I was 18.  I say this to illustrate why I am happy to not do what I am about to suggest. 

Given you've got twelve winters, that will be of variable quality, before you are 60, (not that being 60 necessitates you stop winter climbing, but you can see what I mean,) I would put some thought into seeing if you could make some sacrifices to do some courses.  This would fast track your skill level so you can get to the level where you can be self sufficient at a reasonable standard a lot more quickly.  I really enjoyed the experience of learning in a progressive manner, making mistakes, having epics, close shaves and adventures etc. with friends, but it did take a lot, (in my case!) of time. 

Post edited at 15:03
 MisterPiggy 20 May 2020
In reply to Sanfairyanne:

I'm in a similar position: restarting climbing in mid-50s with broader ambitions, dwindling physical capacity but very keen nonetheless. I'd second Exile's advice, cos that's what I'm doing: build up my fitness, study (books, web, video etc etc) and take a course. With few seasons left when I can match ambition with capability, I figure a course and maybe an outing with a guide will save me a ton of time compared learning things the hard way. I'll also join a climbing club.

I'm similarly cash-poor but am finding decent, quality gear on 'that' auction site and here, on UKC's 'for sale' page.

Wishing you best with your rekindled passion!


In reply to Sanfairyanne:

Your original post asked about winter ice climbing. Scotland can be great for that around mid Feb to mid March but it can be fickle. If you want more reliable ice (specifically, water ice), you might want to check out places like Cogne and Rjukan (great venues but very busy on the easier routes and Cogne can be avalanche prone as well). Plenty of other spots in the Alps as well - have a look at Mario Sertori's Alpine Ice guide book.

But if you're actually more interested in mixed climbing, Scotland is the place to go. Mid Jan to early March would generally be best. Again, often fickle but the good thing about mixed is it can come into condition overnight (might not be very nice to climb but at least there would be something to do) There's mixed in places like Slovenia and the Polish and Slovak Tatras but there's less information about it, the routes are generally longer and you're less likely to find partners. 

Booking a course is sensible if your technical skills could do with improving, unless you can find a suitably experienced partner who is willing to teach you stuff. By technical skills I mean the whole range of winter climbing skills - ropework / belays, placing gear in winter (quite different to summer rock climbing), using axes and crampons on technical ground and generally getting around and operating in a winter environment.

So it depends how much you already know and whether you meet the right kind of people to get out with. Good luck!

 Billhook 21 May 2020
In reply to Sanfairyanne:

I would have thought the chances of going to Scotland with a view to winter climbing and meeting up with someone in a similiar situation was rather small.  There's also an issue about whether someone would want to team up with someone they know nothing about and maybe wouldn't like to trust them as a climbing partner.   

I'd join a local climbing club, many of which have a winter trip to Scotland and you'll have a good chance of finding a partner.

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