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Climbing in the Cold

One of the greatest feelings in my world is to be out at the crag for an entire day of climbing. The nerves of that first climb, the uncertainty of a new place, and the pure joy of sharing those experiences with others are all reasons why I enjoy climbing so much. I want to share with you some tips and tricks for cold weather climbing.

Now, I’m not talking about ice climbing or alpine climbing, but rather living in the Midwest with a strong desire to climb outside for as many months out of the year as possible.

After a 14-hour drive to Horseshoe Canyon Ranch (HCR) in Arkansas, we arrived at 3 am and pitched our tent in the rain to get some rest. As 6 am rolled around, we decided to get an early start on climbing. This clearly wasn’t the plan that mother nature had in mind for us.

Throughout the summer months, climbers from all over are wishing for a slight breeze or cooler temps. Once we start hitting 60-degree days, the climbing could not be better. But, of course, as the temperatures drop, they continue to drop in most areas of the country.

After spending a week in HCR with 15-degree mornings and 35-degree highs, I’d like to share with you how I was able to climb every single day and still have a blast. I want to highlight tips and tricks that go beyond the specific clothing and gear that you may need for a day or week of cold climbing, because most cold weather hiking gear that you can find at Appalachian Outfitters will do you just fine out at the crag.

Most importantly I was able to climb through this week because of a few precautions. Every morning I would boil two pots of water with my pocket camp stove and keep them in thermos bottles for the day. Periodically sipping on these warmed my body from the inside out. Gear and clothing keep you warm from the outside in, but if you can warm yourself with multiple different methods, you will have better success.

Another way I stayed warm at the crag was by using handwarmers. The rock was brittle and frozen to the touch which made it very difficult to feel anything during most climbs. I was able to keep going by putting one hand warmer in my bag, and another in a pocket. Taking a minute to warm up those fingers made a huge difference in whether I completed a climb or not.

Not only were cold fingers a common problem throughout the week, but cold toes were just as bad. While I was on the wall, I always made sure to have warmers inside of my hiking shoes waiting for me at the bottom. This made for comfortable belaying and bearable single pitch climbs.

Speaking of climbing lengths, we tried to keep our climbs below 60 feet. While you’re back at camp searching through your guidebook for your next ascents, it’s important to also consider the heights of your climbs. Possibly shorter and steeper routes is something you might try, instead of those long slabby climbs.

As I mentioned, the rock was freezing cold, especially in the mornings. Just like summer climbing, the rock gets very warm when the sun hits it. While the rock gets almost too hot to touch on those steaming summer days, it also warms quicker in the winter. Finding a crag with morning sun (or any sun at all) made for much more enjoyable climbs.

There were times throughout this cold and difficult week where I found myself at the bottom of a seemingly impossible climb. It was so important during those moments to remind myself of the strength and skills I know I have worked toward, and that the possibility of failure is nothing to walk away from.

Keep in mind you most likely won’t be breaking into new grades while climbing in temperatures below 30, but you can still push yourself and have a whole lot of fun. Using these simple tips to stay warm in the winter can keep you climbing more months out of the year than you ever have

Climbing in the Cold

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