Cold Weather Climbing

By: Ashley R.

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. In this blog, I wanted to share with you some tips and tricks for cold weather climbing. Now… I’m not talking about ice climbing or alpine climbing, rather living in the Midwest with a strong desire to climb outside for as many months out of the year as possible.

The picture you see above is the aftermath of a 14-hour drive to Horseshoe Canyon Ranch in Arkansas. We arrived at 3 am and pitched our tent in the rain to get some rest. Right as 6 o’clock 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. As we kept plugging through the summer, climbers from all over are wished for a slight breeze or cooler temps. 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/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 other precautions. Every morning, I would boil two pots of water with my MSR Pocket Rocket and keep them in thermos bottles for the day. Periodically sipping on these throughout the day warmed my body from the inside-out. Gear and clothing keeps 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 chalk 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 this week, but cold toes were just as bad amongst our group. 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. Like I just mentioned, the rock was freezing cold, especially in the mornings. Just like summer climbing, the rock gets very warm when the sun hits it. So, just like 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 these 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.  Just 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 ton 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 before.