Mountain climbing carries a certain degree of risk in even the warmest months, but this increases significantly in winter. It’s vital to plan ahead and exercise considerable caution on sites posing no obvious danger.
Heavy snowfall, plunging temperatures, and excessive winds can all make mountain climbing a challenge for the most experienced of us. Whether you’re planning on going out there as a pair or in a group, safety is paramount.
Never let yourself be complacent if there are several of you climbing together – everyone has to invest the same degree of preparation and vigilance.
Here are our tips for staying safe while mountain climbing in winter …
Research Avalanche Conditions Ahead of Time
Without doubt, avalanches are one of the most dangerous natural events in winter. Before you set out on your climb, check your local weather station for the latest updates. You should also visit avalanche.org, sponsored by The American Avalanche Association, which is filled with essential information.
You’ll also be able to find detailed information in forums and online communities, so get to know other like-minded climbers.
You may also want to call ahead to your destination’s ranger station, to ask for their advice on avalanche risks and expected conditions throughout the day.
Take the ‘Onion’ Approach
You need to wear several layers in winter. Rather than wearing a padded coat and a thick sweater, layers mean you can peel off should you start to overheat.
Sounds ridiculous? Consider the amount of physical exertion required to climb a mountain, and you’ll see how you can still overheat in chilly conditions. Being able to take a layer or two off will make you more comfortable, without you having to remove something more substantial.
Don’t forget to wear thermals, which wick moisture away from your skin. Carry spare socks and a change of thermals, in case you need to freshen up.
If you’re climbing snowy terrain in bright weather, sunglasses are essential to prevent glare affecting your sight. Snowblindness is a real danger, as is sunburn – pack sun-block in your backpack, even if you think you may not need it.
Choose the Smartest Route
Generally, climbing ridges is safer in winter than tackling faces. The reason? Ridges tend to be free of deep snow, and as they’re windswept the snow is typically safer to cross than powdery surfaces.
Just be careful, though, as cornices form on the side of ridges. If you tread on these without realizing, they may well break under your weight – sending you over the edge.
At a more basic level, choose routes that pose a simpler experience. Trails you may walk in summer without any problems whatsoever are likely to be totally different in winter, with heavy snowfall, rain, and ice. With information from the local weather station and other climbers, you’ll be able to identify the safest trails for your level of experience.
Again, this comes down to investing time into effective research. Simply heading out on a climb on the spur of the moment is easily done, and may seem exciting, but you can’t afford to ignore the dangers posed by winter mountains.
We stock a range of mountaineering gear to help you get the most out of your winter climbs, and have a range of waterproof backpacks to keep your supplies dry (vital in case you fall into snow often or get caught in the rain).
Prepare, pack all the right supplies, wear the best gear you can find, and don’t push yourself into challenges beyond your abilities.
For those of us yet to try climbing, it can seem daunting, dangerous, and flat-out scary.
However, with commitment, training, and the right gear, climbing is actually more accessible than you may imagine. While it might not be the best option for anyone who struggles with heights, climbing is otherwise an exciting, challenging way to see the great outdoors.
Here in the United States, there are plenty of stunning spots perfect for climbing. Red River Gorge, Silver Mountain, and Rifle Mountain Park all offer fantastic ascents in picturesque surroundings, spurring you on with the promise of stunning views at the peak.
As a beginner, you’re sure to have your concerns, and may even be a little nervous. This is understandable, and to help you out, we’ve compiled some invaluable expert tips.
Understand that Everyone Falls Sooner or Later
Without doubt, falling is one of the scariest parts of climbing. You can imagine that sinking feeling in your stomach as you miss a handhold or slip, and the world seeming to spin off its axis.
However, you’ll have a rope to keep you fastened securely. If you fall, your gear will keep you safe – but falling is the perfect way to test it out. After all, how else are you supposed to know all that equipment’s doing exactly what it should?
Once you get used to the feel of falling and trust your equipment, you’ll find you can relax and enjoy climbing even more.
Don’t Think You’ve Failed if You Can’t Reach the Top
When starting out on your climbing career, remember to take it easy on yourself.
You may approach climbing with the mindset that not being able to reach the top makes you a failure, but it doesn’t. At all.
Who’s to stop you coming back and trying again someday as your skills improve? Whoever started something new and instantly conquered every challenge?
Focus on learning with each climb, and put this to good use the next time you try that route again. Knowing your limits is vital. If you try to push yourself too far too soon, you may fall out of love with climbing when you’ve only just started.
Spend Time with a Pro
While it’s all well and good learning to climb with your friends, you should invest in some professional classes.
Indoor climbing centers will usually offer courses or tutorials, helping you to learn the basics, how to use your gear, and identify the best routes up a surface.
As with any activity, searching for a shortcut and failing to prepare as you should can lead to problems along the way.
Never Skimp on Gear
Don’t cut corners to save a few cents here and there.
Investing in the best climbing gear you can afford is essential. If you buy a worn rope or a pair of ancient, ripped boots to be thrifty, you may well be risking your safety.
Speak with experienced climbers and pick their brains for recommendations. At Adamant Gear, we stock a variety of climbing pro mountain gear – feel free to get in touch if you have questions. We’re always happy to help.