Sending in Cold Temperatures
In „Masters of Stone III” Ron Kauk kneels down and presses his fingers against a cold rock before getting on Thriller in Camp 4. I have to lower their temperature, so they can grip better – he said. Since than more and more climbers came out and state the advantages of climbing in lower temperatures, against the popular belief that when the thermometer shows less than 10 degrees Celsius it is time to hit the gym.
Even Tommy Caldwell in his ‘early stages’ lead most of his projects in near or even slightly below freezing temperatures. One of the examples of his ‘cold ascents’ was Vogue 5.14b (8c) on Industrial Wall (Boulder area, Colorado) in 1999. So is one of the best American climbers a masochist, or perhaps he just knows how to take advantage of low temperatures?
Hopefully this article will convince you that the latter is true and show you that indeed you can still enjoy climbing when 99% of climbers think it is pointless to go out.
The purpose of this guide is not to show you how to survive the cold cragging days, but to show you the advantages of climbing in low temperatures.
– Rubber on your climbing shoes performs at its best in low temperatures. Legendary Five Ten Stealth C4 rubber is designed for its optimal performance at -4o to +1oC.
– Lower temperatures boost not only friction of our shoes, but also of our hands and fingers (as mentioned by Ron Kauk).
– Lower temperatures also help our skin ‘last’ longer on sharp rock.
CLOTHING, GEAR, GADGETS
The main goal here is to keep your body heat up and circulation going, especially to the peripheral body parts (hands, toes), which for the most part are the only parts of your body with direct contact to cold rock. Tight shoes, gripping and crimping also tends to limit the circulation and can lead to diminished feeling, which can lead to failure on our project.
- forget about cotton and buy yourself some breathable layers. Cheap or expensive, just make sure it can move moisture away from your body and dry fast;
- the shirtless cool dude look is overrated, just wear long pants and long sleeve shirt. A thin down or Primaloft vest or jacket will keep you warm in between climbing;
- don’t forget the warm beanie;
- some people like to wear leggins or wristies (gloves without fingers). They help to keep your legs and hands warm therefore improving the circulation, but they can indeed impair the ability to grab and feel big holds;
Gear and gadgets:
- termos with warm tea, coffee or even soup will help you put some heat back into your body in between climbing. Green tea works best, keeps you hydrated and provides rich antioxidants to boots recovery of your muscles;
- stove: you can bring a mini stove for longer days and enjoy not only the heat that it gives out, but also warm drinks and meals. You can even warm up your climbing shoes;
- handwarmers: popular for skiing and ice climbing, but can also work great for ‘colder’ rock climbing. Pouches are small, take no space in your backpack and you can just ‘fire’ them whenever you need to warm up your hands or feet. You can put them into chalk bag to be able to use it during climbing (in a resting position). Or you can easily keep them in your or pocket and hold on to them in between climbs to get the feeling back in your hands;
- yoga matt or tarp: bring a small tarp, thermarest or half of the yoga matt with you to the crag. It will keep you more comfortable and it will prevent major heat lose if you use it to change shoes and to sit on during breaks.
- Warm up is essential to your success, keeping your body warm and preventing an injury. If the crag is really close to the gym or your house, it might be worth warming up indoor before your drive.
- In addition to warming up at the beginning of your day try to do a quick warm up before each route to get the blood flowing properly.
- Try to warm up your climbing shoes, you can try keeping them inside your jacket in between climbs.
- If you start loosing the feeling in your hands try to warm them up on your neck. When you are on the ground arm pits also provide a nice warm place.
- Natural products like jin-seng, garlic, ginger or magnesium improve circulation. If you plan on climbing though the ‘cold’ season it might be worth adding them to your regular diet. Single dose of either one will probably not provide noticeable effects.
- Be aware of the fact that in low temperatures you are more likely to loose feeling in your fingers, therefore it would be best to choose routes/terrain that offers climbing a bit easier on your fingers (you might want to stay away from single finger pockets, etc...)
- Taping limits the circulation, especially in fingers. Unless you are recovering from an injury try not to tape in cold temps.
Many people are sceptical about cragging in cold weather. How is it that even though you are never comfortable and cannot feel your feet or hands it helps you send harder? Feelings might be mixed, but there are many testimonials of well knows climbers that swear by the magic of cold temperatures. So before you knock it-try it! If it is not for you, maybe you can use a hint or two from this article for your alpine adventures.
Tommy Caldwell, Cold-weather redpointing, „Rock&Ice”, 1999, no 90, p. 36.
Dave Pegg, Cold war – the secrets of outdoor winter rock climbing, „Climbing”, 2000, no 201, p. 104.