25 mistakes NOT to make when Scottish winter climbing

Posted by Sarah Stirling on 16/02/2018
Checking out quick descent routes. Photo: Dr H Wackerhage
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From the serious to the seriously funny, Greg Boswell, Uisdean Hawthorn, Ross Hewitt and other experienced Scottish winter climbers offer their top advice - on what NOT to do.

Planning and logistics

Don’t…

... Book a trip in advance. The conditions will be terrible – guaranteed.
~ Greg Boswell

... Be put off by bad weather – it's always sh*t in Scotland. If you wait for the bluebird day you will never do any climbing.
~ Nik Goile

... Believe a route has a reputation rather than just trying it.
~ Uisdean Hawthorn

... Not check who did the first ascent and then get seriously sandbagged ... mainly by Mick Fowler.
~ Uisdean Hawthorn

... Cut yourself short and pack anything less than a 60m rope.
~ Rebecca Coles

... Think your blunt ice screws will probably be sharp enough.
~ Nik Goile
 


Don't wait for a bluebird day. Simply learn to appreciate the spindrift and whiteouts. Rob Jarvis shows how on Gargoyle Wall. Photo: Nick Carter

Getting on the route

Don't...

... Hang back to let another team break trail, only to realise that they’re going to ‘your’ route.
~ Viv Scott

... Not bother getting out the map, compass and altimeter on the way to the crag in a whiteout. Familiarity with Coire an Lochan once misled us to walk in during zero visibility without navigating – then we realised we had missed the crag.
Ross Hewitt

Don't let a team that says "We are just getting into winter climbing" get on the route before you.
~ Nik Goile

... Climb even if the turf isn't properly frozen - climb something else or come back another day!
~ Viv Scott

READ: how to judge winter climbing conditions

... Put your crampons on before your harness
~ Rob Partridge

... Put your gloves down - they WILL blow away
~ Nik Goile

... Look up when you swing your axe in! Big clump of ice hit my lip and required stitches. Not sure what was more traumatic, the injury or spending five hours in a Glasgow A&E on a Saturday night!
~ Natalie Berry

WATCH: Natalie make the transition from indoor to trad climbing in this Hotaches film: Transition


Go home and put some ice on it, Natalie! Photo: Chris Prescott


Also best avoided. Photo Alex Palmer

While on the route

Don't...

... Get caught out fooling around with your axe on a stance to amuse your partner. It took immense skill and practice to find the sweet spot between helmet and goggles in the image above. Please remember this was achieved by a professional and should not be attempted without expert training.
~ Alex Palmer

... Pass a good belay (or opportunity for a wee – women)
~ Becky Coles

... Put nuts in your mouth in freezing weather.
~Ben Alsford

... Forget that you’re climbing leashless mid-crux and watch gravity do its thing…
~ Viv Scott

... Be the first to have to bash through a cornice.
~ Jonathan Miles

... Underestimate wind speeds at the top of sheltered gullies.
~ Jonathan Miles


"Clive's lost fag is the last of his worries as the Lochnagar cornice lands on our heads! SAIS had a weekend-only pilot of the avalanche forecast in 1990 - I can't imagine we knew much about it at that point pre-internet! The 'climber' / impact zone is Clive Rockcliffe." Photo: Si Cooke

The walk-out

Don't...

... Think you can just walk off the top without needing to navigate – you’re not going to Stanage!
~ Becky Coles

... Confidently declare you “remember the way” as you set off back across the Cairngorm plateau in a whiteout.
~ Viv Scott

... Realise at this stage that you forgot your headtorch and googles.
~ Tom Coulthard

... Drop the key to the CIC hut. Especially if the reason you had the key on you in the first place was because you still accidentally had it from last time you hired the hut...
~ Anon

... Use that little clip in your pack top pocket for car keys when leaving your pack at the bottom of the route, on the presumption that the weather won't change, the easy gully down won't become an avalanche trap, and your partner won't show the early stages of hypothermia while walking the long way down that doesn't go past the packs at the bottom of the route.
~Toby Archer

... On the subject of car keys, mine are somewhere in the Carneddau. If anybody finds them let me know please!
~ Steve Long


It's in! January sales open in Schneachda. Photo: 
Adam Archibald
 

Our quick guide to avoid getting on routes that are out of condition:

DO keep an eye on weather patterns and forecasts on the run up to a winter trip.

DO make sure turf is frozen solid before you climb on it.

DO take care when making tool placements in cracks – some very rare alpine species grow there rather than on ledges, and can be easily damaged or dislodged by the tearing action of tools in marginal conditions.

DO check out the Cwm Idwal Winter Climbing Information Project and the one for the Lake District, which enable you to view live conditions information right here on the BMC website.

DO check the guidebook for more information on the location of rare plants. The North Wales White Guide is available with topos showing areas of particular sensitivity. So is the Lake District White Guide.

DO remember that thin ice streaks and smears can hide arctic alpines. Make sure ice is thick enough to properly take a tool before starting up these types of route.

DO try to be as precise as possible with placements. Make sure your tools are sharp, where possible hook rather than hack with your axes and try to avoid pedalling your feet.

DO be flexible so you don’t have a wasted day in marginal conditions. Banked-out snow gullies, pure ice or non-turfy mixed routes might be possible as an alternative or if conditions are really poor, why not spend a mountaineering day tagging a few summits instead?

DON’T climb a turfy route if your axes rip through turf or come out coated with mud.

DON’T clear out turf-filled cracks: they provide valuable tool placements and can be a haven for arctic alpines.

Watch: Conditions Apply – Winter Ethics

Watch Rob Dyer in action as he climbs a snow gully and explains the importance of minimising winter climbing’s impact on the cliff environment.

WATCH: The BMC Winter Essentials DVD trailer on BMC TV


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