Summer climbing: how to deal with the wet

Posted by Peter Burnside on 15/06/2016
Remember that time it rained so much that the Malham Cove waterfall reappeared? Photo: Shutterstock / Drew Rawcliffe

It’s Britain, it’s summer, and it’s wet. Why am I not surprised? But, as I’ve discovered from many years of being rained on in the UK, all is not lost! There are ways to circumvent the weather when you want to go climbing.

Yes, we get rained on a lot in the UK and we have to just deal with it; especially as holidays abroad are now looking a lot more expensive since Brexit. So what can we do?

Go for an adventure

Too many times I’ve been excited about a trip to North Wales, only to get rained on. I know Wales is usually an exception to the rest of the UK, but if you’ve made the journey there you’ve just got to put up with it.

Instead of spending the day in Pete’s Eats (which I have happily done many times before) why not go on an adventure? Explore the lost realm of the slate quarries, which are spectacular in the dry or the wet, and challenge yourself to find and explore the Snakes and Ladders (and Tunnels) adventure route.

WATCH: London to the Lost World on BMC TV

Wet climbing

If you’re of the ilk that enjoys type two fun (the type that doesn’t really feel all that fun at the time) then perhaps wet climbing is your answer to rain. Just make sure you don’t climb on rock that erodes more easily in the wet – such as some types of sandstone or gritstone.

One way to help prevent erosion is to thoroughly clean your boots before stepping onto the rock. Dirt, mud, and grit more readily stick to wet boots and transfer onto the rock, which speeds up erosion when people press it into the rock with their feet.

Rob Dyer, BMC access and conservation officer, says: "Climbing in the wet can sometimes be a necessity in the UK if you're in need of an urgent rock fix. But beyond the fact that wet rock is usually significantly harder to climb than when dry, it’s also worth bearing a few other things in mind to make sure you don’t damage the rock.

"Sandstone or gritstone (and to some extent limestone) is porous and can become weakened if wet; these should be avoided until they have had a chance to dry. Climbing on wet porous rock can lead to holds being damaged or broken, and protection also has the potential to cause damage in placement, removal or if fallen on.

"There are plenty of non-porous rock types whose strength will not be affected by being wet – volcanic and igneous rock in particular, such as mountain rock or granite. Finally, if it’s wet you’re more likely to have dirty footwear so make an extra effort to clean the soles of your shoes to prevent unnecessary wear to holds."

WATCH: How to: look after southern sandstone on BMC TV

Where to go?

Perhaps try Raven Crag Gully (VD) in the Lake District. Most often climbed in winter as an ice climb, this route climbs rock on the right of a waterfall, meaning it’s nearly always wet – so a bit of rain won’t be a bother.

Not up for a slime-fest? Then how about the three-star route The Black Streak (E1 5c) on the main cliff of Diabaig in the Highlands of Scotland? With superb climbing on immaculate gneiss rock, and at only one grade harder in the wet, if you’re in the area then it’d be rude not to!

That might be a bit far away for most, so if you’re looking for something a bit more midlands then look no further than Peak limestone. Packed full of hard, steep routes, there are loads of potentially dry climbs to go at throughout the Peak. Being as this is an article about wet summer climbs, hopefully the weather hasn’t been so spectacularly bad that seepage is still occurring – but you never know, this is the UK after all!

Elsewhere in the UK there are likely loads of crags that stay dry in the rain, or that dry swiftly, such as Shorn Cliff in the Wye Valley or Chee Tor in the Peak. If you know of any others, then tell us in the comments, you can never have too many!

Other options include Idwal Slabs, where most of the lichen has been worn off by the passage of millions of climbers, making the climbs a lot grippier than most, New Mills Tor which has a buttress that is sheltered under a bridge, go to Tremadog as it’s always sunny there, or find any big and mean looking chimney that will likely have been dark, wet and dank anyway (I'm thinking of Lockwood's Chimney in North Wales).

WATCH: Tremfest 2016: the crag revival festival on BMC TV

Rob Dyer recounts one of his wettest experiences: "Living in the UK with our world-renowned weather, sometimes your only option is to get your waterproofs on, embrace a canyoneer's mindset for wetness, and with your best British stiff upper lip get stuck into some easy routes in the rain. The alternative is to go slowly mad with cabin fever whilst watching the summer slip away.

"I remember a particular outing on a uni climbing club trip to North Wales where it had been pouring with rain for weeks on end, but I was determined to get out and do something. Picking one of the classic VDiffs on Idwal Slabs wasn’t my brightest idea as the route had turned into a waterfall. As I fumbled for holds with my hands above my head, the torrent poured through the cuffs of my waterproof jacket, down my arms and completely soaked me. Great fun though and a memory I’ll never forget, laughing our way up and wondering how we could be so stupid to think waterproofs would keep us dry."

Go for a walk

Not my personal choice, but one that many will turn to in times of rain, there are countless walks that can be undertaken in even the most apocalyptic of conditions. Our hill walking officer, Carey Davies, is on hand to tell you how.

READ: 50 shades of grim: how to go hill walking in rubbish weather

Go indoors

Failing everything else, the world of plywood walls and resin holds can offer a decent enough alternative than a day out on the rock. Think of it as training for when the summer finally arrives.

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