Updated: Mar 27
The Scottish winter is known for being one of the toughest environments for winter alpine climbing. Climbers from all over the world come to Scotland to hone their skills. With long walk-ins and constantly changing unpredictable weather and a variety of climbs it becomes a winter paradise. If you can climb and perform well here, you can do it anywhere.
My personal advice and tips to help you better prepare for this style of climbing.
General aerobic fitness - Pretty much all crags in Scotland have a long uphill walk-in and, by long, I mean at least a couple of hours. Depending on what time you set out and the snow fall the night before, you could well be breaking trail through deep snow. Now let's add in the extra weight from the bag you will be carrying, my best guess would be 7-10 kg by the time you’ve packed your climbing rack, ropes, crampons, axes and everything else.
The best way to prepare for this is to get out running and do long walks over hilly terrain. It will condition your legs and lungs making your life so much easier.
Planning - Reading weather reports and avalanche systems are critical! Having this knowledge and information can prevent you from putting your life at risk. Remember throughout the day the weather can change so they are not always set in stone. Be aware of what is going on around you. Make yourself familiar with the links below.
https://www.mwis.org.uk - Weather
https://www.sais.gov.uk - Avalanche information
Map reading is another skill. The walking distance to crags, being able to spot features so you know your bearings and finally, route reading as you climb. These skills are perfected with experiences. Do the research the night before and run through it with your climbing partner so you are both happy with the weather, avalanche risk and how to get to and from your climb safely.
Gloves - If your hands dont work, you literally can't do anything and its game over. I've made this mistake before and you become a liability to yourself and the people you are with, and not to mention the hot aches, PAINFUL! Invest in good waterproof gloves and make sure you have a minimum of four pairs.
I have a rotation system. Beginning of the day I stuff a pair down my top. I use one pair for the walk-in to the climb and the other pairs go in my bag. When I reach the crag and rig up I will swap gloves. The warm toasty gloves from under my tops go on, wet and cold ones in the bag and then pull out a new pair and stuff them back down my top, and I keep this pattern going throughout the day.
Trad, Scrambles and ridges - Before you step into the alpine climbing world you will have some climbing experiences but Ive found the best way to prepare myself for the rope work and general moving on the face is scrambles, ridges and a full summer of trad before the seasons change. Being confident with your gear placement will keep you relaxed while minimising risks. Scrambles and ridges are the closest resemblance to how you will move on the rock in winter mountaineering. Get comfortable with this style of climbing, become efficient with rope work and problem solving that comes with scramble routes. If UK base Snowdonia, Wales has some amazing scrambles, a few mention below.
Cyfrwy Arête – Grade 2 or 3
Snowdon Horseshoe – Grade 1
Idwal Staircase and Continuation – Grade 2+
Professional guide - There are many world class guides that can introduce you to the sport. For safety and gaining knowledge I would highly recommend one if you are new to the winter alpine. Both guys below I have used before and would highly recommend to anyone.
https://www.climbpembroke.com - Henry Castle
http://davetalbot.net - Dave Talbot
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