Cold Comfort

Coming back from Thailand, everything feels extra cold. I usually start shivering when the mercury drops very low, but I think any cold-tolerance I had was destroyed by 5 weeks of tropical temps. So what's a climber to do? On Monday I took my wife out ice climbing, which is conveniently available 10 miles from our house, and 40' from the road. As in this case, there's often an inverse relationship between commitment and comfort.


Wednesday I met up with my partner-in-training Scott Bennett, for 10 pitches of barely-warm-enough rock in Eldorado Canyon. Always a humbling place to climb, high-friction weather was ideal for some of the routes we did, including Suparete and Rosy Crucifixion.

Here's Scott sussing out the very suspect gear of Mickey Mouse Die-Rect.

Throughout the day things got colder and colder, with more clouds moving in to obscure the sun. I think it's fair to add a letter grade to the crux of any pitch in which your tips were too numb to feel the holds, and you had to visually confirm that your hands were in the right spots.

Yesterday I completed a local rite-of-passage by climbing the First (northern) Flatiron, accompanied by another Ex-Washingtonian, Jesse Huey. The Flatirons are a series of several sedimentary spires, with long, slabby east faces and steeper, but smaller, west sides. The direct east face on the third flatiron is reported to be over 1,000' of climbing, but that might be from the trailhead. It's also been done in 14 minutes! Jesse joined me on a spur-of-the-moment decision, and having someone to chat with on the route made the climb a lot more fun.

Going from snow to stone, just like stepping over the glacial moat...

Jesse tries not to lose his head on the slabs

Watching Jesse slide helplessly, luge-style, down the icy trail made the descent a lot more fun as well.
On the theme of cold-weather rock climbing (and some of these apply to ice cragging as well), I got ambitious and wrote a few tips and tricks that I find helpful to managing the cold. But ultimately, the smartest thing might be to practice your simulclimbing or soloing, and just stay moving to keep warm.

Tricks for Cold Climbing
  • Shoes go in the jacket between leads, so you don't have to put on damp and cold shoes.
  • Strap 'hot hands' packets to to your wrists, but not too tightly. We have a lot of blood flowing just under our skin on the wrists. the idea is to warm it without cutting off circulation. Jackets with velcro wrist-cuffs will help as well.
  • Fill your water bottle with warm water or tea in the morning. Hot Gator-ade is also better than you might think.
  • Thermos of Hot Water + thermos lid + Instant Oatmeal packet (Brown sugar flavor) = warm, sweet, hydrating snack
  • Put your energy bar in warm spot (inner jacket pocket) for 10 minutes before chomping down. Chipped teeth (and scary dental bills) make frozen Snickers the real crux of the day.
  • If you don't have a thermos or water-bottle cozy, a wool sock around the bottle will keep your nalgene warm for hours.
  • After sipping from your camelback hose, blow all the water back into the main reservoir at the end of each drink. Water in the hose freezes much sooner than in the bladder inside your pack.
  • With winter winds and extra layers over your ears, hearing commands is especially hard. Learn to communicate belay commands with a simple set of rope tugs.

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