Cold Comfort and Ultralight Rappels

Make full-length rappels with a chopped and re-tied rope. And stay warm enough to rig up all those rappels without your fingers going numb. Or just forget climbing altogether and perfect the beer stash.

  • Shoes in jacket between pitches or burns on your project
  • hot hands on wrists, lightly taped in place
  • hot water bottle in the jacket with shoes
  • 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) mean avoid frozen snickers.
  • Three Musketeers bars are the least freezble candy bar
  • Don't own a thermos or water-bottle cozy? A wool sock around the bottle will keep your nalgene warm (or at least ice free) for hours.
  • Tired of your Camelback hose freezing solid? 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. Use gatorade, which doesn't freeze as easily
  • Use a chemical hand-warmer plus rubber band to keep batteries (cell phone, camera) functional
  • Balaclava, knit caps, and something covering the back of your neck is essential. With all this stuff over your ears, learn to communicate belay commands through the rope.
  • Warm your hands mid-pitch (rock) by holding them to the back of your neck, typically the warmest spot.
  • Buy an old pair of comfy rock shoes that are 2 sizes too big. Wear them over wool socks on cold days.
  • Bring two half-full fuel cannisters rather than one full one, that way you can rotate each one between use an warming in your jacket.
  • Remove insoles from your boots and shoes, sleep with them at night.
  • Tie your ice climbing boots while standing in them, as straight-legged as possible. This will simulate your climbing stance.
  • On winter alpine trips make use of a piss bottle that is a different shape or texture than your water bottle - identifiable in the dark at night.

I broke out the crampons and ice tools this week, but up to now, it has been a very warm fall in Colorado. Heck, just over a month ago I climbed 'Ariana' on the Diamond (East Face) on Long's Peak... rock climbing at 14,000' on October First!

My lead, still wearing all the layers

The Diamond day was thought up by my friend Kelly, who wrote an inspiring story about coming back from a major ankle injury, training and rehabbing all summer, and making the ascent during a time when doctors had told him he'd be lucky to manage some light hiking. We climbed with a single 60m 8.9mm lead rope, and 65m (to match the stretchy 60) of 6mm static pull cord. This is THE LIGHTEST setup for a route that require full-length rappels. We ended up making about 10 raps down the face, using a system I'm fond of that isn't too widely practiced:

For rapping with one single rope and one (~6mm) pull cord, thread the rope through the anchor, tie an overhand on a bight, clip it to a locker, and clip this locker to the rope on the other side of the anchor. The single rope is now essentially 'fixed'. Now tie the free end of the single rope to the 6mm cord. Both climbers can rappel on just the single rope, rather than trying to equally break the pull cord and rope simultaneously. Then just pull the pull cord after each rappel. Your knot and locker wont fall down the cliff, because even on a full-length rappel, the rope, running through the other side of the anchor, will be too heavy for the knotted area to go into free-fall mode. This method also allows for full-length rappels when you have had to cut and re-tie a rope, or half your rope. Just make sure that the half of your system with the knots in it will be your pull cord (no knots to pass, since you're not rapping on this) and be careful on 'snaggy' pulls.
Clean feet, new shoes, and beer. True perfection.

My friend Sol Wertkin showed me the value of a beer stash, when even my snobbish 21-yr-old sensibilities were unable to resist the draw of a cold PBR after 3 days out in the North Cascades. Sol's foolproof method is to use the mesh harness bag, which nobody EVER uses for harnesses, and stash beer + a big rock in the first stream one encounters on the hike in. By the time Kelly and I climbed Ariana this fall, I'd probably put such stashes into practice 6 or 8 times in Rocky Mountain Park, and finally upped the stash value by including my flip-flops in the bag as well! The only thing better than an apres-climb chilled beer was drinking it after trading my sweaty and stinky shoes for clean feet and some comfy flops for the drive home.

But our trip up the Diamond was still chilly (I had 5 or 6 layers on), and with winter around the bend, I figure it's a good time to come up with some handy ideas for staying warm out there in winter temps.


  1. I always value a lightweight kit, but be super careful using the "pull-cord" setup for rapping. I can definitely envision a scenario in which you're at a hanging anchor, started to pull your skinny line, let go of the end of your thicker rope, and then the knot gets stuck. What now?!

    You've maybe got 20 meters of 6mm cord, and you need to lead back up to the end of your real rope. Or jug the 6mm line!?

    Maybe this setup would be OK for the Diamond with rather steep and clean pulls (and probably some other folks around to help if shit goes all pear-shaped), but for more adventurous stuff it sounds like a bad idea.

    Much better, in my opinion, to use an 8mm (or thinner) half rope as your second line. Extra weight for sure, but the redundancy and versatility of having another dynamic rope, one that you could lead on in a pinch, seems worth it if you're gonna encounter big vertical terrain far from rescue.