Thursday, January 21, 2016

You climb rocks in winter? Yes!

Barring the temporary inconvenience of snow on the rocks, we're right in the middle of prime bouldering season here in Maryland.  While I see how this might confuse my non-climber friends, I'm surprised how many climbers I know who write off everything between November and March as gym time.  Sure, I probably wouldn't want to be on a rope for a long pitch anytime soon, but with the right preparations it's hard to pass up the added friction that winter affords us.

Layer it up

No, a tank top with a thick down jacket over it doesn't count.  It probably sounds condescending to even mention dressing in layers these days, since someone out there will give that very advice for any weather or destination, but a coordinated series of thin layers really makes a difference for cold weather bouldering.  I usually start with a Capilene base layer, and then put on a thin t-shirt, a soft shell vest and/or jacket, and a sweat shirt or fleece over top of it all.  Since prime bouldering season usually coincides with hunting season, something bright on top is never a bad idea.  And speaking from personal experience, make sure that outer layer has pockets before you get out to the boulders and wish you had them.

Pre-warm those fingers

Forget your usual warmup circuit.  While gradually working your way up from very easy climbs is usually the sensible thing to do, spending half an hour grabbing big cold holds is a great way to kill your motivation before you even touch the climb you came out to do.  Instead, find a way to warm your fingers up on the way there.  I like to use a grip ring like the ones from So iLL, working through various finger combinations on the drive to the boulders.  I may still need to do a couple of easier climbs before I get on my project for the day, but generally that's more to get my arms and shoulders ready to pull.

Think whole body

In cold weather our bodies work to keep our core heated, at the expense of warmth in our extremities. Warming up our fingers is important, but it won't last long unless we get everything else moving too. Unless there's already a really long approach, I like to go for a quick run once I've dropped my pads at the boulders, or at least jog in place and do some jumping jacks if that's the only option.  I also try to keep moving between climbs as much as I can, not sitting unless I absolutely have to.

Hydrate hot

Hydrating is just as important in cold weather as in the heat, which is easy to forget when we're not covered in sweat.  Whenever possible, hot drinks are the way to go.  Not only do they help boost your core temperature, but you'll be way more motivated to take a drink when you don't feel like it's freezing your throat on the way down.  My drink of choice this winter has been the apple cinnamon hydration mix from Skratch Labs, delivering all the joy of spiced cider with an added electrolyte boost.  Their matcha and lemon flavor is also a good option, especially for an after work bouldering session when that little caffeine kick is extra helpful.

Comfy feet

It's hard to climb if you can't feel your feet.  On really cold days I like to put my shoes under the heat vent while driving to the boulders, and then carry them inside my jacket to keep them warm on the approach or in between climbs.  Now here's where I may lose my bouldering card, but I also keep my socks on unless I'm wearing really aggressive shoes.  Maybe I'll never make a magazine cover that way, but my feet don't get cold every time I change shoes and I've never noticed a decrease in performance.

             Silver Spot at Maryland's top-roping capital, Carderock.               Photo: Chris Irwin

So there you have it.  Our sweaty summers will be back soon enough and we'll all be wishing for crisp rock under our fingers, so get it while it's good.  Stay warm out there!

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