What a great winter so far

Well it’s back to rain and wind here in South Wales, for the first time in a fortnight I’ve been able to drive with out having to worry about whether or not it’s too icy to drive.  It’s been a surreal couple of weeks.  I’ve been up to Scotland climbing for the first time (hopefully the first of many) and due to the fantastically cold weather I’ve been able to do some Ice Climbing here in South Wales.  I’ve climbed some classic routes in perfect conditions, Ledge Route on the Ben, Steall Waterfalls in Glen Nevis and closer to home the rarely formed Joe’s Waterfall on the Black Mountain.  Lets hope the final trip of the season in mid feb up to the Cairngorms is as good.  If not I can’t complain, I’ve managed to cram an awesome amount of climbing in the past fortnight.  Here’s to more!

Steall Falls – 5th Jan 2010

On a climbing trip I was recently lucky enough to climb the Steall Waterfall in Glen Nevis.  I’m rather lacking in photos of the route and me climbing on it sadly, but I do have a couple.  After the previous three days of climbing I was pretty tired so the short walk in along the side of the River Nevis was just the ticket.  At my first glimpse of the climb my comments were along the line of ‘I guess we’re not climbing that as it’s still running in the middle’.  I guess we all start somewhere.  I’ve read that many climbs often don’t freeze in the middle, but as always there’s a big difference between reading and seeing.

Steall Waterfalls

When we actually got to the base of the climb after walking over the frozen river (we missed out the wire bridge) it became obvious that the ice was in good condition and that whilst the water was flowing and there were other teams climbing there should be plenty of space for all of us.  We geared up and waited for the faster of the two teams ahead of us to finish.  When they’d finished Alec lead off and being the consumate pro he is in no time at all we heard the call of ‘safe’.  Shortly after that it was time for Martin to start off and I followed shortly after.  My previous winter climbing experience was limited to the three previous days, so I was a bit nervous especially after my failure on Squaddie’s climb the previous day.  However the start was fairly easy and once I’d got going there were a few decent rests on the first pitch.

Matt on Steall Falls

The second pitch was even longer than the first, Alec using most of the 60m of rope.  As a result I experienced my first ‘full body pump’, my arms were burning, my calves were burning and everything else was pretty battered, but I got up it.  And even worse I enjoyed it!  The final pitch was much shorter and the angle slacked off quite a bit.  Finally we topped out.  A quick abseil down the side onto easier ground and we were off and back down to Fort William by 3pm.  A great day out.  Many thanks to Alec of Guided Mountain for being an excellent instructor and Martin for being a good sport.

Winter Kit List

My current kit isn’t perfect for winter climbing, but hopefully it’ll give you some ideas for your clothing and kit when winter climbing. I know I found it hard to get advice on what to buy, which is a right pain when everything is so expensive.  I’ve taken my inspiration from a couple of other blog posts.  I’ve gotten a lot of advice from places like UKClimbing, Andy Kirkpatrick, PlanetFear, Climb and Climber magazines.  I got 29 responses to my post on UKC about winter climbing clothing with some good advice in the thread.

Currently I have the normal mix of goretex and pertex clothing. I’m planning on moving away from that to Paramo for UK winter stuff. I’ve got a Mountain Equipment shell, not sure which model it is, but it’s one of the cheaper hill walking style jackets. It fits a helmet etc as it’s a size too big for me now I’ve lost weight. Under that I have a standard ‘thin’ fleece with the Polartec 100 fleece, it’s a plain Peter Storm one, bought. As a baselayer I’ve got a Icebreaker 200 weight longsleeve high neck top.

As a backup layer/when stopped layer, I’ve got a Montane Prism 2.0 which will just about fit over everything. It’s too hot to wear the base layer, prism and hardshell all at once tho. I want to get a better ‘belay jacket’ however. On my legs I’ve got a pair of Rab VapourRise trousers, with a pair of Marmot Precip trousers with the full length legzip. 90% of the time the rab trousers are enough. I find I don’t need a baselayer underneath that, it’s more than enough. I’ve got a cheap pair of Gelert gaiters. Gaiters are essential, but don’t shell out loads on them as you’ll rip them to shreds while you learn to walk properly in crampons anyway. If you do buy an expensive pair, make sure that they’re very hard wearing and durable. Lightweight goretex jobs will just get shredded. Ditto buying expensive goretex trousers. Something like Marmot Precips will do fine for learning in.

I’m currently carrying three pairs of gloves. A merino liner pair, which are ok for cold but dry walk-ins. Both my other gloves fit over the liner glove. I’ve got a powerfleece pair for walk-ins and easy snow plods and dachstein mitts for climbing in. I find that if I wear the liners underneath the dachsteins when I take the dach’s off for long enough to fiddle with gear etc they don’t loose as much heat. I’m planning on experimenting with other gloves however as the powerfleece glove doesn’t cut it when ice climbing (bad hot aches).

Safety/Misc gear
I’ve got a Wild Country 360 helmet, nice and cheap, with very good protection. I’ve also got one of the Wild Country syncro harnesses, which is ok, but IMO has a few too many loops on it and too much padding. I’ve got a normal buff and a windstopper buff .  The windstopper one is great, but overkill for me, I’d be fine with just two buffs. Gogglewise I’ve a Oakley Proven MX goggle as it was cheap, clear and goes over glasses (never actually needed this). Sackwise I’ve got a Mammut Granit 40l sack. It’s nice, simple and quite lightweight (1.25 kg).   Not waterproof so I carry Exped drybags for keeping stuff dry.  Obviously I always carry a first aid kit, map, compass and a survival bag. I’ve got a AlpKit gamma headtorch which is great for the price.  I have a cheapo pair of walking poles for the walk in.

Currently I’ve just got my normal summer rack of 1-11 Wallnuts and 1-4 Torque Nuts. I’ve got the normal mix of slings, all DMM Dyneema, two 60cm, two 120cm and one 4m Wild Country cordlette. I use DMM Phantoms for situations where locking krabs are needed but you don’t need lots of clove hitches etc. I’ve got a DMM Boa for that. I use a DMM Belay Master (with the clip) and Bug. Quickdraw wise I carry DMM Shield draws a mix of 18cm and 25cm ones up to about 8 of them. Currently no screamers, pegs, ice screws, ice axes, crampons, rope or slingdraws so it’s usually borrowing whatever anyone else has. I’ll detail what I plan on buying in future posts.  It’s all bloody expensive, which is why I don’t have all the kit yet.  Boots wise I have a pair of Asolo B3 rated boots, I bought second hand from UKC.  I wouldn’t recommend buying second hand boots, I’ve got blisters everytime I wear them.


Obviously quite a personal thing, but here’s what I swear by:  Chocolate, Haribo (usually in a chest pocket for easy access), Malt Loaf, sarnies/rolls.  Drinkwise I don’t take tea/coffee on the hill.  Instead I prefer a flask of hot ribena (500ml) and a bottle of juice or water again usually 500ml.  I tend to heat up the juice/water first thing so it doesn’t freeze.  I currently don’t bother with drinks bladders, I usually stop long enough for a drink at one point during the day.

That’s about it.  Don’t think I’ve missed anything.  Next post will be about what I plan to buy, probably when I win the lottery!  It’s a stupidly expensive hobby if you want to buy decent axes and crampons.