The last quarter of winter sees a sudden rush of requests about ice, alpine and fuji trips.
I could understand the timing if everyone came from the same part of the world, but they don’t.
Late winter requests are interesting because its people thinking ahead and preparing themselves. Its not tourism. ‘late winter types’ ask about what they can do before they show up, and see the time spent with ICJ as an indicator rather than a holiday.
Whats useful about getting in at this stage (besides getting the pick of the schedule) is by preparing they can maximize on their time and money. Its no secret that many people have unrealistic expectations on ice climbing – A diet of Will Gadd videos and mammut commercials feeds the mind – but allowing time to prepare is the only real way of bringing the fantasy anywhere close to the reality.
So, with 9 months on the table before decent ice is assured, heres 10 things to do while its warm and easy.
① Get realistic: if you’ve left preparation till now youre doing ok. The guys that spent all summer in the mountains dangling from ropes will have the head start. Its hard to catch up, but immersing yourself in rope work and stress you will be minimizing nasty surprises on the early ice. all that indoor climbing, fun tho it was, probably wont mean much beyond clipping gear faster, tho the campus boarding wont have hurt. Running up mountains, lumping packs and shivering in cold water would have been more meaningful.
② Stop cross training: its time to get specific. For the time you’ve got and whats needed to make a difference, spending half of it on anything other than alpine-specific is not in your favour. If you spent the last 6 months building a good endurance base, strengthening and injury proofing yourself it now time to cash in.
If you didn’t. too late. But do what you can.
③ Start moving under load. Triathlons and marathons in just a shirt and shoes will have served your cardio, but your load bearing structure wont have benefitted. Pick up weight, throw on heavy packs and pull up your weight with that extra 10kg of winter gear strapped to you.
④ Sort out your gear. Think seriously about what hurt last winter and how you can avoid this time round. Things like cold digits, sore backs, numb forearms and aching calves are not mysteries, being traceable back to often inappropriate gear choices.
Get a thin set of gloves so you don’t soak your warm ones on the approach. Insulate your tools so you hands don’t freeze pioleting. Get some down booties to save wearing your socks 24hrs a day and risking your toes. Get a better thermarest to stop back pain. Make a hanging stove so you can make coffee lying down. get insoles for your boots.
Rather than thinking another $500 jacket or shaving 100g is the answer, think from the bigger picture and stop trying to fix your problems at the end of the process. that $500 jacket will work even better if you have the right baselayer under it.
⑤ Practice your ropes. Put your biggest gloves on and mess about with simplifying things.
Learn the one handed clove hitches and alpine butterflys, get slick with a munter, learn the slip-bowline.
Nail your systems for anchors using 3, 4, 5 & 6 bits of gear. Grab a polystyrene box and practice your v-threads. Practicing deconstructing the whole lot too.
Measure your arm span for paying out ropes, learn from a canyoning guide how to pack ropes away fast. this year think about a silnylon rope bag to minimize all the endless coiling.
⑥ Get good at abseiling. People die doing this, expect to hear one or two reports over winter.
Don’t expect to back it up with a prussick every time. Guides the world over don’t use them, so learn to get it right and reserve it for when things are bad. Standing about at belays is dangerous, reduce time spent fiddling with rope one-handed as well.
Learn how to rap with a munter, the firemans belay, how to pass knots, to drop ropes down the face, to build blocked anchors and use a tag line.
⑦ Learn how to prussick. Really learn. How to tie them one handed, to nail the length, to get by with only one, the best diameter for the rope you use, the muscles needed to make it easy
⑧ Learn how to simu-climb and cover ground up to about WI3 independantly (depending on the scenario of course). Often climbers are exhausted by the approach simply from all the rope work and getting cold belaying – taking it out of the equation with the confidence to scale easy ice without the full set up. Stop thinking of this as soloing and think of it as a matter of access.
Learn how to not fall so you can escape the victim curve.
9 factor in a session or two of late, easy ice to tune back in. ideally at an ice wall, on top rope, where you can hack away and get over the wanderlust that every season starts with.
10 learn how to sleep on the ground. winter nights are long, the ground is frozen, you wont have a pillow and the only warmth in the frozen wilderness is inside that sleeping bag. being comfortable in a tent in winter is not about luck, its about knowing how to do it. multiply by ten if its a portaledge, by another ten if its a bivvy. sort what you need so once you get in your bag you can stay there. practice pissing into a bottle. get a balaclava so you dont breathe into your sleeping bag. get a mesh bag so everything you dont want freezing keeps from becoming a puzzle everytime you need your headtorch.