26 February 2010

Winter advice

Category: Technique

Hi andrew sorry to trouble I am going to ben Nevis this weekend and want to do no 3 or no 4 gully or gardyloo only done grade 2 up to now on Dow crag easy gully in winter can you offer any safety advice due to the weather or just general advice going with my mate who has done mont blanc in the summer

regards James

Hi James

It always seems odd to be giving safety advice, when most people probably assume I’m a very unsafe climber (someone once said that they would never climb with me after seeing me climbing in the film Suffering Andy, although maybe that was more today with me driving and eating pizza at the same time?).

Anyway I guess in such situations you have to imagine a negative outcome for a climb that begins with failure, steps up to benightment, rescue, injury and finally death; all of which are possible, in fact if you’re very unlucky you may end up getting the whole lot in a day!

Starting off with this on your mind may not be conducive to a positive approach, after all f you think you may die at the beginning of a project then it makes sense to stop right there and then.  But being an optimistic pessimistic (rather than a pessimistic optimist) is a good way to go i.e. This is what may happen, but if we do x and y we should be ok. 

The number one way to get into trouble in the mountains is to be a full on optimist, throwing all due care to the wind… and the avalanche…and rock fall.

Basically just expect the worst and you’ll be ok.

Advice wise?  For all gullys you need to ask two things:

What might fall down on top of me (cornices, crap dropped by people, the people themselves).
Will the gullly fall down with me in it (will it avalanche).

For A you should always avoid climbing under other winter climbers.  This means getting up about an hour earlier than everyone else (4.30am is a good time to set your alarm for most popular winter routes).  Cornices have a mind of their own, but this can often be swayed by aforementioned parties above bashing away at it, or standing on it in order to have their picture taken.  Temperature also plays a role, and so again an early start is vital, along with speed.  If you’re pushing your limit you will be slow, and so often doing longer routes at your grade fast, is better is many ways than doing a harder route slowly.  Climbing fast at your grade is a great way to consolidate, plus is can allow you more milage (knock off several routes in a day).

For B pay close attention to the avalanche forecast and weather leading up to the trip, and make back up plans (and take back up kit) for walking, biking, birdwatching, so you don’t end up pushing it.  And as usual, if in doubt, stick to the buttress’ and stay well away from gulleys!

Beyond that stay light, take enough kit to survive if you get cought out, be sensible, go slow and steady - but don’t stop or waste time, and always get good belays.

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Andy Kirkpatrick

Andrew Kirkpatrick is a British mountaineer, author, motivational speaker and monologist. He is best known as a big wall climber, having scaled Yosemite's El Capitan 30+ times, including five solo ascents, and two one day ascents, as well as climbing in Patagonia, Africa, Alaska, Antarctica and the Alps.

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