Sometimes it seems like conditions change from summer to winter overnight at Smith Rock in Central Oregon. We had a relatively warm October with temps about 10 degrees above average, with many warm, sunny days in the mid 60s. Now it is November and we have been getting some storms with overcast skies and temps in the 40s.
But this is where it starts getting good. Locals know, with a little strategy, you can pretty much climb at Smith all winter. Watching the weather, climbing in the sun, using propane heaters, hand warmers and down jackets can keep you sending. But best of all, the dry cold air makes for amazing gription on the rock.
The cold air this weekend has gotten me excited again for climbing and I had break out my old tricks for staying warm…
Here are some of my cold weather tips…
I buy them by the box. On cold days I will fire up two and stick them in my pockets before leaving the house. By the time I get out of the car, they are warm and take the sting out of leaving the warm car. Once at the cliff I stash them in the chalk bag. They will help keep fingers warm when chalking up, but if you start to go numb you can squeeze one and warm up your fingers.
Keep your blood moving.
Don’t sit around too long. Keep moving. Also the first pitch is the toughest on your fingers. Once your fingers go numb, hang, get the blood flowing to them again and keep climbing. If you don’t rest too long you won’t go numb again all day.
Another tip for numb fingers is to warm them on your back.
Just reach behind your head, below your neck. Since it is your core it will be warm. Plus, since you are wearing a bunch of clothes, it is about the only place you can easily reach and get under your shirt for bare skin contact.
Ok, this is a little extreme, but sure warms you up when you get chilled. Long belays are no problem in the cold. Be very careful. I have seen many down jackets melted, especially right at the wrist. Watch where your rope is hanging and move the heater far away when pulling the rope.
The safe bet is 2 down jackets. I have one thin one for a layer and one huge jacket with a hood. Lots of combos.
Chase the sun.
Plan your day to be in the sun. Know which walls are in the sun and when. Know when walls go into the shade. “Darkness At Noon” goes into the shade at …noon. Plan to climb and be done with Heinous/Darkness by noon. In the winter the sunlight is blocked by towers at Morning Glory. We try to be done with our day by then, or we are burning the heater on full blast.
Watch the weather.
It seems obvious, but you need to balance temp and amount of sun. I once climbed on a day with the high temp of 17 degrees but the sun was in full effect and it was great. Other days, mid 30s with clouds will send me packing for home. Freezing fog is the worst.
Climb like there is no tomorrow.
Saving myself for that redpoint burn tomorrow will usually result in bad weather. I just take those extra burns, today, when the weather is good.
I find these in ski shops. Helps keep you warm.
Hot Tea in a thermos!
Earl Gray with a touch of honey!