Throwback Thursday - Winter Bouldering

All this snow got me thinking about shoveling off some projects and that reminded me of an old article I wrote for NEB.  It's been a while but here's a Throwback Thursday from the archives of NEB.

Winter Bouldering, how cold is too cold?
by Joe McLoughlin

The author enjoying his favorite time of the year.

The author enjoying his favorite time of the year.

Winter bouldering is not for everyone; your feet and hands can get cold, your fingers can hurt like hell, and the melting snow can make everything soaking wet. That being said, I personally much prefer bouldering in the winter over any other time of year. The friction is perfect in the lower temperatures, the sun is low in the sky and sharp, and there is almost no need for chalk. The inherent nature of bouldering, short routes, frequent attempts, and quick returns to the ground, allow for climbing in colder temperatures than sport climbing or trad climbing. Noone wants to stand around stomping your feet while you partner works a move or endure a freezing cold belay on a wind swept ledge (unless you are into ice climbing, which is a whole different level of suffering).

If you haven't clicked to another page by now, winter bouldering may be for you. The following tips will help you better enjoy a cold, crisp day of winter bouldering:

1. Keep your feet warm!
The  single most important thing to do is to make sure your feet stay warm. Your feet are the hardest to get warm once they get cold. Therefore, how you start out is key. As you are driving to the boulders, place your climbing shoes on the dashboard or on the floor near a heating vent, and crank the heat up. Get your shoes toasty warm. The only drawback to this is if your shoes stink, so will your car. Once you get to the boulders, place your shoes inside your jacket whenever you are not wearing them. This will keep them warm at all times.

2. Invest in microfleece
The most important pieces of clothing are microfleece pants and a microfleece shirt. These items will keep you nice and warm, and will not let you get cold if you work up a sweat.

3. Wear a really warm jacket
This may seem obvious, but err on the side of caution here: wear the warmest jacket you own, preferably down. This is to keep you warm between problems and to keep your shoes warm as described above.

4. Bring a thermos of hot tea, coffee, or cocoa
This serves two purposes: 1. there is nothing better than a nice hot drink on a cold day, and 2. the hot liquid works wonders for warming up frozen hands. Pour a cup of the hot beverage, and just hold the cup (drinking it is optional).

5. Find a south facing boulder or a boulder out of the wind
This again may seem obvious, but it is very important. The south faces of boulders are always sunny. There can be a 10 degree difference between the north and south faces of a boulder. This benefit really becomes apparent while bouldering. When sport or trad climbing, most cliffs only face one direction. With bouldering, you can usually climb on any side of a boulder, and can find the sunny and/or sheltered side.

6. Bring a tarp
This only applies if there is snow on the ground. A good 8'x10' tarp can provide a nice dry area to shoe up and spot, keeping your shoes ready for sending. We sometimes will clear the snow off of the tops of south-facing boulders and around the landings, to allow for climbing on sunny days.

7. Place a handwarmer in your chalkbag
This can make the difference for some people, and definitely increases the comforting factor of working your hands into the chalkbag.

Brett Myers "warming" up for a winter bouldering session. 

Brett Myers "warming" up for a winter bouldering session. 

If all this sounds like a little too much, then head to your local gym. I won't be there to crowd it up. However, if you are still interested in winter bouldering, try these tips and don't be afraid to make some modifications. These tips have all been gained through painful experience and trial and error. If you come up with something that works for you, send us an e-mail and we will add it to the list.





Viewer Comments
We have received many comments and suggestions about making winter bouldering more enjoyable. An obvious omission on our part, someone wrote in, "like your mom always said...put on your hat. You probably didn't feel the need to mention this because it is a fact that every boulderer wears a hat any time they are wearing underwear. For example, in a 105 degree gym with no shirt on."  The oddest (but perhaps most effective) recommendation we received, "chili peppers....not the hot new shoes, but the real thing.. habeneros, locotos, jalepenos and ceyenne really do the trick. Eat them, rub dry ceyenne into sock, into shoes, wherever the skin hits the cold air. The deal is the increase in circulation. Eating peppers before going out will help with circulation throughout the body for several hours. I would avoid chilis in the chalkbag, however, they add nothing to the friction and if the fine dust gets in your eyes you are S.O.L." Finally, one local boulderer wrote in that he uses toe heaters in his climbing shoes; however, he wrote back a few days later that they actually made his feet too hot.