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Protecting Winter Climbs

By Martin Chester

Here are a few ideas on protecting winter climbs:

The First Runner is Crucial

Good belays can be hard to come by in winter. One habit that makes things instantly safer, is to place a runner as soon as you leave the belay. Even if you place another nut or peg right above the anchor, it prevents you loading the belay anchors, and protects your belayer from a sudden downward pull.

Hexes and Nuts are Better Than Cams

Lots of winter crags are loose and vegetated in the summer. Many of the blocks and cracks are choked with ice, and simply frozen in place. A camming device may not only slide out of a placement, it may lever loose blocks and flakes apart. A well placed nut will bite through the ice and verglas - especially when aided with a hammer!

Knowing Where to Dig

Protecting Winter Climbs

To get anchor placements in winter, you have to dig for it, but the secret is knowing when to persevere, and when to quit and climb on.

* Look for signs above you - old pegs, cracks, shattered rock, etc. Has anyone been digging there before you?
* Once you start digging, look for proper 'splitter' cracks rather than blind corners. If you aim for an obvious corner or groove, and find it's blind - move on. Digging out the rest of it will usually be fruitless as often it will all be blind. Once you find a splitter though - stick with it. It may be hiding a perfect rock 9 placement just a little higher.
* Finding winter runners is like panning for gold - once you strike lucky, you're likely to be in a seam. You never know when your next runner will be, so belay now if need be, or at least place a few pieces before you move on.

Long Extenders

You may have to go a long way above your last piece, so you don't want too much rope drag or it might lift out. Better to know your runner is still there if you need it!

Spikes Are Often Buried or Shallow

Dig them out as best you can (especially at the back). 'Saw' the sling down the back to bed it in, and glue/pat it down with snow. There'll be more chance of it staying on as you climb past.

Getting the Gear Out in Winter

Protecting Winter Climbs

No need to carry nut keys - you've already got one in each hand. The picks of your ice tools can be remarkably efficient at extracting stuck nuts - especially if your leader was a little over zealous with that hammer.

Put Loops on Your Pegs

We've all struggled to remove pegs, just to drop them at the last minute. A small loop of cord, through the eye of your pegs, gives you something to clip whilst you whack, rack, place, or remove them. Just beware - hitting the cord with a hammer can cut it, so replace them regularly.

Clean Ice Screws as You Remove Them

There's nothing more frustrating on a crux, than trying to place a choked up screw. Use the tail end of your rope (by your knot) to 'poke' the core of ice out of the screw. It's more effective than you would think!

Get Used to Working WIth Your Gloves On

Choose gloves carefully:

Too small, and you will struggle to get them on when your hands are wet.
Too big, and you will keep clipping the end of your thumb into your Karabiners.

If You Do Take Your Gloves Off


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