The Hot Zone
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9 warming tricks for cold-weather cragging
A GUNKS REGULAR IN COLLEGE
, I spent many a windy, frigid day bouldering on the Carriage Road. Fingers and toes would turn to wood, shoe rubber harden and lose its stick-um, and my psyche grow brittle — still, I
to climb. Over time, I developed these nine coldweather techniques, to squeeze every drop of frozen fun from an arctic sesh. Rule No. 1? Climb in the sun, of course, though even then the following tips still apply.
Get Puffy. Don’t leave home without a serious down jacket. Layers let you strip if you get too hot, but for long standstills (like belay duty or rests between burns), go for the über-insulation of a down or synthetic fill jacket. I’ll even bring two jackets — the second to wrap my feet with between attempts. (Frozen-toe pain kills your footwork.) Several companies — Millet, Sierra Designs, The North Face — offer down booties that you can size amply to fi t over climbing shoes. Other layers should include gloves, a hat, long underwear, and warm boots and socks.
Pocket Pool. To keep my rock shoes supple, sticky, and comfy, I stash them inside my jacket — under arms, in the belly area, or in those internal mesh pockets — between burns or on the approach, letting body heat warm them. Another plus is that this forces you to put on socks and boots between climbs, time-consuming but well worth it.
Drink It In. One December day bouldering in Connecticut, my friend offered me hot tea with honey from his Thermos. I swore to bring my own brew next time. Drinking hot beverages warms the core rapidly, while the honey and caffeine impart a thermogenic boost thanks, respectively, to their caloric and stimulant properties. You can also bring hot coffee, though the higher caffeine content can exacerbate cold-weather diuresis (think of how often you have to pee when it’s cold) — the resulting dehydration is not always ideal for tendons or strength.
Secret Stash. Stow those little shake ‘n’ bake hand warmers anywhere you need love — pockets, chalk bags (especially nice for a mid-route reheat), gloves, even under your hat (but not in your skivvies — trust me). Just don’t overly warm your hands — sweaty paws blasted by an arctic wind freeze even more quickly.
Stick Trick. Dry air makes for good friction, but if your tips get too cold and dry, the skin loses elasticity and becomes slick. Combat this by moistening your hands and fingers with snow or a dribble from your water bottle, and then briefly airing them till about 75 percent dry. Finally, coat your hands with chalk until they’re 95 percent dry. You’ll get a temporary friction boost, good for 20 or 30 feet of climbing.
Move It! Multi-pitch climbers at hanging belays don’t have the cragger’s luxury of unfettered movement, but the latter can do jumping jacks, squats, run up and down hillsides, etc. — anything to keep the heart pumping and blood moving. Once cold-weather inertia sets in, it’s hard to re-motivate.
Boyz in da Hood(y). Maximize on-the-rock coverage by wearing a hooded, long-sleeved jacket — preferably a wind-blocking soft shell or the like, since cotton doesn’t defl ect gusts well. (Tip: at a rest, unzip the neck and stick your free hand in your armpit to thaw your digits.)
Prime Time to Climb. On longer pitches, cold rock will eventually numb you. To habituate your hands, run up an easier climb or part of your project, letting the cold sink in. Once you’re breathing hard, lower and bundle up until life returns to your extremities. When your heart slows — but before your hands lose that tingly, warm feeling — shoe up, shed the jacket, and climb during this fi ve-to-10-minute window. Just before you pull on, windmill your arms or clap your hands a few times vigorously to force blood into your fi ngers.
Heavy Artillery. If all else fails, turn to the butane-powered space heater. Yes, it’s a pain in the butt to carry, but a heavy-duty heat source is like manna from heaven on the coldest days.
Justin Roth, Editor at Urban Climber Magazine, is a consummate coldweather rock climber. Strangely, he has no interest in ice climbing.
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