How can I judge winter climbing conditions?

18 October 2018

Soon, winter will be arriving. And as such, thoughts will be turning to the best winter routes available. When climbers see first evidence of snow, it always gets them excited. Particularly because it signals the start of wild adventures!

Tools begin to gather dust after waiting. And climbers become excited about the prospect of once again being able to get stuck into some winter climbing. Nevertheless, it is important to note that climbing in marginal conditions can have negative effects on plant life. Some of which can be quite rare. Thus minimal damage to this is of highest importance.

In England, Wales and Scotland, mountain areas provide an important habitat for some fairly rare arctic alpine plants. Which, during Victorian times, were heavily picked. In addition to increased upland grazing. It is only in the more difficult to reach parts such as crags where some of these plants continue to exist. Furthermore, these winter routes provide the perfect habitat for these species to thrive. Particularly because of the good drainage and turf.

In order to minimise the impact of human activity on plantlife, we need to be careful. By ensuring we only climb in well frozen conditions. Which reduces the impact significantly. Moreover, climbing on well frozen turf makes for a better experience anyway. Because it increases security underfoot. And reduces the damage caused underfoot.

Make sure that turf is fully frozen. As a covering of frost doesn’t always indicate this. Moreover, it is possible for turf to become insulated by the snowy layer above. Meaning that it may not be fully frozen. Particularly if the temperature wasn’t cold enough before it snowed. In areas such as banked-out gullies, this generally isn’t an issue because the thick layer of snow protects the ground underneath. However,make sure to check face routes where the snow tends to collect on ledges with vegetation growing on it.

Summary
  • Climbing in too marginal conditions can not only be dangerous but also be damaging to certain species of plants
  • Some plant species have reduced as a result of over picking during the victorian era plus upland grazing
  • Yet some remain in places people or animals cannot access such as along drainage lines or turf
  • Climbing on un frozen ground can be dangerous.  Make sure to always climb on well frozen ground. Not only to keep safe. But to also minimise the impact to plants that grow there
  • Turf that appears frozen can be deceptive. In fact, a blanket of snow can insulate the ground
  • Be particularly careful along face routes where snow collects along ledges which contain important turf placements
  • North East OA offer a range of winter courses. To view them all, or book on-line, please click here.