Winter season 2015/16 photo diary

It seems weird to be rounding-up my winter climbing season in mid-summer, but it was such a weird season that barely started, choked, and then somehow didn’t finish until mid-May. This post fits with that confusing timeline.

A false start

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A beautiful day but too much powder for climbing.

My first attempt at a winter day out was in January with an impromptu visit to a very snowy Lake District. Despite beautiful views and cold temperatures there was no chance of any proper climbing: way too much powder made for hard going and a buried route. So, a nice day out but no climbing just yet.

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Citronelle and marine makes a photo.

Winter training

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Descending Broad Gully

Next up was a day with mates from my club training some of the movement tactics that you might use in Scotland or abroad. We had fun on a line in Stob Coire nan Lochan over to the left of the corrie, moving together all the way. The next day the thaw arrived with a bang and we didn’t even leave the cafe – it was raining non-stop and 15 degrees in the valley. Time to go home.

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Leaving Coire an t’Sneachda.

My next Scottish trip was another training trip, this time with work. We had a good time pootling about in the Cairngorms and the weather was great. While on this trip I also managed to sneak in The Message with my boss, which was a fantastic day out. I’ve been winter climbing for about 7 years but had never done anything actually technical and this was a nice change. Bit of a workout for the arms and some mixed action.

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Awkward step on P2 of The Message.

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The steep chimney of P3.

The CIC hut

No sooner as I had returned from Scotland, I was straight back up (I spent one day at work and then went straight back up north). A friend had a spare space in the CIC hut and needed a partner. With a bombproof forecast and excellent conditions I couldn’t resist, and the journey up was absolutely worth it. Getting in to the car park at about midnight, we were at the hut at about 1.30 am and up at 5 am to get on the route… I’d wanted to do Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis for as long as I’d been winter climbing.

Tower Ridge was THE route for me: it was long, classic, in an amazing situation, and not overtly technical.

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Kate on Tower Gap.

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Me on Tower Gap (photo Copyright Philip Jardine).

Kate and I were confident we’d be fine on it, and in the sublime conditions we cruised the route. We found much of the route quite easy and agreed we’d have happily soloed all of it in those conditions but for Tower Gap, which is awkward rather than difficult.

Feeling confident, we went for North East Buttress next: it was a logical next step, another classic Nevis ridge and a chunk harder. However, Ben Nevis bit back: we climbed five pitches of loose, avalanche-prone and hideous terrain that just hadn’t thawed and refrozen in the same way as the rest of the mountain, before we abseiled off. We hadn’t even reached the first platform and the start of the route proper. That was a big reminder that if conditions aren’t right you don’t really have a chance. It was also a good lesson in subtle differences in aspect making a huge difference to snow conditions.

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Traversing more gearless crud.

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The inevitable retreat.

Another crack at NE Buttress

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Our abseil tat from the retreat three weeks earlier. When we’d left it the whole outcrop was iced up.

Three weeks later, now in March, I was back up in Scotland with Scott, who was chomping at the bit. NE buttress was our target, and the conditions could not have been more different to the month previous: the approach was now largely on turf and path, and the snow we found was sublime. We moved together for much of the route until the Mantrap and 40 Foot Corner. Every metre of the route offered something new: it was really special.

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Scott on one of the snowfields of NE Buttress. Very Alpine.

We did the route in good time and planned our next objective as Hadrian’s Wall, another super-classic and which we heard was in excellent condition. We got to bed early, got up early, and left the car park… to be greeted by rain. It was much warmer than forecast, much wetter, and not worth it. Half an hour after leaving the car we shook hands and turned round before driving home. A good decision.

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Awesome bit of ice in a runnel on NE Buttress.

Munro bagging

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Super duper views above Crianlarich.

My final Scottish trip of the season was a beautiful weekend climbing Munros near Crianlarich with some of my oldest and best friends. Snow conditions were good but the weather was exceptional: blue skies, cold temperatures, and bright sunshine. A great way to end the season.

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Views as far as the eye could see.

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The end of a great winter.

My last bit of winter

I spent the last bit of winter getting absolutely destroyed by the fittest group of guys I’ve ever been a part of. I was on a cycling ‘holiday’ in Spain where almost everyone was a very serious cyclist, including two semi-professional riders. High speed riding, huge hills, massive mileage… it was amazing, and a real eye-opener to what a bit of training and dedication can do. Another trip like that next year and another Scottish winter season like the one just gone and I’ll be happy!

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A self-portrait after a very hard day’s riding. My Paris-Roubaix.

 

Hot drinks in winter

It’s freezing here at Gearandmountains HQ: Leeds has suddenly got very cold. With this in mind, I’ve a topical post. It’s something I was asked a long while ago by a guy via email, and he wondered whether carrying a hot drink in winter had any real benefit. Surely it does? It’s hot, you’re cold – what’s not to like…?

It’s -10 °C, you’re in the Cairngorms. Only, you think you are, but it just so happens you can’t see anything because you’re in a whiteout. Your mate pulls something out of his bag. Haribo? Yes please. Free from Wiggle? Wow, they taste even better. Having gobbled the Haribo he offers you a hot flask. Free from Wiggle? No, not this time. However, oh wow that tastes good… but will it do you any good?

So, are hot drinks beneficial in the cold?

Google’s answer: I googled this conundrum to see what would come up and you get some entertainingly bad answers, such as “i was told a cold drink was better because it warms up inside you where a hot drink goes cold inside you”. This sort of justification does not get past peer review. So, more work required.

This guy could do with a hot drink. And possibly a facelift.

This guy could do with a hot drink. And possibly a facelift.

My short answer: if you go back to the basics, that thermal comfort is a state of mind, any psychological help (ie. stuff that makes you feel better) is beneficial. Therefore, I’d say if you enjoy drinking hot drinks then go for it. They can definitely feel reassuring.

My longer answer: From a physical point of view, to remain in thermal comfort you need to ensure you’ve no local cold spots, as well as a comfortable core temperature. If your throat, mouth, and lips, which are full of sensitive nerve endings, are cold then hot liquid on them will warm them up and feel good, unless you just burn them. There’s also research ( http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1748-1716.1973.tb05416.x/abstract) that shows that the extremities produce more heat when drinking a hot drink. Your hands and feet are full of nerves too, so warming your hands will definitely feel beneficial, especially if you need them to carry out dexterous tasks like unwrapping chocolate bars. Mmmm, chocolate. Anyway, first plus-point – hot drinks get rid of local cold spots.

From a core temperature point of view, liquid is required to keep your metabolic processes ticking over and ensuring you keep making heat, so consuming either a hot or cold drink is beneficial in cold conditions. However, the effect on core temperature of drinking a hot, as opposed to cold, liquid is negligible – there just isn’t enough liquid. You wouldn’t heat up a bath-full of water with a single kettle of boiling water, so you’ve no chance trying to heat up your 150 litre body with 1 litre of hot tea. It would have to be 1 litre of lava or something, and that is not very tasty. Just ask any geologist. Hypothermia is not recommended to be treated with hot drinks (“A warm drink will not provide a significant thermal benefit to the body. The most important ingredients in a drink are carbohydrate additives that will fuel continued shivering” from  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1442-2026.2001.00172.x/pdf). This raises the other point that sugar (energy) intake is good for you when you’re cold. So, if you fill that flask full of seriously sugary gloop that’ll help you out. Mmmm, sugary gloop.

So, thus far we’ve seen that a hot drink will warm some sensitive areas like throat, mouth and hands, but its overall effect on core temperature will be minimal. However, as the short answer suggested, a massive effect is mental: do you like drinking hot drinks? If, like most Brits, you’re addicted to either tea or coffee, getting your fix on the hill will make you feel better (You wouldn’t send a crack addict up a hill without some crack (would you send them up there at all?)). Hot drinks are a great comforter, and therefore, come winter, they’ve a place in many walkers’ and climbers’ packs.

This enormous cornice caused us massive aggro. A nice hot drink would have been very welcome.

This enormous cornice caused us massive aggro. A nice hot drink would have been very welcome.

Pluses:

– Comforting

– Vehicle for sugary gloop and associated calories

– Opportunity to fuel caffeine addiction

-Warms cold and sensitive mouth and throat, plus your nose and chin if you spill it

Negatives:

– Faff

– Carrying a heavy and bulky flask

– No effect on core temperature

– Potential to burn yourself

Hot drinks are an essential part of any bivvy.

Hot drinks are a welcome part of any Alpine bivvy.

In conclusion, carry that hot flask if you think it will help – on this one, the psychological effects outweigh the physiological ones.

(Thanks to Dr M Morrissey, world-renowned thermal badboy, for his help on answering the original poser).