Winter advice image

Winter advice

February 26, 2010

Reading Time: 15 minutes.

Hi Andrew sorry to trouble I am going to ben Nevis this weekend and want to do no 3 or no 4 gully or gardyloo only done grade 2 up to now on Dow crag easy gully in winter can you offer any safety advice due to the weather or just general advice going with my mate who has done mont blanc in the summer

regards James

Hi James

It always seems odd to be giving safety advice, when most people probably assume I’m a very unsafe climber (someone once said that they would never climb with me after seeing me climbing in the film Suffering Andy, although maybe that was more today with me driving and eating pizza at the same time?).

Anyway, I guess in such situations you have to imagine a negative outcome for a climb that begins with failure, steps up to benightment, rescue, injury and finally death; all of which are possible, in fact, if you’re very unlucky you may end up getting the whole lot in a day!

Starting off with this on your mind may not be conducive to a positive approach, after all, if you think you may die at the beginning of a project then it makes sense to stop right there and then.  But being an optimistic pessimist (rather than a pessimistic optimist) is a good way to go i.e. This is what may happen, but if we do x and y we should be ok. 

The number one way to get into trouble in the mountains is to be a full-on optimist, throwing all due care to the wind… and the avalanche…and rockfall.

Basically, just expect the worst and you’ll be ok.

Advice wise?  For all gullys you need to ask two things:

What might fall down on top of me (cornices, crap dropped by people, the people themselves).
Will the gully fall down with me in it (will it avalanche).

For A you should always avoid climbing under other winter climbers.  This means getting up about an hour earlier than everyone else (4.30 am is a good time to set your alarm for the most popular winter routes).  Cornices have a mind of their own, but this can often be swayed by the aforementioned parties above bashing away at it or standing on it in order to have their picture taken.  Temperature also plays a role, and so again an early start is vital, along with speed.  If you’re pushing your limit you will be slow, and so often doing longer routes at your grade fast, is better in many ways than doing a harder route slowly.  Climbing fast at your grade is a great way to consolidate, plus it can allow you more mileage (knock off several routes in a day).

For B pay close attention to the avalanche forecast and weather leading up to the trip, and make back up plans (and take back up kit) for walking, biking, birdwatching, so you don’t end up pushing it.  And as usual, if in doubt, stick to the buttress’ and stay well away from gulleys!

Beyond that stay light, take enough kit to survive if you get caught out, be sensible, go slow and steady - but don’t stop or waste time, and always get good belays.


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