Jim Shimberg - Preparing for Ice Season

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Preparing for Ice Season

By Jim Shimberg

Rhino in Chief here, reporting to the masses of winter climbers out there.  It is rainy and 38 degrees F here in New Hampshire.  Time to plan for the ice season.  We know what’s coming and we want to be mentally prepared and physically fit.  After over 30 years of this ice climbing nonsense, I have a few tips for all y'all to stay warm, safe and happy even on the coldest days during the New England ice season.

1.  “Winterize” yourself.  You ever hear that saying about needing your "winter skin"?  This is especially true with the warmer temperatures of the last few years here.  Winter climbers must develop that winter skin by being outside and rock climbing or hiking and getting cold in the fall and early season, that way you’ll be adjusted when it really gets cold. .  Dedicating some suffer time in the fall will allow you to take full advantage of the good ice routes in the winter.

2.  Get Outside!  Yup, walk, hike, jog, run, or crawl from pub topub.  The key here is to get after it.  Do not let rain or wind get your goat; layer up.  Remember in Scotland they wear 2 layers of Gore-Tex in bad weather - a constant theme in the winter there.  Ben Nevis in the land of Scotch whiskey makes windy and cold Mt. Washington here in New Hampshire seem downright tropical!  Sweat it out (no pun intended) and get used to changing cooler temps, wind, flurries and so on. 

3.  Layer up!  You ever hear people say that good judgment comes from bad experience?  True dat.  We all make mistakes but a mistake in the mountains can be a major bummer and could even cost you your life. Except for Mt Washington, most descents in the northeast involve rapping the route or hiking down the backside to the base, so go heavy!  Clothing decisions and such takes years to dial in, and we are always making minor adjustments.  It’s good to wear a short sleeve capilene, under a long sleeved synthetic or polypro, then a thin fleece if its in the low 30s or 20s.  A wind shirt or thin rain shell is key.  I adhere to the KISS technique - Keep It Simple Stupid.  Figure this stuff out at the crags before getting on any big, long route.  In Rumney for instance, it’s 30 minutes max to get back to the car if you chose the wrong clothing and you’re soaked to the bone.  No big deal...but on Cannon it’s a way bigger deal. Remember: freedom of the hills means looking after yourself so your friends can take care of themselves and not risk their lives saving yours.

4.  Get the right gear! It’s all good stuff out there folks!  The modern ice tools, crampons, screws, ropes and rock pro are simply amazing these days, you’d be hard pressed to make a bad decision.  Bring a frikin’ headlamp – always!  It doesn’t weigh much and you’ll never regret having it.  Bring an extra bottle of water, some extra food and thermos of hot drink.  An extra hat and fleece can be a lifesaver as well.  Wear a big pack so you can fit all your gear and extra clothing.  This is the winter and you can leave stuff at the base for the most part in New England. I prefer a hard-shell helmet in the winter and not a foam-core helmet.  The ice comes down - fact of life - so you new leaders out there - make every attempt to make a sharp turn left or right after leaving the belay.  Your partner will be very grateful!!  Bring 3 pairs of gloves on every route: one for the approach, one for the climb, and another for the descent.  Man it’s wicked hard to function with wet and cold hands!


Marshall Jamison, Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Great article! How true it is. Plan for the worse, hope for the best. Remember the commitment goes up a notch or two in the winter.
Looking forward to seeing you in NH this winter.

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