Ice climbing season is coming. Icicles are starting to form. The choosy mixed caves are starting to freeze solid. It’s time to get psyched. Time to get pumped. It’s also time to get cold—but not too cold.
When your objective is a day of ice cragging, it’s possible to bend the rules of the “light is right” philosophy in favor of all-day comfort. As the saying goes, “you can’t put a price on morale.” With that in mind, here are a few tips on how to stay warm and dry while out swinging the tools.
Bring Extra Layers
Layering is now an age-old piece of wisdom. When you’re ice climbing, even bringing extras is a great way to go. I often find it difficult to walk slowly enough on the approach to keep my base layer dry. To deal with this, I bring an extra base layer top and when I get to the crag or route, I will strip down and change out. There’s nothing like having a nice dry base layer on to make you feel warm and cozy.
Bring Extra Gloves
The same thing should be done with gloves. Bring extra so when one pair gets wet, it can be exchanged for a nice, dry pair. I’ll often bring a quiver of gloves to the crag with me, ranging from big,warm gloves for belaying and hanging out, like the Luminary Glove, down to a super-thin techy mixed glove designed more for dexterity than warmth, like the Mixalot Glove.
Bring the Big Guns
Bring the big down! Bring the down pants! You won’t regret it!
Use a Neck Warmer
Use a product like the OR Ubbertube to seal around your neck on your jacket. It’s amazing how much warmth this can retain. It can also be pulled up over your face when conditions get nasty.
Unzip Your Boots
Many boots these days have big built-in gaiters that are excellent for protection and insulation. But when walking in on a packed trail or skiing in on hardpack, it can be a really good idea to unzip those gaiters and let your feet breath. Then when you arrive at the route, or to deeper snow, you can zip up your boots and have dry, warm feet.
Tense muscles are cold muscles. When on route, relax your hands and legs as much as possible. It will allow warm blood to flow into your extremities and help avoid the dreaded screaming barflies. Breathe deeply, breathe evenly and concentrate on calm, relaxed sending.
When you’re on route, shake out your hands and feet. Use the force of gravity to help that blood flow even harder and stronger. Being able to let go of the tools and shake out your hand beneath your heart is one of the main advantages of leashes climbing. Don’t forget!
While at the belay, you should be moving even more. Swing your arms in windmills and kick your feet against the ice to keep the nerves and blood vessels activated. You will not be sorry that you did.
The better hydrated you are, the more enabled your cardiovascular system is, the warmer you will stay. Drink lots of liquid. Studies have shown that a warm drink can improve people’s outlook on life, even when it’s not particularly cold out. I would argue that this is particularly the case when hanging around hunks of frozen waterfall. Bring a thermos or three to the crag and stay pumped. As a coffee lover, I’ll often bring a thermos full of coffee and another full of hot Nuun. It’s never been a decision I’ve regretted.
Just like anywhere, a balanced diet is important while ice climbing. Eat high-quality fats and carbs that will burn slowly to keep you crushing throughout the course of a cold winter day. Personally, I get pretty sick of bars and like to bring a wrap or thermos of soup. Sugary power gels are worth having in your bag in case you bonk, but the fats and longer chain carbohydrates will keep you sustained out there, meaning a longer and more psyched day in the cold.