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Topic - Lakes Winter Climbing Issues: Open Meeting Next Week

Michael Ryan - on 16 Aug 2013
There is a meeting at Kendal Wall on Tuesday 20th August at 7.00p to discuss winter climbing issues in the Lakes.

The meeting is open to all


Mixed climbing in winter.

The renewed interest and increasing popularity of winter climbing in Britain has created tension between rock climbers and mixed climbers. Recent winter seasons have been hard and long; previously thought-of but untried lines have whitened. Consequently more winter climbers are out on the crags. At the top-end, this desire to find and succeed on more difficult mixed problems is understandable, the technically talented and strong will continue to push the limit of what’s possible in mixed climbing. Indeed some mixed climbers take the view that any line is available.

Whilst this might be true for many Scottish crags, the predominant activity on the crags in the Lake District is rock climbing. Good climbing is not unlimited, which means that the best rock climbs are already heavily overused and aesthetically damaged. Our mountains are lower with less extensive high ground, close to the sea and in a warmer region of the UK. In winter, conditions are fragile and unpredictable, often changing from hour to hour. Historical accounts and a lack of distinction between summer and winter cloud the issue. Routes were climbed at Christmas or Easter meets, often in conditions of snow and ice when nailed boots acted as crampons. Winter ascents will necessarily create scratches and climbers in general are increasingly justifiably concerned that routes are becoming aesthetically harmed. More critically, there is concern that crucial protection placements will be damaged, compromising the climb; which ultimately will affect both summer and winter ascents. The mounting tension suggests some compromise should be reached.

The revolution that has taken place in communication provides a far more efficient means for the transfer of text and images than used to be the case. Driven by expectations of magazine presentation style and the need for financial support, the cult of the celebrity extends into climbing – and climbing high E numbers grabs headlines.

During the winter of 2012/13 an E5 on Flat crags, 1984, was climbed; the second stripping the route in thawing conditions. The ascent made the headlines of the climbing website ukc. Subsequent inspection found that the rock had been damaged.

In previous winters other marginal ascents were recorded – Snicker Snack, Gable (2003) D Route and Asterisk, Gimmer (2010) The Angel of Mercy, Gable (2011), and much earlier Central Buttress, Scafell (1986). These are all first class rock routes with no significant drainage or vegetation. They will rarely, if ever be in a winter condition where rock placements could not be used. With today’s modern tools and techniques it seems that anything can be ruled in when it’s cold and days are short. If we are to preserve these rock routes for the future we must challenge these ascents.

In Wales a clear message has been posted – that classic rock climbs should not be climbed with winter tools. This should apply equally in the Lakes.

There may be exceptions, but before you go out, ask yourself if it is necessary to climb your chosen crag in winter, or to harbor dreams of making the first single push ascent of some famous classic rock route, when round the corner or in another valley there are unclimbed lines of untold difficulty on unfrequented crags; potential future winter classics awaiting an ascent? Dismissing the celebritisation of winter ascents of extremely demanding rock climbs is essential to preserve their integrity.

Containing no significant rock climbing some crags present no real issues – Great End, Dove Crag Grasmoor, the high crags of the eastern wall of the Helvellyn range and the crags beyond Pillar on the rim of Ennerdale. Others provide good sport in both winter and summer with no competing interest – the deep gullies and broken buttresses of Scafell, vegetated Pikes Crag, the wet parts of Pavey Ark, are accepted targets; as are vegetated crags that have been dropped from rock climbing guides.

The protection of rare plants has already been embraced by winter climbers in this area and an ascent is considered to be flawed if the vegetation is not frozen hard. If you find yourself faced with unfrozen ground – back off and go elsewhere - all you are doing is wrecking the route and the habitat! Equally, if you are faced with the possibility of compromising the integrity of a rock route, back off and go somewhere else.

We must all recognise the responsibilities that rest upon our shoulders – to manage the mountain environment for future generations. As the publisher of the Lake District climbing guides (winter guide a joint venture with Cicerone) the FRCC has a special role. The burden of responsibility is heavy as we strive to balance the principal of keeping a definitive account of climbing activity in the Lake District with the preservation of the things that we cherish. Our aim is to secure the harmonious co-existence of competing interests within our sport. Our legacy must be the creation of a sustainable future for climbing through reconciliation of these competing styles.

Guidelines for Mixed Winter Climbing
The expansion of winter climbing activity in the Lake District is creating additional pressure on the mountain environment, endangering fragile eco-systems and damaging existing rock climbing routes. In an attempt to safeguard our climbing heritage and protect fragile and rare alpine plants we suggest these guidelines for winter ascents.

• Mixed rock and ice routes should be avoided if the use of bare rock is required for more than very short sections – 2 or 3 meters
• The climb should be easier using ice climbing tools and crampons
• Turf should be frozen hard

• Good style - a ground up ascent in one single push on leader placed gear

Protection on mixed or iced rock
• Cams are unreliable in iced cracks
• The presumption is against the use of pegs
• Where pegs are necessary, leave them in place
• Bolt protection should NOT be placed at all

Winter Ascents of Summer Rock Routes
Climbing any classic rock route that involves sections of dry-tooling for more than one or two moves is unacceptable

• Dry-Tooling is understood to be climbing steep rock using ice axes, with or without crampons
• Dry-Tooling should only be practiced at recognised and established venues such as The Works

• Be aware of the damage that can be caused to rare alpine plants.
Known sites should be avoided unless hard frozen conditions prevail.

FRCC Guides
Editor - Steve Scott
August 2013

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