Ive been out in snow and ice several times but Ive never really followed any particular route and never done any winter climbing as such.
Ive done a search about what winter grades are but can someone tell me what they will likely involve. In terms of gear Ive got two T rated axes and Scarpa manta + Grivel G12 crampomatics
e.g. grade 1 - is this just hard walking with crampons and an axe as a safety?
At what grade would being roped up be essential?
Im more likely to be able to go out on my own rather than with some other climbers so I just want to know what grades to be looking at in guides. Ill be around the carneddau / glyderau / moelwyn areas in north wales mostly.
Thanks in advance.
Most people are happy unroped on grade I climbs, and yes in good conditions most grade I routes are little more than steep walks (although that's not to say a fall could not be serious). If you're going to be on your own i.e. soloing, then I'd say start off with a few grade I's even if you might think they'll be dull. Work up carefully to harder climbing and try and practise techniques needed beyond grade I in non-committing situations; find short steeper patches of ice and mixed ground close to the ground to become more confident. There isn't any particular grade when being roped up becomes essential, as long as you are happy and competent on the ground you're on. Like you my first winter season was spent climbing by myself, and after gaining confidence on I's and II's I was quite happy soloing on grade III climbs. But just climb whatever feels safe to you. Probably be some people on here who will tell you no no, don't solo on your own in winter, but as long as you think ahead, aren't overly ambitious and check conditions then you should be fine.
In reply to owena: It's not as simple as saying all Grade 1 are x, y or Z. example: Jacobs ladder in Coire an't Sneachda is a I as is the CMD arete on the Ben. Sometimes JL can get steep enough to need two axes. The CMD wouldn't ever require two axes. Knowing when to rope up is something that you will only know yourself. I've soloed a III but roped up on a II because I thought it needed it. Winter is just so much more dynamic than summer climbing and knowing when to do what and what gear you need comes down to experience - just get out there!
Grade I will be fairly steep (but plain angled) snow gullies that might end in a pant- filling, overhanging cornice depending on conditions...
There is no grade where I can recommend you 'rope up' because the ability to solo depends on your climbing ability and head for solo'ing. I don't know you, and if I did I still wouldn't say 'hey, go and solo that route.'
My advice to you would be to meet some climbing partners and get out on some routes with ropes. You'll have a far better time than sh1tting yourself on you own.
I managed pretty well in Ice Factor Kinlochleven, and thats vertical, despite still exhaling pure whisky from the night before.
Ive got a friend who climbs regularly and Ill get out with him on some of the harder grades then, Ill have a bash at Is and IIs and take some bog roll.
If you're going out on your own and have never winter climbed before it's quite likely you won't be looking beyond grade II (and still do grade I first). But you'll get a feel for what you're capable of when you're out. A key thing when soloing snow/ice routes is that conditions should be good - even grade II ground can be extremely sketchy if the snow is crap. Obviously avoidance of avalanches are also an important consideration.
> (In reply to willexodus) Thanks I was thinking grade I and II would be fine and III after a bit of practice.
Steady, that's not quite what I said. Given that you've done some winter hillwalking I said you should be ok on grade I, and then I illustrated how you may progress through describing my own experience. You may well happily progress to grade II and beyond, but certainly gain some experience and technique before jumping on things.
> Sometimes JL can get steep enough to need two axes.
It wasn't a grade I the only time I done it. Went to do Hidden Chimney but it was mobbed and Jacob's Ladder looked lean and icey. Involved a few mixed moved, and powder covered slabs and a pretty tricky mixed top out.
Some sound opinions above. A few things that haven't been explicitly mentioned are:
1) avalanche awareness is essential, especially in those areas (such as N Wales) for which online forecasts aren't available;
2) learn to judge conditions: they change metre by metre sometimes;
3) ensure that you are confident down-climbing: as on rock it can feel harder than ascending;
4) get used to moving in crampons on rock in a safe place before you have to make rock moves in an exposed situation.
All that said, in my view, winter soloing is one of the best experiences available in British climbing.
big variations in conditions leading to very different difficulty on the same route on different days
short daylight, potentially very severe weather
very real risk of avalanche
on grade I and II, the climbing is likely not to be the most serious part of the day, and your experience on the hill in winter conditions is more relevant than any technical skills
but these grades are broad, and while i would have happily done NC gully on SCnL the day i did it without a rope (II), i cant imagine being happy to make the crux moves on dorsal arete without one (also II)
though obviously many would find it trivial. so there is no grade that means ropes are required, but your plan to just get on the hill and build up lots of experience on lower grade stuff and then increase the grades organically sounds a good one
lots of brilliant low grade mountaineering ground in those ranges, up bristly ridge, down y gribin was a fantastic day out, we used a rope, many wouldn't,
I think that remembering how broad winter grades can be is really important, especially if you aim to progress to soloing III's. A couple of examples that stick in my mind are Black Spout Buttress on Lochnagar and North Gully on Lurchers Crag, both very different styles of climb and both notionally grade III (although BSB is tech 5). When we did BSB conditions were very powdery and it felt like the living end! On North Gully the crux pitch was in stonking condition with fat blue ice, but as a result the icefall had built out and become very steep. For an added bonus it was capped with a huge chandelier (think The Wand). The pitch, in retrospect, felt as hard as anything on Point Five! In contrast to both these routes, Penguin Gully (apart from a few steepish meters of ice at the start) felt like a walk in the park and could have been grade II! I know guide book grades are for average conditions but I'm always amazed at the variability, especially at grade III...
> (In reply to owena) Here's a description of the grading system http://www.mcofs.org.uk/winter-climbing-guide-grades.asp
> BUT as others have said, the grades are meaningless without an experienced interpretation of conditions. That said, some routes are much more condition-dependent than others.
> It tells me a lot about folks winter experience or lack off, when they say what grades and routes other people they don't know can solo...
Interesting that you feel able to pronounce judgement on the experience (or lack of) of other people that, ahem, you don't know.
Soon we'll be getting that chap coming along who's adamant that 10,000m of toproping on ice is an essential prerequisite to leading in winter.
> Penguin Gully (apart from a few steepish meters of ice at the start) felt like a walk in the park and could have been grade II! I know guide book grades are for average conditions but I'm always amazed at the variability, especially at grade III...
I know someone who found it continuous ice top to bottom and said it was solid Grade IV
> Interesting that you feel able to pronounce judgement on the experience (or lack of) of other people that, ahem, you don't know.
Not sure there's an inconsistency here, if that's what you are implying. Ron seemed to me just to be saying that if a person thinks they can tell a complete stranger what winter grade s/he can solo then that person probably hasn't much experience of the variability of British winter conditions. And that's a sound opinion if you ask me.
Well perhaps I should have worded it a bit more conservatively. The main reason I replied is that I was in the same situation as Owen i.e. done a bit of winter hillwalking but never climbing, and with no partner so soloing was the main option. I just described my experiences of getting into winter climbing when I was in the same position as him. Sorry if this offends the overly safety conscious among you.
> (In reply to MrRiley)
> I know someone who found it continuous ice top to bottom and said it was solid Grade IV
Wow! That must have been amazing! There must be a few classic gullies around that in an early cold snap, before getting filled in with snow, can be continuous water ice?! Have you ever seen March Hare's like this?
Aye, water ice will usually make a route harder, though not sure that necessarily makes it desirable! When I did March Hare's Gully there was good ice on the lower pitches but missing from the upper ones.
In reply to owena: Grade I will be easy when in condition and you won't need a rope, but winter conditions are unreliable and can vary widely, and easy routes can sometimes surprise you. My advice would be that if you really can't find someone to climb with then err on the side of caution untill you really know what you're doing. You might find grade IIIs easy, but start with some grade I gullies and work up. At the end of the day you should be able to downclimb a grade I if you encounter something you're not happy about soloing. And if they turn out too easy then you might get several done in a day, which is also great fun! Enjoy!