I picked up a copy of Ian Parnell and Neil Gresham's new book Winter Climbing + at exactly the wrong part of the season, having just seen the three weeks I'd allotted to climbing in Scotland this winter coincide with three of the winter's worst weeks of weather and conditions.
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Knowing I would not get another chance to put tools to turf until next season, I spent a whole train journey south getting psyched for something that was eight months away!
Any book that seeks to help people improve has succeeded in half its task merely by enthusing its readers about the subject from the start and this book certainly manages that!
I've read many winter self-improvement books in my time, starting before I'd even swung a tool, aged 11 with Yvon Chouinard's classic, Climbing Ice which my non-climbing grandfather stumbled upon as a birthday present in a second hand shop. More recently Will Gadd's superb Ice and Mixed Climbing – Modern Technique substantially altered the way I climb ice, which was previously learnt from trial and error, observation and fear.
On starting Winter Climbing +, I initially wondered what it could add to those two books and everything I've read in-between. I suspect that most UK-based winter climbers spend most of their time climbing in Scotland in a variety of conditions and weather, with perhaps an annual trip abroad to somewhere with more reliable temperatures and a more continental “winter cragging” feel to it. What this book adds that others have understandably lacked, is that it approaches the subject from precisely this perspective. Where other books might have added bits and pieces that I could take away as useful or relevant to my own winter climbing, they always seemed geared to a reader with reliable access to solid ice and well bolted mixed climbing. In most instances they would neglect the not-quite-so-trustworthy ice and the traditionally protected mixed climbing that form the bulk of most UK climbers' winter diet. This book fills that void very well while also giving enough information and skills advice to allow someone who has only ever done trad mixed climbing to feel confident about going abroad to try bolted mixed climbing.
I felt that the section that added most where others had lacked was “The Mind”; to me it seems that in Scottish winter climbing, even more than other types of winter climbing, it is the mental approach of different climbers that makes the biggest single difference to their capabilities. This section breaks down the mental approach into manageable chunks, examining motivation, risk assessment, rational boldness, focus, breathing and visualisation. These are all techniques that the best climbers use all the time, often subconsciously, but...
...they are explained here in a way that will help the weekend winter warrior make the most of that most powerful of winter-climbing muscles – the brain.
The section on physical training is also very informative, although perhaps more guidance on how to fit the training into a “normal” climber's year would have been useful to the majority of readers who are unlikely to gear the whole training year around winter climbing. Throughout the book the advice is brought to life with regular and entertaining short stories, often offering the reader a chance to learn from the authors' mistakes. I particularly liked Unleashing The Rock God – the story of Neil taking Leo Houlding on his first ice climb! The look and feel of the book also benefits greatly from Ian's superb photography, supplemented with a few well chosen additions from other photographers.
The fact that the book covers so many topics is also perhaps its major shortfall; in some cases there is too little information or very important topics are only touched upon. This was most notable in the section on avalanches, which was about the same length as the discussion of different leash options. This is perhaps understandable since this is not a book on avalanche safety, but it would perhaps be worth noting that this is a very complex and important topic and suggesting where readers might go to learn more.
Overall I would highly recommend this book. It succeeds in offering something to both a complete beginner keen to get into the sport and a seasoned campaigner looking to get that little bit extra from their climbing. It is very comprehensive and is mostly full of very clear and good advice. There are books out there that cover certain aspects better, for example Will Gadd's book for the section on pure ice technique, or numerous books on avalanche assessment, but this book pulls together a very wide range of advice almost all of which is relevant to UK-based winter climbers.
What Rockfax say:
Winter Climbing+ is the third in the critically acclaimed series of instructional books from Rockfax. Written by two of the UK's most respected winter climbers, Winter Climbing+ takes a positive approach to the climbing discipline that has traditionally had its delights obscured by its dangers.
Filled with inspirational full colour photographs throughout, and a clear, concise text that quickly unravels the mysteries of winter climbing, Winter Climbing+ wastes no time in revealing shortcuts to the skills that make a sound winter climber. The book assumes the reader has no prior-knowldge of winter climbing and starts with the basic skills and equipment that are needed to safely head into the hills. The book progresses gradually to the more subtle movement skills and tactical elements that allow for rapid progress into higher levels of difficulty.
Describing the full range of activities covered by the title, Winter Climbing+ takes a detailed look at both ice and mixed climbing, examining both the traditional mixed climbing skills as well as those needed for modern sport mixed now widely practised. The book follows the style set in previous titles by including an in-depth look at the all-important psychological aspects of the sport, and finishes with a guide to major winter climbing destinations.Book Format - The book is in the standard A5, soft-cover format with full-colour throughout. It features many action photos to illustrate the various techniques, plus cartoons and informative text spread over 280+ pages.
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