/ Popularity of Scottish Winter

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Andy Moles - on 27 Nov 2017
When it seems like the more adventurous styles of rock climbing are relatively out of fashion in the UK, why is winter climbing seemingly more popular than ever?

I can speculate a few reasons but I'm interested what others' take on this is.
Michael Gordon - on 27 Nov 2017
In reply to Andy Moles:

This doesn't explain the popularity of winter climbing, but in relative terms the lack of adventurous (bigger routes with a decent walk in) rock climbing by comparison is explained by the fact there's an alternative (easy access cragging). Rarely the case in winter unless there's a super freeze low down. Really there's no option but to exert some effort if you want to winter climb in Scotland.
jonnie3430 - on 27 Nov 2017
In reply to Andy Moles:

Be good to set up a popularity measure, i.e. number of cold climbs routes done in a year, or number of ascents of a good but not overly common route. Hopefully that would prevent trips into the norries from sqeuing results.
Andy Moles - on 27 Nov 2017
In reply to Michael Gordon:

> the lack of adventurous (bigger routes with a decent walk in) rock climbing by comparison is explained by the fact there's an alternative (easy access cragging).

But that has always been the case. It seems like fashion is trending away from more committing types of climbing in summer, which wouldn't lead you to expect that more and more people would be out slogging and suffering in winter.

olddirtydoggy - on 27 Nov 2017
In reply to Andy Moles:

I only started climbing to get into the winter stuff but ended up loviing the summer seasons too. Double win.
Andy Nisbet - on 27 Nov 2017
In reply to Andy Moles:

Is it really more popular, or just you hear more about it nowadays?
Andy Moles - on 27 Nov 2017
In reply to Andy Nisbet:

I don't know Andy, you probably have a better idea than just about anyone. I have the impression that it's got more popular even in the decade I've been doing it, but it sounds like you're not so sure?
Dave Kerr - on 27 Nov 2017
In reply to Andy Moles:
> When it seems like the more adventurous styles of rock climbing are relatively out of fashion in the UK, why is winter climbing seemingly more popular than ever?

My impression is that it's just the less committing and more accessible places that are popular in winter (maybe the Ben is an exception).

It's still pretty rare to see more than one other team (if any!) in many NW venues or the further flung Cairngorm crags.
Post edited at 15:29
Michael Gordon - on 27 Nov 2017
In reply to Andy Moles:

> But that has always been the case. It seems like fashion is trending away from more committing types of climbing in summer, which wouldn't lead you to expect that more and more people would be out slogging and suffering in winter.

For a more recent example, you could consider how adding to the choice of bolted venues in Scotland has reduced traffic to even some accessible crags which have become unfashionable. With rock climbing you've got lots of convenience options, but winter climbing is a different activity and with few exceptions, these options don't exist.
Andy Nisbet - on 27 Nov 2017
In reply to Andy Moles:

> I don't know Andy, you probably have a better idea than just about anyone. I have the impression that it's got more popular even in the decade I've been doing it, but it sounds like you're not so sure?

I'm not so sure. Rocky routes in the Norries are more popular than they used to be (word has got round) but otherwise not sure. Popularity hasn't dropped like mountain rock but I'm not convinced it's gone up.
Andy Moles - on 27 Nov 2017
In reply to Andy Nisbet:

> Rocky routes in the Norries are more popular than they used to be

Coire an t-Stanage, where the grades are hard and everything slopes, and where you can be sure to see beginners doing worrying things

vscott - on 27 Nov 2017
In reply to Andy Moles:
Agree re the 'less alternative options than in summer - geographical/conditions limitations leads to concentration', plus few other contributing factors I can think of in no particular order...
- massive improvement in specific conditions information... not so relevant in summer except for rarely dry cliffs, and there's not the same degree of conditions blogging and associated 'fear of missing out' on once in a decade conditions etc in summer...
- winter has more of the adventure/experience wow factor
- much better and supposedly annually "improved" kit - makes winter less miserable and a great excuse for shiny new toys each season!

French Erick - on 27 Nov 2017
In reply to vscott:

> - much better and supposedly annually "improved" kit - makes winter less miserable and a great excuse for shiny new toys each season!

Do some people really buy new toys every year?
I am just poor or tight-fisted or both:
I have just had to change my textiles because they were literally decomposing and I was getting cold and wet. I sure hope to get another 8 years out of my trews and may be 6 out of my jacket. Not sure about the belay jacket as it is a cheapo from go outdoors (£52!!!). I am still climbing with my G14 given me as a Christmas present in 2004. My axes are second hand. Same helmet all my UK life.

Admittedly, I don't get out that often and I don't work in the outdoors.

I would agree with everyone here. It seems more popular. Probably because we are more informed about it, there is more connectivity between climbers (social media...), we are more limited in venues due to conditions (queuing on the Ben or the NC). However, as Dave K says, go into a more unknown/ unsure venue and you'll probably climb alone. Can we ever know how popular it used to be? How many not well known climbers were out there doing low grade stuff that we will have never heard about?

An interesting question Andy Moles!!
Andy Moles - on 27 Nov 2017
In reply to French Erick:

Get with the programme Erick, last year's tools mean last year's grades. My new jacket is so light I would start to float up the crag if I wasn't tied in.
French Erick - on 27 Nov 2017
In reply to Andy Moles:

That IS the explanation of my repeated failures and why everybody seems to levitate up grade VIIs and VIIIs!!! Not because I am a weak and ageing climber! It is reassuring.
elliptic on 27 Nov 2017
In reply to French Erick:

> Can we ever know how popular it used to be? How many not well known climbers were out there doing low grade stuff that we will have never heard about?

I can remember being fourth or fifth in the queue up Green Gully when I first did it in the early 90s (plus ca change).

I do think there's much more chance these days of finding queues on the harder and more ephemeral stuff as well, and there are certainly many more people operating at the higher grades. But away from the obvious honeypot venues it's maybe hard to distinguish between actual increased numbers, versus the sampling bias from greater concentration now that everyone always knows where the good conditions are...
Dave Perry - on 27 Nov 2017
In reply to Andy Moles:
I think winter climbing has got far more popular than ever it was.

In the 40 years I've been coming to Scotland in winter I've noticed far more people on winter routes and once where we could sit in the Claichaig bar and enjoy the craic over a pint, now you can't hear the craic for the crowds and you're more likely to get your pint knocked over.

Multiple reasons maybe. Scottish roads improved making it easier to get up north, folk have more money to spend on winter equipment, clothing is far, far better than 30 years ago even, and dare I say it, for some there is also a bit more kudos saying you go winter mountaineering/climbing/snow and ice etc.,
Post edited at 19:02
Simon Caldwell - on 27 Nov 2017
In reply to Dave Perry:

We rarely used to go to the Clachaig during the late 80s/early 90s as it was too busy, much preferred the Kings House. But then that became a bit crap and usually pretty deserted, so maybe everyone who used to go there switched to the Clachaig? Certainly last time I went, we couldn't even get a seat.
coldwill - on 27 Nov 2017
In reply to Andy Moles:

Climbing as a whole is more popular thereforestands to reason winter climbing is more popular too. Though I suspect the increase isn’t as great as the increase in sport climbing. Any increase will also concentrate on the obvious easy access stuff I suspect.
Patrick Roman - on 27 Nov 2017
In reply to Andy Moles:

I think it's fair to say that soloing hard routes in winter could be called adventurous, and relative to years ago (last century), it seems to have gone dramatically out of fashion.

Since the turn of the millennium it's rare to hear of the kind of solos that were regularly done by guys like Cubby, Brendan Murphy, Nick Bullock, Mal Duff, Simon Yates, Paul Tattersall, Tut Braithwaite, Iain Nicolson and many others.

Also, when I think of some of those early winter climbs that were done with the gear available, it makes me shudder! Yes, there's a lot more focus on winter climbing these days (online media plays a big part) but real adventurous climbing is still the preserve of the few.

I mean, nobody is queuing up to do a winter route on Foinaven
Robert Durran - on 27 Nov 2017
In reply to Andy Moles:

Along with other reasons mentioned, I blame the "new" grading system for making it a big numbers game (unlike when everything was just V). Also, it is the revolution in attitudes to relatively safe "mixed" snowed up rock climbing.
Misha - on 27 Nov 2017
In reply to Andy Moles:
Good question, especially given that winter conditions aren't generally getting better year on year (though we've had some decent winters over the last 10 years or so). I think there are two key factors:

- More exposure through UKC, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and so on - both amount and quality of coverage and photos. That is, both the activity (it's cool! FOMO alert!) and the conditions (in the last few years you've been able to get same day reports / logs, so I think people have been making the trek North more often than they might have done in the past when there was far less certainty whether something was 'in').

- Better gear, so you stay warmer and drier, while better tools make climbing easier, and the whole lot weighs less.

To a lesser extent, dry tooling has become more popular, making it easier to train for winter, though it's still very much a niche activity and most winter climbers don't get involved in it.
Post edited at 20:47
Misha - on 27 Nov 2017
In reply to French Erick:

> That IS the explanation of my repeated failures and why everybody seems to levitate up grade VIIs and VIIIs!!! Not because I am a weak and ageing climber! It is reassuring.

You say that in jest but there's an element of truth there... Take an experienced climber who can generally get up grade Y, given him or her better gear and they will find it easier to get up grade Y+1. It won't be the only reason but it will help!
Andy Moles - on 27 Nov 2017
In reply to Robert Durran:

> I blame the "new" grading system for making it a big numbers game (unlike when everything was just V).

I don't think I buy that one. Most styles of climbing have an open ended grading system, it doesn't seem to have much to do with how popular they are. Did people really winter climb less in the past compared to now (if that is the case) just because they couldn't claim a bigger number?

Dave Kerr - on 27 Nov 2017
In reply to Andy Moles:
> I don't think I buy that one. Most styles of climbing have an open ended grading system, it doesn't seem to have much to do with how popular they are. Did people really winter climb less in the past compared to now (if that is the case) just because they couldn't claim a bigger number?

I think some were less willing to try a harder route under the old system as you didn't really know what it would be like. The current system has removed some of that uncertainty.
Post edited at 21:00
Andy Moles - on 27 Nov 2017
In reply to Patrick Roman:

If I'm understanding correctly how your reply speaks to my original post, I think you're suggesting that I'm wrong in thinking that more people are participating in 'adventurous' climbing in winter.

If that's the case, I would suggest that the difference between winter soloing and winter leading is less than the difference between winter leading and not winter climbing at all...
Tobes on 27 Nov 2017
In reply to Dave Kerr:

> My impression is that it's just the less committing and more accessible places that are popular in winter (maybe the Ben is an exception).

> It's still pretty rare to see more than one other team (if any!) in many NW venues or the further flung Cairngorm crags.

Yep, totally agree with this. Pretty much my experience also.

French Erick - on 27 Nov 2017
In reply to Dave Kerr:

Uncertainty vs adventure is an interesting concept that probably has changed from previous decades. Victorians liked the uncertainty whence came adventure. Maybe the whole attitude to life has moved towards being risk averse. That in itself could explain why we, winter climbers, love it so much. A bit of adventure with some uncertainty to break the brain breaking routine.

What I love in winter climbing here is that I can get that big feel of an adventure in a 24h period with less objective dangers than the greater ranges. Yet there's enough of a sting that it requires respect, knowledge and mastery.

In this 21st century world where any uncertainty is enough to devalue currency and upset whole nations, winter climbing is a relatively accessible adventurous area, hence the possible/perceived increase in popularity? Am I reading too much into that?
Dave Kerr - on 27 Nov 2017
In reply to French Erick:

> it requires respect, knowledge and mastery.

As Meatloaf said...2 out of 3 ain't bad.

French Erick - on 27 Nov 2017
In reply to Dave Kerr:

That sounded pretentious, you're correct. Striving for them anyhow!!
Patrick Roman - on 27 Nov 2017
In reply to Andy Moles:

The way you worded your original post implies that winter climbing in any form is adventurous. I disagree. What's the stat, twice as many accidents in winter, but only half as many fatalities? Does that make winter in general more or less adventurous than summer?

Soloing a V,7 and leading a V,7 are different worlds. Leading a well protected winter route isn't much of a risk. Whether that makes it less adventurous, however, will differ depending on the individual, their experiences and how they personally define adventure.

For me, I hate the word adventure. I don't go climbing or travel or do anything else for the sake of adventure. I do it for the experience. I do it probably because I'm just curious.
Jakedowell - on 27 Nov 2017
In reply to Andy Moles:

I've only been wintering for 4 seasons now but I would agree with the general consensus of the forum. Over that short time it seems to me that accessible and reliable venues have become significantly more popular. This suggests to me that numbers have increased in general.
I think there are more venues that are remote and 'adventurous' and I suspect that when conditions are good climbers naturally spread out. Judging the popularity of these would therefore be harder than in the concentrated norries.

Cheers
Dave Kerr - on 27 Nov 2017
In reply to Patrick Roman:

> For me, I hate the word adventure. I don't go climbing or travel or do anything else for the sake of adventure. I do it for the experience. I do it probably because I'm just curious.

I don't mind the word adventure (it's extreme that boils my piss). I think any activity with an uncertain outcome can be an adventure. Like farting when you've had the runs.

Misha - on 27 Nov 2017
In reply to Dave Kerr:
That won’t be an uncertain outcome though.
Dave Kerr - on 27 Nov 2017
In reply to Misha:
> That won’t be an uncertain outcome though.

Sure, there's a point where it's all going to end in disaster but there's also that point when you think you're on the mend and it might be worth a shot, where it's just on the cusp of possibility. That's the spirit of adventure right there.
Post edited at 23:00
Patrick Roman - on 27 Nov 2017
In reply to Dave Kerr:

Brilliant!! That's not the kind of response I expected. I'm off to bed!
Misha - on 28 Nov 2017
In reply to Dave Kerr:
True, it’s what they call living on the edge (of your seat).
SenzuBean - on 28 Nov 2017
In reply to Andy Moles:

It's because the winter kit now is so fancy and shiny. Who can resist owning a pair of sharp curved axes that look like gnarly eagle talons? Or screwing giant hollow screws into bits of ice? Or having great big kicking-spikes on your boots and you can kick and spike things to your hearts content?
Then it's just a case of justifying why you bought the shiny things...
NeilBoyd - on 28 Nov 2017
In reply to Andy Moles:

There is more information and therefore more to go at. The kit is better, lighter, warmer and marketed hard. More people have more disposable income to spend on leisure activities. The roads are far better than the pre 90's , mostly EU funded. Guidebooks give phenemonal detail compared with Hamish Mcinnes 'climb the gully line to the top' approach. The huts and other accommodation are nicer thanks to IKEA. You can actually get a decent coffee north of the Central Belt. People have been taught better thanks to books, mags, internet and courses. Mobile phones are around and rescue services are very efficient. Winter climbing is generally a nicer, more comfortable experience that allows older people, even pensioners to have a go at. Cheap flights and car hire allow easy access to southern England population and further afield etc...

Due to all the above, I would think there are more people doing it. Surely, one of the Outdoor Ed masters people have done a study on it and have some data...

Michael Gordon - on 28 Nov 2017
In reply to Patrick Roman:

The OP does imply that winter climbing in any form is adventurous. Of course it's all relative and depends on the route, but I would regard it generally as more 'adventurous' than summer, and less so than alpinism/expeditioning. For a couple of things there can be objective dangers (avalanche, cornice collapse), and the weather is worse. The climbing is generally less well protected, and the chance of a placement blowing is less easy to assess than whether you can hold something in summer. It may be this last reason that explains most why soloing tricky mixed routes is unpopular, and probably always will be. I agree that soloing V,7 is a totally different world and probably not something you would see from anyone leading much below IX (and even then it may not appeal!).
French Erick - on 28 Nov 2017
In reply to Michael Gordon:

Too right! I can imagine soloing V,4... just and I won't in a hurry. But soloing V,7, like Crest Route (V 6)... no way. Too much objective danger in that game. I have never even wondered what was the hardest solo in winter!! I probably don't want to know the answer anyway.
Andy Nisbet - on 28 Nov 2017
In reply to Robert Durran:

> Along with other reasons mentioned, I blame the "new" grading system for making it a big numbers game (unlike when everything was just V). Also, it is the revolution in attitudes to relatively safe "mixed" snowed up rock climbing.

You youngster. When I started, everything was just IV.
galpinos on 28 Nov 2017
In reply to Andy Moles:

I'm don't do a lot of mixed so this is from the point of view of a mainly snow/ice/gully climber.....

For me, the big difference was better leashless tools. Before that, winter climbing was an experience endured, pure type II fun involving a lot of faff in poor weather. You were in these fantastic places but the climbing itself didn't flow, it felt very stop start with leashes and, to a "mainly" rock climber, the whole weight being taken by my leashes was odd.

Then clipper leashes arrived on my new Quarks (second gen, I was a late adopter and got my money's worth out of my Pulsars) and I went from leashes to clippers to leashless in a season. It just made the climbing so much better, it flowed, it felt like real climbing. Add to that, my new screws had jazzy handles and the faff factor reduced massively and not only was enjoying the location, the exposure, the conditions etc I was loving the actual climbing too!
HeMa on 28 Nov 2017
In reply to French Erick:

No clue, but I do seem to remember Marc LeLerc did some relatively hard routes OS solo while he was in Scotland a few years back...

https://www.ukclimbing.com/articles/page.php?id=8224
French Erick - on 28 Nov 2017
In reply to HeMa:

Jeezo!!! I do remember being blown away by this now... not for me. For my level of fitness and level of skills soloing is the realm of ice routes in great conditions up to tech 4. Beyond tech 4, it becomes a game of russian roulette (again for my good self) and therefore steps away from adventure and firmly into suicidal. Others may be well comfortable at a higher tech grade. Interestingly, the overall grade doesn't matter much anymore.

I am pretty sure that winter free soloing isn't what makes winter potentially more popular. All of what has been said is still anecdotal and we don't have any sort of evidence for it actually being so. It probably doesn't exist.
Andy Moles - on 28 Nov 2017
In reply to Patrick Roman:

> The way you worded your original post implies that winter climbing in any form is adventurous. I disagree.

Maybe 'adventurous' wasn't the best choice of word, I didn't take the care to draft a watertight thesis and it seemed good enough shorthand.

So substitute it for something else, but I would say that across the spectrum of all the climbing that people are doing, even an easy route in the Northern Corries is quite 'adventurous'.

It's freezing cold, conditions are constantly changing, you need to understand the weather and snowpack, other people are possibly doing something daft above you, protection can be hard to find, there's not much daylight, you have to get up early and drive on icy roads, etc. None of these things is much of a problem at a Spanish sport crag or down the wall.

HeMa on 28 Nov 2017
In reply to French Erick:

>... not for me. For my level of fitness and level of skills soloing is the realm of ice routes in great conditions up to tech 4. Beyond tech 4, it becomes a game of russian roulette (again for my good self) and therefore steps away from adventure and firmly into suicidal...

I'm following your lead on this... but since I have no clue what tech 4 ice means... I'll leave it at that...

Patrick Roman - on 28 Nov 2017
In reply to Andy Moles:

Andy, I wasn't trying to get all anal over the wording of the original post, I just interpreted it as if you go winter climbing you're instantly doing something more adventurous. I agree that winter climbing, inherently, is more adventurous before you've even left the house, just ask all those climbers who have written off their vehicles just trying to get to the hills (that includes myself btw, my trusty Volvo V70 while doing 35mph en route to Rois-bheinn one early December morning)!

All those things that make winter winter are mandatory, you have no choice the moment you decide to climb at that time of year. What I was trying to get at was how adventurous is the actual climbing compared to summer, or to put it another/better(?) way, how adventurous are people's decisions in comparison to those made in summer? I'm not sure they are any different or at least not markedly so. But, as someone has already pointed out, it's all conjecture, I'm not sure there's a definitive way of knowing.

Someone also mentioned alpine/expedition climbing. I know it's a bit off topic but for years I used to think the Bonington era was way out there in terms of "adventure" climbing, and that seemed to be backed up in part by the number of fatalities that plagued that time. But these days I'm not so sure. Then again, climbers back then were tackling mountains like The Ogre, the Latoks and Gasherbrum IV while only being able to rock climb in the low E grades, compared to the likes of David Lama, the Huber brothers etc these days.

Interesting thread btw
peter.herd - on 02 Dec 2017
In reply to Andy Moles:

I think this apparent difference in summer and winter popularity of Scottish mountain crags is largely attributable to sampling bias i.e.. where people are likely to go given forecast, conditions, fbook etc.

Spread over a longer season, there are a greater number of high crags for summer climbing, consistently more useful climbing conditions encompassing a larger geographical area plus people often seek solitude and/or don't publicise their days out to a similar extent as in winter (I'm suggesting UKC, as well as instagram etc may actually be poor indicators of actual activity for a given climbing population in a given year.. lets be realistic.. nobody is counting footfall here!) and that the opposite reasons might explain apparent winter activity/popularity.

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