/ Women and winter climbing

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SARS on 01 Nov 2012
What are the issues, if any, with women and winter/Scottish mixed climbing? Are there special considerations needed to be taken into account?

A friend of mine whose a climber is thinking of trying the winter stuff but she's a bit hesitant. Her build is quite slight, is strength an issue - re axes and crampon use as well as lugging heavy backpacks?

I'm interested in particularly womens' input into this. Cheers.
wilkie14c - on 01 Nov 2012
In reply to SARS:
I've climbed with women in winter and its no different than any other time really, if strength is an issue then she'll be best seconding where a tight rope would boost her and lower grades accordingly. If she is really as slight as you say then she'll perhaps need fastening in to belays <first pitch bottom> for an upward pull just down to the weight difference. Using a single rope would help as the bloke can carry it just to save her a little weight but otherwise she'll have to 'man up' with the sack, cramps, axes etc.
The only concern with the couple of females I've been out with is having a wee when wrapped up like the michelin man but a she-wee will sort that.
For males or females winter climbing is hard, lesson number one!
Emma Armstrong - on 01 Nov 2012
In reply to SARS: Women have no more issues when winter climbing (or mountaineering in general) than men do. Of course men are physically more strong than women, this just means that we use different techniques on routes.
KiwiPrincess - on 01 Nov 2012
In reply to SARS:

Hi I don't climb in Scotland but NZ which would be similar temps i think. I'm a 5 2 female but a bit of a tomboy.
My main issues were warmth / Comfort related.

When walking in Women loose warmth faster when you stop so Snacks in pockets, and a consistent pace rather than lots of stops

A GOOD warm hooded jacket (That fits over helmet and racked harness) and gloves for when you do stop. Dry gloves for belaying. A themos Of some thing nice and warm Is nice too.

Peeing- Salopete type Pants meant you had to take your jacket off I prefer no shoulder straps so I can get my Pants down without stripping down and everything blowing away.

Stuff is the same weight Regardless of your size unfortunately. I like Light axes and leashless (warmer, easier to shake out if getting pumped) No height problems, face climbing so balance will help, the climbing itself shouldn't be a problem

Will Gadd wrote an Iceclimbing book and there is a womens chapter. He discusses Layering and Nutrition for temp control. I found it useful.

Back pack wise I can carry a complete set of stuff by myself, but I find a good fitting hip belt Important as I can take more weight there than my shoulders.

Keep her warm..I almost didn't go back after the first time.
SARS on 01 Nov 2012
In reply to KiwiPrincess:

Thanks, sound advice. The cold is definitely her biggest worry.
French Erick - on 01 Nov 2012
In reply to SARS:
Spend time and money in a comfy rucksack...if she's concerned with weight that'll make a difference.
I would also take seriously the going light approach: I don't mean crazy lightweight (which could even be dangerous) but more the approach of you do NOT necessarily need all the shite people tell you you need. Be selective, experiment, think it through.
I climb mainly with blokes, but I've had a few female climbing partners and they were as trustworthy and reliable as any of my other regulars. To the extent that I've never thought in terms of gender, more availibilty when conditions are in.
Blanchie summed it up nicely, they're tiring days regardless of who you are.
Tall Clare - on 01 Nov 2012
In reply to SARS:

Specifically with regard to Scottish winter, Heike who posts on here could be a good person to ask - she's super-experienced and seems very approachable.
Pummelzacken - on 01 Nov 2012
In reply to SARS: Apart from the fact that the choice of clothing seems rather limited for us women in winter (and the colours you can choose from seem to be mainly pink and purply stuff!! :-/) I don't really see any difference between men and women climbing in winter! Yes, some ladies might be a little shorter and might need to do a few more paces than men on the walk in, but having a strong mind helps I found - so girls, stop looking for excuses and get on with it!
staceyjg - on 01 Nov 2012
In reply to SARS:

I've only been winter climbing once, but I would agree with the others that have mentioned layering and nutrition, I made sure I had plenty of layers and checked constantly with my partner who was much more experienced that I was (and still is), about taking things off and putting things on depending on where we were as I was fully aware, of getting too warm and then sweating, which ultimately, on a long cold day in the mountains is very important!
Milesy - on 01 Nov 2012
It is harder to take pisses in the snow if in a mixed group.
pebbles - on 01 Nov 2012
In reply to KiwiPrincess:
> (In reply to SARS)
> When walking in Women loose warmth faster when you stop so Snacks in pockets, and a consistent pace rather than lots of stops
> Keep her warm..I almost didn't go back after the first time.

Depends on the woman surely - I keep much warmer than most of the blokes I climb with. Probably my nice warm pie - jacket ;-D
Caralynh - on 01 Nov 2012
In reply to SARS:

A good rucksack means you don't feel the weight as much. I love my Osprey Mutant - feels heavy when you pick it up, but light enough once walking. I also overheat stupidly on walk-ins - often just wear a tshirt, but lose heat very very fast once stopped, so I have a big heavy belay jacket (PHD Zeta) and we do everything we can organisation/packing-wise to minimise gearing up time. I have climbed in hideous weather, but nowadays the wuss factor kicks in, and I won't walk in in drizzle, zero vis, low cloud and blowing a hoolie (I'll go for a walk/scramble instead). Slight build is no issue, I'm size 8.
climbingpixie on 01 Nov 2012
In reply to SARS:

If she's concerned about the weeing thing I can recommend buffalo salopettes - mine have a crotch zip running from front to back meaning I can stop for a wee without taking any clothing off!
KiwiPrincess - on 01 Nov 2012
In reply to pebbles:
Well generalising of course, but apparently it's common to warm up slower and certainly with me personally.

Pummelzacken: No excuses..I'm out there. I Just had to adapt a system to be warm and happy that differs from the people I learnt from.

Milesy: I find "don't look this way for a minute, I'm going to pee" solves the problem

Climbing Pixie: I had those. May it's be the small market here but couldn't buy thermal leggings with a corresponding Access.

Chick-on-a-Rope - on 02 Nov 2012
In reply to SARS: Like your friend I am a small build. I did my first winter session seven years ago and nearly gave up until a guide I met in the Alps who told me to change my boots. Mine were too heavy for me. A quick trip into a shop in Chamonix and the problem was sorted. And I'm still enjoying my winter and alpine mountaineering thanks to his advance. Top man Neil Johnson.
UKC Forums - on 02 Nov 2012
This thread was started in the ROCKTALK forum and has now been moved.
Please could you try and post in the correct forum, it makes life easier for both users and moderators.

Winter Climbing - From Scottish gullies to Rjukan ice falls, this is the forum to discuss everything involved with winter climbing. Conditions, what's in and what's not, avalanche risk, recommended routes plus accounts of your exploits.

More Forum descriptions -
kirsten on 02 Nov 2012
In reply to Chick-on-a-Rope: I don't really find any more practical issues than with summer climbing. But with minimal experience, I want to be out with someone that knows what they are doing.
dek - on 02 Nov 2012
In reply to SARS:
iksander on 02 Nov 2012
Captain Solo on 02 Nov 2012
In reply to Emma Armstrong:
> (In reply to SARS) Women have no more issues when winter climbing (or mountaineering in general) than men do. Of course men are physically more strong than women, this just means that we use different techniques on routes.

I would second that, although I am a bloke I have always been pretty weedy.
I have found that if I use the right techniques (using leg muscles as much as possible and balance) I can avoid a lot of strenuous arm moves on routes up to and including grade IV.
I must add I prefer traditional routes (neve and ice) as opposed to the more technically demanding and physical modern mixed (powder on rock).
Just start on the grade Is and IIs and work your way up.
Roberttaylor - on 02 Nov 2012
In reply to SARS: I know a roughly equal number of male and female climbers. While the guys almost all climb in winter the girls tend to stick to walking then. A few of them do winter climb but the majority seem put off it, which is a shame. Not even sure why.

My goose is not interested in winter climbing as she hates the cold.

JohnnyW - on 02 Nov 2012
In reply to SARS:

My female partners certainly do seem to feel the cold a little more, and I agree with the weeing issue - She-wees seem to be the way forward.

The strength issue is usually for the walk-in/out, not the climbing. I have often ended up with both rack and rope unfortunately once real fatigue sets in.

The technique finesse arguement is the same for winter as summer.
TobyA on 02 Nov 2012
In reply to SARS: Where I normally ice climb, a ten minute walk-in is considered long, so really it's all about the climbing not about long day suffer-fests like Scotland, and I do ice climb with quite a few women. But I have noticed that the somewhat brutal nature of steep water ice seems harder for women at first than for blokes. It might be that men have generally more shoulder and upper arm strength, and in the actual swinging tools, being light has no advantage unlike in rock climbing. I've climbed with some very good women ice climbers so it's not like women can't ice climb by any means, but when a fit guy and a fit girl try ice climbing for the first time, I think often the woman finds it harder. Of course that's just an average and there will be exceptions in both directions.
trish1968 - on 02 Nov 2012
In reply to SARS:
I'm female and do lots of winter climbing when conditions allow.
Having a pee is a challenge but I have ME waterproofs that unzipp from the top down so you can pull them right out of the way or there's always the shee wee.
As everyone else has said winter outings are hard work for everyone a heavy bag does slow me down a lot but I seem to manage to keep up with my male friends.
Climbing wise I don't think I'm at any disadvantage being female I'm just rubbish but I still enjoy it.
trish1968 - on 02 Nov 2012
In reply to trish1968: p.s. I must admit on steep ice in Cogne last year I was a right girl when I was swinging my axes. I intend to climb like a bloke next Jan when I'm in the Dolomites.
Natalie feather - on 02 Nov 2012
In reply to SARS:
I've been winter climbing for about 5 years, not sure if these issues are related to being a woman as I don't winter climb with many other women so it might just be me:

Over heating on the walk ins.
I used to have problems carrying lots of gear until I got a CRUX rucksack, simple design and stays close to my back. I am also a bit of a waif.
Never used to have problems with hot aches until last year, but I think that is down to upping my grade.
I wouldn't say strength is an issue, it's all relative when it comes to the actual climbing. Being able to lock off is handy.
I would say I'm slower on the walk ins than any man I have climbed with but I wouldn't say I am slow as such.
I would also say I am faster on the walk outs, and always without fail the person driving the car home when my man is fast asleep!
I think your pal should def give it a go, I have many female climbing friends who are super strong who just aren't keen to go out in winter and it would be nice to see more women out and about.

Feel free to tell her to get in touch if she wants any more advice.

Heike - on 04 Nov 2012
In reply to SARS:
I am female and love winter climbing, am out as often as possible. The only issue I think is non-specific kit (i.e. they don't make enough good women's kit). Strength is not an issue, it's more a question of persistence. Anything else is IMHO an imposed issue from the outside, e.g. why are there many women climbing to a high level, but there is not enough fitting gear? I don't know. As some people say, exposing your bum to to a gale and snow storm is a bit of an issue, but you get used to it and I can't be bothered to walk more then a few metres away. If it offends any men climbers sensibilities, they should try themselves ;-) Lugging heavy backpacks? No issue at all, it's just a question of what you are used to. I climb with loads of different people and some are weak and some are strong - nothing to do with gender. I have often carried heavier packs for guys and girls, then again I have other partners who are stronger then me, then they carry heavier packs, simple.
Heike - on 04 Nov 2012
In reply to Heike:

Oh, and to the posters who say women fell the cold more, I think this is a myth. Can't confirm this from my own or friends perspective.
emily roo - on 04 Nov 2012
In reply to SARS: I was definitely wearing a lot less clothing than my male partner in the norries a couple of days ago, so think feeling the cold is totally down to the individual!

I am 5 foot 4 and pretty light too, the walk-ins used to screw me over and knacker me out, (especially if i was chasing after super fast boys!) this had a habit of destroying my psyche totally.... now that I'm much more hill fit I actually enjoy the climbing and sometimes outbeast the boys ;) though I wish I didn't scream like a girl when I take lead falls.

Gear is going to become her main problem as companies seem to be cutting down on their women specific gear even more. TNF for example are discontinuing the womens Point Five jacket as there isn't enough demand for them apparently. Having size 36-37 feet means that finding boots is pretty tricky so if she has small feet trying before buying may not be an option!

Go climbing in a 3 with her, then you have some belay banter which always makes the day more pleasant and less scary Definitely get her out there though, there are a lot of keen women winter climbers about suddenly, which is sweet! I think I may almost have more female climbing partners than male these days....
Carolyn - on 04 Nov 2012
In reply to Heike:

> Oh, and to the posters who say women fell the cold more, I think this is a myth. Can't confirm this from my own or friends perspective.

I think this may be partly related to the gear issue - not so much now, but 20 years ago when it was only really unisex (ie men's!) fit, I everything was too big for me, and so loads of spaces for warm air to escape. I was only really walking at the time, but it was a big whinge for the women winter mountaineers I knew, particularly the shorter/slighter ones.
graeme gatherer - on 04 Nov 2012
In reply to emily roo: There seems to be many more women climbing in continental Europe so the shops in the usual alpine towns seem to sell a much better range of women specific clothing and in the much smaller sizes too. My wife has found Montura kit bought in Italy to fit really well and it looks great too. One or two shops over here are catching on but they don't seem to be able to offer equivalent prices for obvious reasons.
Dave Almond - on 14 Nov 2012
In reply to SARS:
It's well worth giving her an introduction. I have climbed with Fiona Murray and Helen Rennard who climb at a very high level and obviously derive a lot of enjoyment from the sport. They carry all their own kit and if they don't notice some of mine as well. I walk in fast and never have to wait. I will be introducing my daughter to the sport when studies permit and she is just your average girlie teenager. No special kit required just the right attitude from mentor and new recruit.
ross - on 14 Nov 2012
I've done most of my winter climbing with girls and I see plenty of girls winter climbing in Scotland and the Alps, so gender is definitely not a barrier. The girl I mainly climbed with last winter (up to Scot 8) consistently destroyed me on walkins despite being smaller than me and carrying a bigger sack.
I think I feel the cold more than anyone I've climbed with so I combat this by always wearing mittens, even leading.
My girlfriend's top tip is to get a massive sleeping bag and keep your clothes in it so they are warm in the morning.
Good luck!
jhw - on 14 Nov 2012
My first encounter with ice axes was at the Covent Garden ice wall, with a Scottish girl I'd got to know the preceding summer who had done a bit of winter climbing before.

She absolutely powned me. Casually climbed the overhang on the right-hand line, which some of you will know about. I didn't even notice because I was flailing about on the easiest line at the time.

Gender differences are real but still, I often think of this encounter.

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