Drytooling, Mixed Climbing, Scottish Winter

by Jack Geldard - UKC Chief Editor Apr/2013
This news story has been read 9,690 times
The long held British winter climbing ethic of only climbing rock when it is whitened by hoar frost is currently under scrutiny.

Following some recent high profile ascents that pushed the ethical boundary, UKClimbing have been in lengthy discussion with several key activists to not only pinpoint exactly what the ethics are, but why they are there in the first place with a view to creating a set of official guidelines to help less experienced climbers know what is acceptable.

Simply put, climbing with axes and crampons on winter routes can only occur when the routes are 'white'. See the fantastic photo below for an example of excellent conditions.

The Hanging Gardens of the Cairngorms, 125 kb
The Hanging Gardens of the Cairngorms
© hwackerhage, Feb 2010

This natural hoaring of the rock actually serves no purpose in protecting the features of the route from damage caused by metal ice axe picks and crampon points, and also does not create gear placements or any usable perches for axe or crampons - it actually serves to make the climbing more awkward by hiding the useful features from view.

However it is of course wholly acceptable (and in fact standard practice) to scrape this annoying hoar frost off the rock whilst climbing. After lengthy study of winter climbers in action we have seen that this 'cleaning' of the route usually happens in regular stages as the climber perches on a good foothold and then 'hoovers' around the rock using the side of their ice axe like a scraper on a car window. An average time ratio is 5 minutes of scraping to 1 minute of climbing (depending on hoar conditions).

As most ascents are now captured by digital photography, and conditions are assessed by various online critics after ascent photographs are uploaded, it is clear that the conditions found by the actual climbers, and their conclusions from being on the ground that day are in fact secondary to how the route appears on the internet.

Given that routes are becoming ever more crowded and conditions ever more fickle we came to the obvious conclusion that our job in this instance was not to affect the amount of hoar on the rock, but to reduce 'hoovering time' therefore increasing throughput of climbers and reducing route congestion. On top of this we felt if we could expand the range of conditions that are deemed acceptable, this would extend the winter climbing season, giving more climbers the chance to experience these fantastic and memorable routes.

UKClimbing have teamed up with the increasingly popular photo filter site Instagram which is popular with young people and professional climbers. The site gives a range of automated photofilters that make your iPhone photos look old and retro, and a bit shit.

You can now add an additional UKC InstaRime© filter to the standard set, which adds a white coating to any bare rock found in the photograph and automatically uploads your image to the UKC winter gallery.

Example photos below:

Before - bare rock is obvious in several sections of the image

After - the rock has been InstaRimed and any ethical worries are gone

The last clip, 132 kb
Rob on Gargoyle Wall, Ben Nevis, 102 kb
© nick carter

Of course, this new app isn't free, as here at UKClimbing we are all about exploiting this sport for every penny we can grab. Each photo that is filtered with our new UKC InstaRime© gets automatically uploaded to UKClimbing, whereby we keep all the rights to the image, charge your card a £3 upload fee, sell your email address to thousands of spam bots across the globe, and gain ownership of the mobile device from which the photo was uploaded. The image is then subject to a monthly hosting fee, because bandwidth isn't cheap you know.

The filter also has a random selection function, and once every couple of months it will take your photo of bare rock and upload it to the front page of UKClimbing with a headline exclaiming 'Drytooling On Grit'. The additional traffic this creates will help fund the development of further UKC photo products such as InstaChip© filter (Trial Run Here) and a new range inspired by the recent Patagonian images; InstaStrip©.

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