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A Climbing Mind: the wisdom of winter

words by Allan Evans

A little reflection on last year’s season as well as a bit of my thoughts on why I think winter is the greatest teacher of all the climbing disciplines. I also feel I should state, I’m a complete punter when it comes to winter climbing, but a little less so after this season.

Trip One

Having not done any winter climbing due to that thing that lasted a couple of years, that we would all rather forget, I kicked of the season with Number Two Gully on the Ben. A straightforward grade II gully to get back into the swing of things (I wish I could say that was intentional axe pun, but it wasn’t). My partner Ed was new to climbing and I’d been
mentoring him in the trad game for about eight months, he’s super psyched and got up to speed with trad very quickly. This would be his first winter route and I think he enjoyed it. I was rusty, and it was a long day finishing the walk out in the dark.

Ed looking at his first winter route

Trip Two

On my next outing I was climbing with Louise and Alec again opting for the Ben, going for Gardyloo Gully II/III. This route had been on my wish list for a while. It’s final pitch changes from season to season but often you climb through a rock arch/cave. This day was the epic of last season, with type two and three fun. It was Louise’s first winter climb and Alec didn’t have loads of winter experience. On the way up to the route we were chatting to some guys who had heard the crux was more like grade IV ice and had taken four screws. Needless to say, I was gutted when I fumbled a screw and it disappeared, even more gutted when Alec did the same shortly after, leaving us with only two.

We ploughed on, the climbing was steady for most of the gully, the ice was firm and there were steps from previous parties when it must have been a bit softer. So, we got to the last pitch and off I quest with my two screws towards the funkiest bit of ice I’ve ever seen form naturally. I don’t know how but the ice had formed into a kind of ice umbrella just in front of the rocky groove. I climbed into the groove to get myself established on the ice umbrella, threading a sling through the ice, and placing the screws. It was quite awkward to get on it and I had to reach back to get the axes in the ice, climbing in an overhanging position (maybe it was grade IV). I battled through till it eased off and I was in a comfortable position. Alec and Louise had been cheering me on from the belay, which I always find really helpful when I’m struggling. After finishing up the pitch I set up a belay on the summit, which was a big mistake, there was a scoop just after the pitch and before the summit, which was a lot more sheltered from the south easterly wind which was blowing hard.

My clothing and pack froze quite quickly, and my body started to go numb, I managed to get my belay jacket on which was a life saver.

The approach to Gardyloo

Louise and Alec managed to battle their way up the ice over a period of half an hour which was a long time to be in that wind. Once they got to the summit, we made the decision to down climb Tower gully a grade I as to escape the wind asap. It was steep and began getting dark as we began, it was a gruelling first winter climb for Louise and took its toll, so the decision was made for me to assist Louise walking down, while Alec built bucket seats in the snow to body belay Louise for extra safety. We bumped into the Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team as we got to the CIC hut and they graciously offered us a lift from the top car park down to the North Face car park and gave us sweets, which we were very grateful for.

Trip Three

On the third trip me and Louise decided to car camp in our recently acquired campervan module for Louise’s Berlingo, which was pretty brutal in winter. Waking up to frost in the car one morning, but totally worth it to wake up and go to sleep with the stunning mountains in Glencoe. Our friend Jon headed up to meet us and we decided to tackle the three-star classic on Bidean nam Bian in Stob Coire nan Lochan, which is an absolutely stunning corrie.


The walk in was a mixture of stunning views one minute then getting battered by wind and spindrift the next. The corrie was busy with teams, likely as it was one of the few places in condition in Glencoe at this time. Dorsal Arete was fairly straight forward mixed climbing with a crux at the end of the last pitch which I downclimbed on my first attempt as my hands had lost feeling, once I warmed them back up, I got it on the second go. With Louise and Jon following me shortly after, the wind had picked up and was strong enough to blow you over. We descended via the gully next to arete which was full of firm snow with me and Jon opting to slide down on our bums, the quick and fun way.

The walk in to Dorsal Arete

Trip Four

On the fourth and final trip to Scotland it was again me, Louise, and Alec. This was the most successful trip, racking up three routes in consecutive days. Which was likely due to the weather, there was no type 2 fun weather conditions. It was more like a summer alpine trip, with clear blue skies on all three days. Day one we started with Curved Ridge II 3, it wasn’t in great condition with the snow being quite soft, but being a rocky route it will go in any condition. I solo’d and Alec roped up with Louise more for a bit of confidence for Louise. Occasionally chucking the rope round a rock to belay. While it wasn’t in great climbing condition, the clear skies permitted us some stunning views of the Glencoe range.

Louise on curved ridge

Day two saw us heading to Aonach Mór and being able to take advantage of the gondola at the Nevis Range ski resort, making the walk in a little less painful. We went for Golden Oldy II a three-star classic ridge, there is some reasonably nice ice low down to climb to the base of the route, the ridge itself was stunning with incredible views. Alec solo’d while I roped up with Louise and we moved together placing the occasional piece of gear. We topped out and walked back to the gondola watching skiers and snowboarders enjoying the conditions.
We were all in a fun mood and had a little boogie in the gondola.

Me on Golden Oldy

Day three saw us tackle Tower Ridge, the longest of all the ridges on Ben Nevis and maybe the biggest in Scotland and therefore the UK. I’d been on the route a couple of times before, so let Alec do all the leading while I sat on the back of our rope of three and took pictures. It was a busy day on the Ben with it being March, people were likely making the most of one of the last weekends of the season. Although I’d been on Tower Ridge before the conditions were the best I’d experienced, the ice was in great condition and every axe and crampon placement felt solid.

A part of me was a little sad I’d not done any of the leading, especially when Alec quested off route. But I did get some great shots, so I shouldn’t complain. Car to car was around twelve hours, which is pretty good going for this route. Although I imagine guides are doing it in eight to ten. This was a great end to what had been my best season.

Louise on the Eastern Traverse – Tower Ridge

The wisest discipline

Climbing can and has taught me so many lessons, which can be taken into everyday life. Patience, determination, humility etc, the list would be long. It also teaches how to push through our fears and anxieties.

How to continue when things go wrong (like when you drop two ice screws, and the climbing is way harder than you thought it was going to be). So, what is special about winter climbing, well it teaches all the things other disciplines do and more, it does so in the most extreme and hostile of environments.

It teaches us to suffer and endure in a way the other disciplines can’t. Everything feels heightened, ultimately, I feel more alive and more thankful for life afterwards, because in this arena it’s ever more present how fragile life is and therefore how precious it is.

 Unknown climber Ben Nevis

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Chasing a fleeting feeling: Kinder Downfall

words by Elizabeth Stephenson

Snow crunches softly under my boots as I hop between frozen and not-so-frozen bog.

After an hour of taking the ropes for a walk we’re about to find out if a) we should buy a dog to walk instead or b)Kinder is likely to be climbable. Rounding the umpteenth bend of a river bearded with icicles, I see my partner Sam grinning back at me from round the corner, our gamble has paid off – the downfall is draped in swathes of ice, glinting at us in the (rather unfortunately bright) midday light.

Another forty-five minutes later and we are finally at the base of the downfall. It’s dripping in the sun but looking promising and well formed. Another chap is at the bottom; however, a reluctant second means we are the only pair to rack and rope up. I look Sam square in the face and do my usual ‘are you sure about this?’ and ‘should we be climbing it?’. Reassuringly, he calms my nerves.

The familiar routine of “OK you’re on belay, Sam” and “climbing” ring out across the ice.

Given his much greater experience of ice climbing Sam took the sharp end of the rope – I’ve led a bit of mixed climbing in Scotland but working on my confidence leading in winter is a key aim of mine this season and the coming years. It’s hard when there aren’t many female winter climbers – I know there are others of course, but it has an impact when you’re in the minority out in the snow. I’m lucky that Sam has been a route into winter climbing for me, but a lot of women don’t have an easy way into the mountains, especially winter stuff, which, from an outside view can seem significantly more daunting than other types of climbing.

When I’ve gained a bit more experience and confidence in my ability, I hope to be able to encourage women I know into the mountains in winter. (I’m quite literally sh*t deep in a vet degree so no guiding aspirations for me but there are some fantastic female instructors working in winter.)

Back to the downfall – the initial corner wasn’t quite as well iced as normal but on the plus side that allowed Sam to get a hex in to the right and further up a solid bulldog (not the 4-legged type) that offered some protection for the first pitch. Reminding myself I’m not totally hopeless with a pair of tools, I set off after him, climbing delicately so as not to bring the route down on myself. Scratching around the right side for some hooks and testing out the ice quality I teetered delicately upwards – my hand me down Grivel crampons from my old school instructor serving me well, even if they are a little like climbing with miniature spades on my feet.

The belay sits part way up the downfall before you traverse across to the left and escape out the top corner – assessing the risk from the large icicles that looked like they’d give a decent go at blunt dissection if they came down, I positioned myself out the way as Sam set off on the second pitch. A good decision as one did come down part way through with startling force. Happily, I was safely tucked beyond its reach – a sharp reminder of the importance of good decision making when it comes to winter stuff and the unpredictable nature of the structures we climb on.

Once Sam had made it across and out the top corner, I dismantled the belay and scurried across the icicle fall zone to minimise the time spent in it, reaching the safety of the overhanging gritstone lip at the back of the falls – a calculated risk that I was comfortable taking but a risk nonetheless (I think my mother reads these, perhaps I should take that bit out…)

Winter climbing, especially ice climbing, is a fragile and fleeting pursuit.

With the season becoming less predictable it’s harder to get routes in good condition and often you are taking a punt on a route hoping it will pay off. When it does though, it’s worth every long slog with the ropes and axes. There’s something even more alluring about heading out for the day, not knowing if your plan will be possible. Perhaps you’ll get there and find turf or ice that disintegrates beneath your fingers and beat a hasty retreat, or maybe you’ll swing an axe in and be met with the reassuring thud of a beautiful placement that you’d hang your grandmother off (well sadly mine wouldn’t manage the walk in….).

Either way, the uncertainty of it is enthralling.

I’m fascinated by the shapes that form with the ice. On Kinder the icicles draped the amphitheatre in pearlescent white, the flow of the river momentarily paused, half hung over the rocks it normally dashes down – so temporary yet so beautiful. As we finished the route the sun sank low in the sky and the long shadows lit the ice with an internal fire – waiting for the night’s freeze to quench the flames.

Clambering over the top of the falls, a bitter wind rimed the top of our packs and froze the quickdraws solid.

If the wind didn’t manage it, the view over the Kinder plateau finished off the job of taking our breath away – Manchester and Bolton dazzling far off in the distance, inner city life feeling wholly detached from the wild winter refuge we had escaped to.

Breathing in the glacial air, I let it invade my lungs and prick my cheeks. It worms its way between the layers of wool thermals and escapes in my reflected breath – cold, crisp, clear, comforting. I feel overwhelming gratitude for a day spent in a beautiful place and the transformation of rushing water to immovable ice. I never undervalue the chance to experience nature and I cherish this most acutely in the depths of winter. I love this season, I delight in how fleeting winter can be, and it breaks my heart that climate change spells trouble for this ephemeral landscape.

But for now, I’ll dust off my axes and hope that this winter is just beginning.

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Seven ways to go plastic free as a climber

Seven ways to go plastic free as a climber

words by Allan Evans

It’s recently come to my attention through some social media posts by Greenpeace that microplastics have been found in the human body for the first time in several studies over the past couple of years, from our blood to our lungs and most shockingly in the placentas of unborn babies. While the issue of plastic has been in my awareness for some time and I have made changes to reduce it, I feel these studies have highlighted a greater urgency for change, certainly within myself.

It’s also felt that while recycling and upcycling help in terms of plastics entering the environment at a slower rate, we ultimately need to look at alternatives. As even in reusing these plastics they are still entering the environment, through washing our plastic clothing, our helmets, ropes, and other plastic equipment scraping on rocks as we climb. I recognise this will take time, I certainly don’t want to start climbing with a hemp rope from the old days, but maybe we can look to the past and apply new technology to it, I’ll leave that to the scientists though.

These are some ways I have been able to or am going to reduce my plastic consumption as a climber and I thought they would be worth sharing:

1 – Bottles/Water

An oldy but a goodie, this is always on any list of reducing plastic. Let’s face it, it’s a no brainer. My personal preference on this is to go with a metal water bottle, reason being, if it gets dropped and lost then there’s less damage done to the environment. I use Sigg bottles which have a plastic top, I do feel this could be changed to metal and rubber for the screw part, so maybe they could be pressured to do so. I do also use a bladder which is of course is plastic, but far less likely to be dropped or lost.

2 – Clothing

Most technical clothing these days is made of plastic, it’s fast drying, abrasion resistant, easily made to be waterproof, or water resistant and of course one of the biggest selling points, lightweight. There are areas of technical clothing that I feel don’t need to be plastic, zips, toggles etc. I feel they are only done to so to cut costs, I imagine there can’t be that much of a weight difference? Does technical clothing always need to be made from plastic? Base layers, socks and underwear is one thing I have found it certainly doesn’t.

Merino wool outperforms its plastic counterparts in all areas for these items.

It is more comfortable, dries just as well, good warmth to weight ratio and where it excels, not smelling after days of wear. I also question if we always need technical clothing. In a mountain environment, most definitely, I’d even argue at coastal crags as well. General cragging, sport climbing and bouldering I’d say we don’t. Organic cotton and or wool for the win! If you do need some technical plastic clothing, then why not look at a brand that is using recycled materials. Let’s face it there is enough plastic out there for us to not be making virgin plastic. I should also mention one way to combat microplastics being released into the environment is by using a guppy bag when you wash your clothes, I recently learned about these through a story on fellow Dirtbagger Lily’s Instagram.


3 – Brushes

I’m going to be honest, plastic brushes infuriate me, I just don’t understand why? Especially when we know how harmful plastic is to our environment and now us! I have a selection of wood brushes, but my favourite is definitely my Sillygoat brush, they are worth every penny and I’m a big fan of the fact they can be re-bristled.

4 – Chalk

Some people really aren’t bothered about the chalk they use and there are plenty of brands on offer that deliver their chalk in eco-friendly packaging, with companies like Psychi taking it a step further and having chalk bins in gyms to save even more on waste, which is great. I’m unfortunately not one of those people and I’m a bit fussy, I love Friction Labs chalk and have used it for several years, I can no longer justify purchasing it anymore though. My latest chalk purchase came in a brown paper bag, Friction Labs please fix this!

5 – Clip Stick

May seem like a bit of an unusual item to add, however, I recently purchased a stick from Pongoose. There are a many reasons, I was impressed with the design; no moving parts to go wrong and so much less plastic than its biggest rival the beta stick and arguably better built, I have seen beta sticks lose their ability to hold solid gate biners, this would never been an issue with the Pongoose. Also made in the UK so keeping it local.

6 – Food

Much like water we can also reduce plastic by prepping for a day out and making food at home rather than stopping to get a meal deal on your day out. I’ll be honest this is one I have been guilty of a lot, but with a bit prep you will have a better meal that costs less, is better for the environment and yourself. It’s not even that hard to prepare your own protein bars or flapjacks.

7 – Skin Care

Rhino Skin has burst onto the climbing scene with a range of products, whereas most skin care brands have focussed on aftercare, Rhino skins have also paid attention to prepare the skin, which is great, what’s not great is their packaging, while all the other brands have used tins, Rhino skin are using plastic, not ok! I did purchase their performance cream a while ago, as I liked the anti-perspirant aspect, I still have it, it’s been used sparingly in the summer. If you have a particular issue like sweaty hands I see the appeal, but most of my skin care is when its thin or cuts. I have used various creams/balms that have come in tins. My new favourite though is Cloud Balm, made locally in Staffordshire using beeswax from hives they keep and in eco friendly packaging.

This leads me onto my closing statement, in today’s western society it’s near on impossible to avoid plastic, in our house we did the big plastic count set up by Greenpeace to understand exactly how much plastic we are consuming.

We actively avoid plastics as much as we can. Even with that, the plastic we are using in a week feels high.

The results of the count were shocking and can be seen in the link below. Greenpeace now have petition against the government to implement change, also linked below. I feel trying to avoid it isn’t enough and we need to start pressuring companies to use alternatives and pressure the government to make legal changes. There are so many alternatives that exist, many have existed for a long time and new technologies are available, it’s time for companies to step up and take responsibility, as do we the consumer and pressure them to act and take responsibility for their actions and their impact on our planet and our health.


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Climbing Throughout Pregnancy

My experience with keeping life outdoors while growing a tiny human

words Jennifer Dickinson

This is my experience of climbing in pregnancy. It was 2017, we were expecting our first child and I found myself desperately searching for some other representations of women out there, continuing to live their life adventurously while expecting. To no avail. Maybe because of this, I didn’t venture out as much perhaps as I wanted.

Alas, now expecting our second bundle of joy, there seems to be way more experiences posted online, of pregnant women out there, who continue to explore, climb, swim and more all the way to term. One of my current inspirations is Shauna Coxsey, Olympic Climber, who has been sharing her journey with climbing during pregnancy and seeing the positive responses she has received has been wonderful to follow. It has helped massively seeing someone so confidently and healthily embrace fitness and pregnancy.

But, how do you know what to do, what not to do? There is a very definite do’s and don’ts list when it comes to food and drink, but a vague ‘exercise and keep active’ isn’t a lot to go on. Especially for those anxious parents to be.

Getting advice is very difficult, as one always tend to err on the side of caution. Every case is individual and I suppose the best rule of thumb I’ve found is – if you didn’t do it before, don’t start now. Stick with experience and something you feel confident with.

I have been mostly well and healthy and I decided to note down what we got up to during my second pregnancy. Note, I am NOT an athlete, nor was I before. If on a scale from Shauna to Sugared doughnut I’m maybe in the middle somewhere.

This is basically my pregnancy and how active I have been:

1st Trimester –

Hardly anything as I had morning sickness and was just so tired. I felt guilty about not getting up and about especially feeling a pressure with time to ‘do’ as much as I could before I was physically unable. But, other than a lazy week in Font bouldering…nada. Lots of sleeping, lots of cake. Looking back, I’m glad as I really did feel ill and tired. A Christmas swim in a local body of water with my cousin, surrounded by spectators.

2nd Trimester –

For the first two weeks I was battling a head cold and blocked sinuses so again that prevented any fun. 20 week scan showed I had a low placenta so I decided that whatever climbing I would do, would be gentle and extra careful. A few visits to the bouldering wall – climbing well below my grade and ALWAYS next to a route which meant I could downclimb. Tried to make it interesting by climbing up, then trying to reverse all the moves in the downclimb. I tried the first move on some harder problems and enjoyed just sitting and watching others climb the rest. Plenty of traversing. and lots of climbs only half way up. A number of wild swims, never alone, and I always just bobbed about near the entrance until my toes feel cold. (mind this is in the middle of winter!)

3rd Trimester –

Scan showed placenta has moved way out of the way so less panicking and now more confident to move more! Indoor pool swimming has been lovely, as the water takes all of the heavy weight off and being able to move freely in the water is amazing and being indoors means I can actually ‘exercise’ in my own time without worrying about the cold. Still outdoor swimming and very happy as the temperatures are increasing as it means I can stay in longer with comfort. I love the freeing feeling of being immersed in wild waters and the calming effect on my mental health has been priceless.

I decided to stop bouldering, as the bump has thrown off my balance, but instead have top roped outdoors on some easier climbs and I am very happy to continue with this as it feels great to move my body on the rock.

We are now at 36 weeks, and I happily seconded a VS yesterday. It was a short route I had led before, it felt so nice to move and use muscles in less of a ‘plodding around a supermarket’ way and more of a ‘look I can climb even with this watermelon strapped to me’ sort of way. I feel proud to have kept outside and kept climbing, and I feel fitter than I did with the first pregnancy. It has not been ‘to keep fit’ per se, but more to stay sane. And saneish I am.

Climbing in pregnancy is for sure the right choice for me. I will continue walking, swimming and climbing while it feel nice and enjoyable. With the chilled mind and body, it means I have the headspace to get excited for the bundle of joy who is now only a few weeks away.


also, here’s a good article where Shauna describes her experiences:

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A Climbing Mind: Breathing Power

Breathing Power – by Allan Evans

We often hear our fellow climbers reminding us to breathe when we are climbing, and, likewise, it is us shouting it up to the climber.

When we are climbing at our limit it can often be the first thing we forget about. I don’t need to tell you how important it is to breathe while climbing, or for just generally living. But I do want to explore just how important controlled breathing can be while climbing.

Breathing and particular types of breathing can help you manage your fears and anxieties – pre and during climbing. Regardless of what type of climbing we are doing it’s common to have anxious feelings at times, whether it be a fear of falling, of failure, of blowing an Onsight attempt on a route you have been saving for years! The list goes on.

A technique I came across in researching breathing techniques to use with my counselling clients was hacking the Vagus nerve.

What’s the Vagus nerve I hear you ask?

This nerve secretes a fluid which helps regulate our heart rate. As our body can’t distinguish the difference between what our mind is making up or what we are imagining, it responds to whatever story the mind is telling it.

Therefore, if we start getting fearful or anxious before a climb, our body responds. It elevates the heart rate and will produce adrenaline and a whole host of bodily functions are affected.

That explains the sweaty hands…

We can hack this nerve by performing longer exhalations, simply take a deep inbreath and on your outbreath make it slow and controlled and slightly longer than the inbreath. This stimulates the Vagus nerve and therefore slows down our heart rate, putting the body into a calm state.

Breathing deeply also has the added benefit of allowing more carbon dioxide to enter our blood stream, and having more carbon dioxide in our system slows down parts of the brain, including the amygdala, which is where fear is generated. Deep rhythmic breathing can also help us focus, when we get scared it takes our attention from the task at hand, to climb, to place protection well.

Do breathing techniques work?

In my own personal experience yes, they do. I can remember countless times on routes where I have been scared for whatever reason, a little voice in my head tells me to focus on breathing, in doing so I’m able to shift my attention back to climbing and continue.
Unfortunately, that little voice doesn’t always appear, and my fearful mind takes over, I hesitate, get pumped and either down climb or ask my belayer to take. I’m still working on using this powerful tool myself.

These breathing techniques can be used to help you manage your mind and body whilst climbing, including your fears. I am however not suggesting you should not be fearful, fear keeps us alive and stops us from hurting ourselves. Climbing is an inherently dangerous activity and managing your risk is your responsibility.
It’s science!

I have linked a few articles I used as inspiration, they go into greater detail about the techniques used as well as the science behind it all, it’s interesting stuff.

Thanks for checking out the first instalment of my blog, I hope you find using the power of the breath useful not just in climbing, also in your day-to-day life.

If you see me at a crag, say hello and let’s do some breathing together!