Whether you're climbing Ben Nevis or battling Raeburn's Gully, preparing for Scottish winter climbing is a wise investment of time and effort and will pay dividends when you are out on the hill.
Winter can easily take its toll with bigger, longer and more arduous days usually working against the clock with limited daylight, especially early in the season. If you are lucky enough to spend some time regularly in winter conditions you will usually have the luxury to be able to “bed-in”, building your endurance and capacity over time. However, if you are a weekend warrior or only have a short holiday, then you will want to make the most of your time, so the fitter and more prepared you are, the more you can make of your time.
Training doesn’t have to be completely hardcore but the more you do, especially if it is tailored to winter mountaineering or climbing, the more you will benefit. For example, for mountaineering and climbing, time spent going uphill with a weighted pack equal to what you would normally carry in winter in your winter boots is very specific and useful, but as a minimum going up hill in trainers in a low heart rate zone will still help. Aiming to ascend the sort of time and distance you will be doing on a winter’s day would also be good.
For winter climbing, working on the training regimes described above as well as more specific climbing training will help, whilst working on your core and upper body will aid hanging around on axes on that first winter climb. If you want a good set of drills that will work with minimal gym kit and is very specific I would highly recommend Steve House’s Training for the New Alpinism book.
Planning is an important part of ensuring you get the most from your time. My main recommendation would be to have several plans for lots of areas and with plenty of Plan B’s. It can be really dangerous to go with a fixed plan that you find it hard to deviate from or abandon. Also, if you only want to do the real classics such as Anoach Eagach Ridge, Tower Ridge or Point 5 Gully over a weekend then be prepared for lots of people, queuing and increased objective danger. Going with no fixed plan and only deciding on the general location the night before travelling will give you the best opportunity to have a good safe time. As well as keeping up to date with the latest weather from MWIS or the Met Office an essential part of your planning and route selection should be based around the Scottish Avalanche Information Service. However, be ready to adjust your plan during your journey if what you see on the ground, in the snow pack or the weather doesn’t agree with what you thought the conditions might have been.
Preparation is nothing without the correct skills for going into the hill. If you wish to improve your skills, whether it is learning about safe travel, mountaineering or climbing, then booking a days guided climbing using an AMI Mountaineering Instructor will ensure a safe and insightful time in the hills.
Most importantly, ensure you have an enjoyable and safe experience in the winter.
Clothing & Equipment
I like the Photon X Jacket – it is robust and can deal with the usual Scottish winter climbing conditions, however the Hydrophobic down in jackets like the Neutrino Endurance can provide a warmer layer capable of dealing with the fickle Scottish weather. For a more comprehensive overview of clothing applicable for Scottish winter climbing, take a look at Rab’s helpful guide here.