I finished up my figure eight, standing there in the snow, and glanced at the thermometer on my phone. It read three degrees, and the temperature was still dropping. The forecast predicted a high of nineteen degrees in the canyon, but I knew it would be colder where we were climbing—much colder…
Fortunately for me, the bitter cold is where I feel my strongest. If you mix a high tolerance for pain with an even higher threshold for frigid temps, then you can get projects done in a flash. That is, if you can even open your hands first.
The heat is—without a doubt—my kryptonite. I’m done for after the temps peak over eighty-five degrees, and so is my climbing. The limestone in American Fork feels like glass when it’s hot out. Every crimp feels next-to-impossible to grasp and each foot is more slippery than the last.
But the cold? Well, the rock is dry and my skin sticks to it like Velcro.
The “ideal” climbing season in the Wasatch Range is really short (lasting anytime between October and December), at least that’s what Utah climbers tell me. I just tell myself to suck it up and not let the snow or freezing winds stop me from doing what I love to do.
So here I am standing in the snow, feet numbing up in my climbing shoes, hands throbbing from the soon-to-be below zero temperatures, but I'm still psyched to send. Apart from the rush I get from climbing outside with my closest friends, I get taken away by the beautiful view. The crisp air seems to put life on hold and I bask with frigid delight, thinking about how there are many things I can still do in the winter as a climber.
A lot of people ask me how I stay warm and not shut down when I climb in such freezing temps. My best advice for cold-weather climbing is to better acclimate your body to the cold before you even go climbing. Wear a thinner coat and fewer layers when you roam around town instead of bundling up to the point where you feel like you’re under a hot sun in the desert. You’ll be amazed at how fast you can withstand colder temperatures when you do this.
I asked my good friend Jewell Lund, OR athlete, ice climber and all-around amazing woman, for more tips on how to better withstand the cold. She answered... “Climbing in cold temps, eh? Mostly I do it so I can be as gluttonous as I want. When I’m burning 4,000 calories a day by just standing outside, you better believe I’m going to eat bacon and donuts in seconds.” So there you go, if you play it hard in the cold like Jewell does, then you can always look forward to some tasty treats afterwards.
Jewell continues.."But really, I’m amazed at the human body for its ability to adapt in different conditions. I primarily think of two things when I’m outside and it’s super cold: down jackets are one of humanity’s best inventions and I need to be in constant motion. Move move move. Our movement is what allows us to spend time in places that are really unique, like frozen waterfalls. When I’m climbing a frozen waterfall, I often stop climbing just to appreciate how special climbing up frozen water truly is. It’s such an ephemeral experience to be in a place that most humans don’t see.
I climb in the cold because it’s beautiful, and it’s damn fun. I do my best to stay consistently warm, but there are shocking moments when I meet the cold. Sometimes a spindrift pummels me while I’m leading, and other times screaming barfies welcome my hands back to circulation on long belays. But those shocking moments are just reminders that I’m alive in a very special place. And, just like those frozen waterfalls, those moments are ephemeral and beautiful.
Stay psyched and don’t hibernate,