Climbing in cold weather will allow you to extend the climbing season by quite a big margin depending on where you live in the world. Gym climbing can only do so much, sometimes you just get the urge to go climbing outside and get off the plastic. the only problem is, the weather isn’t always friendly for climbing. This article explores just how cold is too cold for rock climbing.
As a general rule, temperatures below 25 to 40 °F (approximately -4 to 4°C) will be too cold for rock climbing. The minimum rock climbing temperature depends on wind chill, cloud coverage, precipitation, and type of climbing. Typically clear and sunny days with little wind will be conducive for the coldest climbing.
Just because the weather is within this range doesn’t mean you can just leave your house and go rock climbing. You will need to prepare ahead of time to make sure you stay warm and have the best cold weather climbing experience possible. This article explores how weather conditions affect climbing and gives helpful tips on ways to stay warm while rock climbing in cold weather.
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When it’s Too Cold To Rock Climb
Growing up in Wisconsin subjected me to some very cold winters and taught me what it means to be truly cold. Being an avid adventure seeker, I have experienced some not so fantastic climbing weather and firsthand experience of what weather is doable and which is not.
You can rock climb in cold weather given you properly prepare for the conditions. Climbing in cold weather can actually be better than climbing in hot weather.
I have found that the nominal temperature degree, wind chill, cloud coverage, precipitation, and type of rock climbing are the main factors that will affect your cold weather climbing experience. These are discussed in greater detail below:
Coldest Temperature For Rock Climbing
While climbing in cold weather can give you better friction and grip on the rock, there is a point of no return. At some point, you hands will start to go numb and you won’t be able to grip the rock at all.
In addition to this, everything seems to hurt more right before your hands go numb. The joints in your fingers will start to ache and crimps will start to feel pretty painful.
I have found that about 25°F is the coldest my friends and I can comfortably climb in assuming all other factors are in their ideal conditions.
How Wind Chill Affects Rock Climbing
Wind is probably the worst part of climbing in the cold. It seems to amplify every negative aspect of cold weather climbing. It speeds up the process of numbing your hands and will definitely show you if you dressed properly.
At some point it doesn’t matter how many layers you have on if you don’t have a good windbreaker. The wind can tear through you and send you packing to go back home within 30 minutes if you aren’t prepared.
Climbing in the cold is much more enjoyable with little to no wind.
Cloud Coverage and Precipitation
As you might have guessed, clear and sunny is much more enjoyable than overcast and wet when cold weather climbing. The amount of cloud cover won’t be as much of a factor as wind chill, but it will influence your experience.
The warm feeling of the sun on your skin is fantastic in 30 degree weather. It also gives the climbing session a much more fun and happy aesthetic. Climbing in cold and overcast conditions can suck the enjoyment out of your session and make it miserable if you let it.
Climbing in wet conditions presents its own challenges but much like the wind, wet conditions amplify the effects of the cold weather on your hands. If you are interested in learning more about in climbing in the rain, check out my article linked here.
Type of Rock Climbing
I have found that sport climbing in cold weather is much more difficult than bouldering. (I have not been trad climbing in cold weather so I can’t personally speak to it but I would believe it would have the same drawbacks as sport climbing in cold weather, just to a higher degree).
The effects of being cold are amplified when sport climbing compared to bouldering. Handling the rope and metal quickdraws makes your hands very cold very quickly. Your hands will go numb on your way up the wall and you will inevitably start fumble with the rope. Climbing and clipping when you can’t feel your hands is a very trying experience. The cold seems to take sport climbing to a whole new level of difficulty.
Bouldering routes are so short that they at least give you time to get some reprieve from the weather. You are able to take a quick breaks and warm up your hands before giving it another go. Sport climbing does not afford this luxury.
On top of all that, bouldering will typically have better protection from the weather conditions i.e. trees and other rocks around to block the wind. At some point while sport climbing you will get above all of this protection and you will be at the wind’s full mercy.
Overall Sentiment on Climbing in Cold Weather
I recommend going climbing in cold weather if you are able to properly prepare and get yourself ready for the adventure. If it is going to be windy and overcast, sticking to bouldering will be your best best to have a good time.
The Bottom Line
Rock climbing in cold weather can be a very fun experience but only if it is done properly. You will have a much better experience bouldering in the upper 20’s on a clear and sunny day with little wind than if you went sport climbing on a wet and windy day in the low 40’s. Windy days will rip through your clothes and hands like nothing else when climbing (especially sport climbing because you will not be protected by any trees after a certain height).
Be sure to dress appropriately for any weather condition and always stay safe!