Winter Climbing - A Travel Journal
The Wild Country athletes and ambassadors share their favorite winter climbing destinations.
It's Cold, Time For A Cimbing Trip
As climbers in the Northern Hemisphere, we have a bit of a recluse habit. As the cold months set in, the snow starts to fall, and the dark months arrive we begin a sort of hibernation cycle. We take to the chalky dens of our local climbing gyms, we spend our time fixated on training for sunny projects, or we crowd around the south facing climbs at the local crag. Then, as the sunny months arrive like clockwork we crawl out of our training rooms, skin tender from the laborious hangboard sessions and we set off full of energy to some new project that we’ve been dreaming of. While we are all for training programs we’d rather span the cold months with a trip to a warm climbing destination.
To help us discover some top climbing spots for the cold months we reached out to the Wild Country team to see where they like to go in the winter.
Blackers Hole, Dorest UK
Tom Randall Says:
Blackers Hole is a totally esoteric UK sea cliff venue, but it’s absolutely brilliant! Nestled into the imposing limestone cliffs of Dorset are 5 main crags including the 25-meter tall Great Cave. It gets surprisingly warm weather on the right days; as the low winter sun hits the back of the cave and heats it up like a mini-greenhouse. Myself and a number of other climbers have climbed here in shorts and t-shirts in December and January!
My favorite route remains the massive roof crack of Forever Laughing an impressive 8a multipitch consisting of almost every move and feature you could conceive of. It’s filled with jug pulling, groove climbing, crack jamming, bat hangs and big pinches in all the right places.
Style of climbing: Sport and Trad, mostly steep routes
Grade range: E1 to E8 and 5b to 8c
Type of rock: Limestone sea caves
Rock quality: Variable and exciting (a Tom Randall favorite)
Why a favorite: It is much warmer than many UK climbing spots
Must bring gear: 25+ Quickdraws, helmet, swimming clothes, extra shoes
Months to visit: December – February
Insider's tip: Bring a second set of approach shoes and be prepared for an exciting approach. To access the caves you have to do a little wave dodging and use a sketchy looking via ferrata. I’ve seen a few people get wet feet over the years on the approach… in multiple places.
Blacker's Hole Kit Suggestions
Antalya, Turkey Caroline Ciavaldini Says:
For James and I Antalya will always be a special spot, it is actually where we first met and where we went been back to on our honeymoon. Aside from our personal connection, it is a perfect spot for winter climbing; there is a reason it has become a go-to winter climbing spot.
The rock is a very good quality limestone; steep, and covered in tufas. It is made up of beautiful reds, yellow, and blacks and the routes follow incredible features, which is a rarity for limestone sport climbs. Plus, it offers hundreds of routes to choose from with crags in the sun, and ones in the shade. All of this is largely thanks to the work of Tobais and his friends; the group who discovered the area, established the JoSiTo campsite, and bolted many of the routes. Their hard work has developed developed this into a climbing area that is accessible for all levels of climbers.
The campsite of JoSiTo requires a mention in itself, as it is almost as important as the climbing. Still run by Tobais and his friends it is the hub of the region and a great place to go where you can really just turn off your brain and enjoy the time. Just remember, book in advance in the high season as it fills up fast!
Style of climbing: Sport, steep and overhanging
Grade range: 4 to 8c+
Type of rock: Limestone
Rock quality: Great; lots of overhanging tufas
Why a favorite: Sun drenched rock, easy camping and accommodation, great food, and easy to find climbing partners.
Must bring gear: 20 quickdraws, 80-meter rope
Months to visit: November – February
Insider's tip: It's Simple stay at the JoSiTo campground and go climbing. You don’t need a car, you practically don’t have to know anything about anything beforehand. The campground has everything you could possibly want or need.
Antalya Kit Suggestion
Paret de les Bruixes Sector
Pete Whittaker Says:
In Terradets there is climbing for everyone in a wide range of grades but my favorite spot is at the ‘Paret de les Bruixes’ sector. It’s a great spot because first of all, it’s Spain so you can actually get some winter sun, which is nice for a pasty Brit like myself. Second of all, it’s a fantastic location to get your pump on; steep, continuous climbing, on a variety of different features, with lots to go around at the 7c to 8b grade.
I’ve always visited here for purely onsighting trips and it’s perfect for this. Throw your rope down at the bottom of a climb, try it; do it or fail and come down, take 3 steps to your right to the next line of bolts and go again. By the end of the day you’re beasted and by the end of the trip you can’t feel your forearms anymore. I even recall a trip here with my sister, Neil Mawson, and Hazel Findley shortly after I completed the Century Crack, I was in the best offwidth shape of my life but my forearms were like spongy cabbage. At the end of the trip we were collecting draws left on various climbs and I was so pumped I could barely get up anything to retrieve the draws. That’s surely the sign of a successful trip!
Style of climbing: Sport, steep and overhanging
Grade range: 6b to 9a
Type of rock: Limestone
Rock Quality: Typically good; lots of pockets, tufas, and jugs in overhangs
Why a favorite: The south facing walls get the sun all day so it’s warm
Must bring gear: 70 or 80-meter rope (the routes are long)
Months to visit: December – February
Insider's tip: Buy the Lleida guidebook, fly into Barcelnoa, rent a car (it’s inexpensive), stay in Tremp - it’s the easiest climbing trip you’ll ever do!
Terradets Kit Suggestion
New River Gorge, USA
James Pearson Says:
The New River Gorge in West Virginia is in my opinion one of the best kept secrets in US climbing. With everything from Bouldering to Trad on amazing rock, few visitors, and thousands of routes the New River Gorge has something for everyone. While the weather makes it hard to pin down the perfect time to visit winter is best. I’ve enjoyed 2 weeks of sunshine and blue skies on one trip and almost 2 weeks of snow and rain on another. It’s a gamble but one that’s very worth it!
As an international destination this spot can be a little tricky to access but it is worth the effort! You can fly into Beckley, WV and have a short drive, or choose one of the larger airports as a cheaper option which requires a long drive. For accommodations I suggest an AirBNB. As for eating out, there are a few restaurants in town, the Secret Sandwich Society is my favourite, but you can't eat burgers every night so to balance out your diet there is Pies and Pints for Pizza and craft beer! But the reason you come here is for the rock, a very compact red and grey/brown sandstone, which tends to form difficult bouldery sections split between good horizontal breaks. It suits a taller climber with strong fingers; I get on really well, Caroline not so much. The nature of the rock makes on-sight climbing particularly challenging though, it’s pretty common to get a spanking your first time up a route and then to just walk up it on the second try. It’s just all part of the unique climbing style though, and the quality of rock and routes assure anyone is guaranteed a good time.
Style of climbing: Trad, Sport, Bouldering, – vertical, crimpy
Grade range: 3 to 9a
Type of rock: Sandstone
Rock quality: Excellent; bullet hard
Why a favorite: This is not so much a winter sun destination, it is more of a too good to miss but too hot in summer! There is amazing rock for miles in any style you could want. Must bring gear: A double rack of trad gear is more than enough, but a single works for most routes. A set of sport draws is essential, and pads for the blocks!
Months to visit: November – March
Insider's tip: Check out Secret Sandwich Society for some of the best burgers around.
Here is a video from a 2017 trip where I competed in The Boulder Bounty Contest. I promise most of the approaches aren’t this rough but still in the end it was worh it - I climbed the boulder, didn’t kill myself on the top-out, and won the cash prize! That almost made up for our approximated 30 minute turned 1.5 hour sketchy approach.
New River Gorge Kit Suggestion
Ton Sai Beach, Thailand
Alexandra Ladurner Says:
Ton Sai Beach, Thailand is a can't miss winter climbing destination, there is a reason you've heard about it before! For me, I always like when I get to leave the cold and snow behind, and trade it for warm sunny cragging. The pace at Ton Sai Beach is a great mix of both hard climbing and relaxing too. In the morning you climb until the sun gets too hot and then you spend the warmest hours of the day swimming in the ocean. Then around 3pm it cools down again and you can go for your second climbing session until it gets dark out. Two of my favorite routes here are Sex Power (8a), and Playboy Connection (7c). The former was the first 8a I had stuck in a long time and I was really excited to finally clip the chains after the last long and hard move through the roof. The latter requires some crazy tufa-feet-first moves which I really enjoyed.
Rest days here are great too, and even though you will be lounging on the beach between climbing sessions you will still want and need a rest. I suggest a visit to Railay Island for both the viewpoint and the lagoon. And if you are brave, renting a scooter to visit the so-called “Tiger Cave Temple” in Krabi and hike the 1237 stairs to see the monkeys is an experience you can’t miss; the view from the top is amazing.
Style of climbing: Sport, short and powerful
Grade range: 5 to 8c
Type of rock: Limestone
Rock quality: Typically good, other than a bit polished on a few routes
Why a favorite: The perfect combination of warm climbing and relaxing to escape winter Must bring gear: Sport rack, swimming clothes
Months to visit: November – January
Insider's tip: Skip the crowds that stay directly at the popular spots of Ton Sai Beach and Railay Beach and stay in Ao Nanag. This small city is only 10 minutes away by boat and offers delicious food, affordable accommodations, shops and a pharmacy. Plus as a bonus each day you get to enjoy the boat ride to the beaches and climbing.
Ton Sai Kit Suggestion
Sven Durrer Says:
Cresciano is a very historical bouldering spot. There was a time when it was a secret spot, but since Frederic Nicole climbed Dreamtime, the first 8c boulder problem, it has become known to passionate boulderers around the world. With an array of boulder problems of varying grades it lives up to its prestige, even the roughness of the solid granite. As a winter spot it is nearly perfect - located in Ticino, Switzerland it lies south of the Alps and profits from a mild climate with plenty of sun during the winter months.
Although the approach can make for a rough morning start, as you have to walk to the top of a plateau for 20 – 30 minutes, it allows your body time to warm-up even in the colder winter air. Then, with only a few short climbing specific warm-ups you're ready to start bouldering. In the area I have a lot of favorite problems but if I had to suggest a few the first would be Un uomo un perche, 6a a not so easy, super classic problem. The next would be Street Parade, a technical 7a sloper traverse that is fun to work out your own sequence on as the small minute details really make a difference on this problem.
While I normally camp it is important to note that there is no camping around Cresciano in the winter; the surrounding is private land and the campgrounds are closed until the summer. Fortunately, the Ostello Hostel provides a nice alternative. It is a cozy hostel at the start of the road, which makes it luxurious for a bouldering trip. From the hostel, I can start my day with a good breakfast, hike up to boulder all day, then when I’m fully exhausted return for a hot shower. Afterward, I recommend enjoying pizza in the village, or nearby in Bellinzona so you are fully refueled for the following day.
Style of climbing: Bouldering, – vertical faces, overhangs, slab
Grade range: 3 to 8c
Type of rock: Gneis
Rock quality: Excellent; high friction but rough
Why a favorite: Warm winter sun, endless boulder problems, solid rock, and easy access/accommodations.
Must bring gear: Besides the classic bouldering kit, bring lots of tape and a skin care kit (the rock is very rough on the skin).
Months to visit: September – April
Insider's tip: Bring a Bialetti (coffee maker) and burner to the crag. There is nothing better than enjoying the sun and view while drinking a nice cup of coffee in the cool air.
Cresciano Kit Suggestion
1 ISLAND, 2 MONKS AND UNTOUCHED GRANITE
“Why did James and I pick a small dot on the other side of the planet?”
Because Yuji told us about it. The last time Yuji proposed us a trip, we ended up in Kinabalu, the now oh so famous mountain where untouched granite will overwhelm the climber. The Real Rock tour has thrown Kinabalu into fame, but 5 years ago, when we went there, no climber could even put it on the climbing
Kinkasan is a small island not far from Fukushima, on the north east side of Japan. It has 26km circumference and is inhabited by two monks. From Tokyo it is a six hour journey. Yuji didn’t say that much more: Kinkasan’s coast is covered with granite cliffs, and there is a Shinto shrine on it. Yuji mentioned as well the damages made by the tsunami…
We began our journey with next to no expectations about the climbing, and a big question mark for the rest. 3 days in the trip and I know exactly why we came: for Japan.
2 years ago we spent a week in this unique country and both James and I knew that we had to come back one day: how could I compare it? Well, the first time you taste wine, you have heard a lot about it. But you smell, and you only smell the alcohol, you taste and you can’t put words on it because wine is subtle, complicated and requests an education. You have to go back to it, learn to enjoy, differentiate and remember. Japan is maybe a little bit like wine.
There is this astonishing mix of modernity (the Japanese toilets and their multi jets, music and self cleaning options give you an idea of the immensity of your difference) and spirituality, respect, focus.
We arrived at Base Camp, the gym that Yuji opened 5 years ago in Tokyo, and I oscillate between marvel and shame. I am a pro climber, and most of the boulders are too hard for me, the Japanese climbers around me seem to evolve so effortlessly, like flying cats on the wall. But then you realise: the world championship have just finished in Paris and in the bouldering competition, 3 of the 6 medals are not only Japanese, but from Tokyo, from Base Camp. Yuji and his company helps the athletes become professional and they often climb together. Shall I repeat that? Half of the world’s medals come from one gym! Surely there is no wonder that Yuji owns that gym… But that is only just the very top of the iceberg, because behind this 3 medals, there are a lot of other athletes with an incredible level. I have never seen so many good, extremely good boulderers in one place. And I am a former competition climber, trust me, I know what I am talking about.
“Why are they so good?”
The answer is surely complicated but here are a few elements: climbing has become very trendy in Japan, with over a 100 gyms in Tokyo. The Japanese body type is perfect for climbing; light, powerful and explosive muscles. The Japanese constant pursuit of perfection pushes the athletes to train hard, just like everyone around them simply accomplished every task with perfection.
It was dry for the crossing, and after unpacking our bags at the shrine we bouldered on a nearby beach for 1 hour before the rain came. With so much rock to see and so little time, we hiked out anyway along the coast to search out potential lines. The rain became heavier, we became wetter, and after 4 soggy hours we returned to the shrine, hopes high but spirits low. We’d been preparing this trip since September 2015, putting the team together, finding funding from sponsors, organizing the local logistics, yet it would all be in vain if the weather didn’t brighten up.
A morning of rain gave us the excuse to sit down and record some interviews, though truthfully we had little to say as we’d done little climbing. Toru, ever the silent optimist finally dragged me out to the closest boulder spot during a break between two showers, and we were surprisingly able to climb! Toru lived up to his reputation of boldness and brilliance, making the first ascents of two of Kinkasan’s boldest and hardest problems. Finally things were looking up. The forecast was good for the following days, and group psyche could not have been higher. We began to plan our upcoming adventure and our first trip to the other side of the island – the area with the highest concentration of rock, and the biggest cliffs, but had to cut them short as bad news broke.
With my thirst for climbing temporarily quenched, we left the island in limbo, happy, yet sad, but knowing we’d be back in less than 24 hours. We passed the day visiting some of the worst tsunami affected towns in an effort to better understand what hardships the local people had to live through, and how they are moving forwards towards the future. It is one thing to watch the news from the comfort of your lounge back home, it is another thing entirely to see it first hand, and speak to the people who have lost everything - houses, possessions, loved ones!
Suddenly our troubles with the rain seemed embarrassingly small, and we remembered why we were actually here in the first place.
Our personal climbing desires must come second to the larger goal of showing this place to the world. Rain or shine, we have to get out there. Hike around, document the potential, and if in the end we are lucky, open up some new routes.