Is bouldering at night the perfect time to try your long-time project? It's true that the lower temps can mean better friction, plus you won't have to queue up for rock, but are there any issues with climbing in the dark? We highlight what's best if you're planning on cragging at night.
There’s something special about being out in wild places at night, and sending that bouldering project you’ve been trying for months is always a bonus too. But we must not forget that as climbers we have to remember to act responsibly, else risk losing access to these areas both at night and in the day. To help light your way, we consider three things you might not have thought about but should be aware of, followed by our top tips for bouldering at night.
Three things to be wary of
1. Visibility is vulnerability
As Peak Area access stalwart Henry Folkard is fond of saying: “To be visible is to be vulnerable.”
It’s much more conspicuous to boulder at night with head-torches, lanterns and other lights – way more than when climbing during the day. To maintain our access to these areas at all times, we have to be a little more considerate than normal.
At night, lights can be seen from a considerable distance and noise carries much further, which can easily draw a lot of attention to you. Take the hypothetical example of a venue located outside of access land where low-key climbing happens but isn’t known about by the landowner. A visit at night with bright lights is much more likely to be noticed and could easily result in an access ban.
This caution can even be necessary at venues with well-established access. Night bouldering is an unusual activity to the non-climbing public and can easily arouse suspicion . Keep things as low-key as possible, don't disturb anybody and particularly avoid venues that are close to houses, farms or businesses.
2. Wildlife needs sleep too
If we’re climbing round-the-clock, we’re putting additional pressure on the countryside at a time when wildlife is used to peace and quiet. It's easier to disturb wildlife at night and it’s a growing concern among land managers.
For instance, birds might be roosting in or around the areas we use for climbing, and the reduction of normal quiet periods can disturb these and other types of animals' normal routine. Of particular concern is night-time activity during the bird breeding season between March and July.
As with day-time activity, it is also important to take account of any restrictions that might be in place. Remember to check for access issues on the BMC Regional Access Database (RAD) before you go and also take care to check for signs on-site with access warnings.
3. A case of mistaken identity
There are many reasons why authorities or even passers-by might mistake your intent when night-bouldering, so don’t be surprised if you’re confronted.
In upland areas, livestock theft, whilst not an everyday occurrence can still be a significant problem. Likewise, wildlife crime like persecution or theft of raptor (predatory bird) nests is sadly still an issue in a number of areas. This means farmers, rangers, local residents and rural policemen could take more of an interest in a group of people out on a moor with bright lights than you might expect.
Meanwhile, fly camping and the resulting mess left by poorly-behaved groups is an issue in other areas. And stationary lights on a crag after dark might also make a kind-hearted passer-by wonder if an accident has occurred and call emergency services.
Our eight tips for responsible night climbing:
1. Choose wisely
Think about whether your intended venue is really suitable for a visit during the hours of darkness. Are there any access issues (check our Regional Access Database), will you disturb anyone on the walk to the crag, is there potential for people to think you’re up to no good? If there’s a chance that you’ll be worrying anyone or disturbing their night, choose a different crag to visit. Is a night time visit really worth the risk of compromising daytime access?
2. Head-torches only on walk-in
Keep your big lights off during the walk in to keep disturbance to a minimum. It also reduces the impact you’ll be making on wildlife and livestock. Remember, most people and a lot of animals like to sleep during the night, so make sure you're not waking anything up.
3. Direct your light
Try to keep your light pollution to a minimum. By that, we mean not needlessly waving around torches – instead direct your lanterns onto the rock and turn off lights if you’re not climbing. Red light isn't as obtrusive and is worth considering.
4. Forget fuel
Take LED lamps – the technology is cheap these days and will give you hours of light if used correctly. Gas or liquid fuel lamps risk causing fires and are inappropriate in most of the settings you might consider for a night time climbing visit.
5. Remember rubbish
It’s easy to lose things at night and rubbish is no exception. Pack away your rubbish before you forget where you put it or you’ll be leaving a mess and leaving others with a poor view of climbers.
6. Extra vigilance
Remember that climbing at night is totally different. You have to be extra cautious when spotting, topping out, down climbing, walking out, or even just when wandering out of the light. Be extra careful to avoid any unfortunate accidents that are always more complicated to deal with in the dark.
7. Careful whispers
Sound carries further at night when there tends to be less background noise, so avoid shouting when egging on your mates or if you’ve just topped out your project. Remember, with night climbing requires a low profile.
8. Fun times
Lantern sessions will always be very limited by the scarcity of suitable venues, problems or even conditions, but the key is to think through your plans before you head out and consider if any of the issues highlighted might apply to your choice of venue. Once you’ve settled on a good option, remember you’ll likely draw at least a little attention, so behave responsibly, keep noise to a minimum, and most importantly have fun!
JOIN THE BMC: save 25% on your first year's membership
The BMC works for climbers like you. Benefits include:
Access to BMC Travel Insurance
Register for Mountain Training award schemes
£15 million worldwide Combined Liability insurance
£10,000 Personal Accident insurance
Find out more about BMC membership benefits
WATCH: What we do in All in a Day's Work on BMC TV