Week 6: Ice Climbing

So it turns out there’s been an 8m indoor ice wall in Covent Garden for the last 13 years… who knew?

I went into this one with a little trepidation. I booked it a few weeks ago thinking ‘Yeah! Ice Climbing!” … then the night before I watched a couple of ice climbing videos and suddenly got fearful that I might be a little out of my depth… hey ho, off I went with a skip and a jump.

What They Say:

The wall is 8m in height and ranges in steepness from a pleasant slab to a drastic over-hang with everything in between; providing a variety of routes to entertain novice and accomplished climbers alike. Internal temperatures range from -5°C to -12°C, so if you’re planning a trip make sure you’ve got some warm clothes.

My Experience:

I headed off with a rucksack full of thermal layers… I stopped short of bringing full ski gear, and good job because they kit you out with everything you need (trousers, inner jacket, outer jacket, gloves, boots, crampons, helmet and wooly socks). As an aside… you won’t be cold for long!

The wall is in the basement of the Ellis Brigham store in Covent Garden and you could browse the shop without even realising it was there! I was quickly welcomed on arrival and kitted out with all the gear. Going into the wall is like entering a freezer in a restaurant kitchen – a blast of ice smacks you in the face as you open the door! The wall itself is like a tube of vertical ice walls, with a viewing gallery on one side.

My instructor, Nacho (tangent: I went to Wahaca for lunch straight after this sesh… thanks subconscious mind!), was really friendly and I had total confidence from the get-go that he wouldn’t let me fall to my death! He started off by explaining there were a few routes up the wall of varying difficulty, and said that we’d cover the basics and see how we got on.

First of all he showed me the basic technique – his instructions and demos were super clear, and 5 minutes after stepping inside I was on the wall. I started climbing and within a couple of minutes was near the top. I looked down, got a quick wobble of fear and said “ok! that’s high enough for my first attempt! I’ll come down now!” – Nacho was having none of it! He told me I could rest up there as long as I wanted but I was getting to the top! So, after a little shake of my burning forearms, on I went and rang the cowbell at the top – woohoo! Exhilarating!

I’m sure my ascent was pretty unstylish, and I made the mistake many first-timers apparently do of relying too much on pulling with the arms. Next, Nacho showed me how to position my feet to make best use of my legs, and how to climb with just one pick. The next ascent took me a little longer as I alternated arms and worked on resting on my feet. This time it was the calves, not the forearms, that were burning! As I neared the top a loud fan went off (I had been pre-warned about this!) so Nacho probably couldn’t hear my yell of “I can’t go any higher” and I persevered!

Next, we did a bit of work on pick tekkers (it’s surprisingly satisfying whacking a sharp metal implement into ice), then he showed me how to climb the overhang. Getting back onto the wall with two picks felt so easy after the one-handed version, and I flew up this time. You gain confidence on this really quickly.

The 45 minute session was over before I knew it and was so much fun. The wall is booked out weeks in advance, but pretty amazing to have the whole place to yourself – they could easily squeeze more people in but it’s a great learning environment one on one with the whole space to yourself. [You can go with a friend too… apparently he once taught a couple on a first date, which I think is pretty awesome… I hope it lasted!]

I knew nothing about ice climbing before this outing, so asked loads of questions and it sounds awesome! Most climbs are done on frozen waterfalls, and in mainland Europe they’re mostly about 30-50 metres high (so my 8 metres was nothing!). Norway is apparently the place to go though, where they have climbs of hundreds of metres. It all sounds pretty spectacular and I can imagine it’s easy to get hooked.

In Summary

Totally different, totally challenging, totally exhilarating, totally recommend. Most people who go here are beginners and the tuition is excellent, so nothing to be afraid of!

By the time we finished my forearms were pumped and I was on an endorphin high!

Where: Vertical-Chill, Covent Garden, London

Cost: One hour session £25 plus £25 for tuition and gear. Second session tuition is free, and if you go 3 times you get the 4th climb free. I’ll definitely be going back!

How to book: www.vertical-chill.com

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