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Indoor Ice Climbing: Arctic conditions in the city centre


Posted by Cags R under Ice Climbing on 10 February 2013 at 12:00 AM

Ice climbing is an awesome sport, relying on your strength, courage and, most importantly, trust in your own ability. Most people think that ice climbing is restricted to the glaciers and frozen waterfalls in the Arctic, Alaska, Norway or New Zealand, but you can actually find some amazing indoor ice climbing facilities in the centre of cities!

The Dan Haag's Bever Ice Wall, Seoul’s O2O2 Wall, Manchester's Vertical Chill and Oklahoma's Rocktown Climbing Gym, it's not just the big capital cities where you can access indoor ice climbing, rooms of around -6°C with metre thick ice are popping up all over the globe.

Ice wall at Ellis Brigham Vertical Chill Covent Garden

We took a trip down to the Vertical Chill in Covent Garden, London, to try out an introductory ice climbing session.

Check out What to expect from your first ice climbing session!

Ice climbing equipment checkOn arrival

The team was friendly and relaxed, once you've signed away your rights (obligatory disclaimer to say playing with axes and crampons is dangerous), it's time to suit up for the ice! All the equipment is provided, all you need is a pair of tracksuit bottoms and a long sleeved top to wear underneath.

So what's the basic kit you need for ice climbing?

Ice climbing beelaying

  • Boots
  • Crampons
  • Trousers
  • Jacket
  • Gloves
  • Helmet with visor
  • Ice axes
  • Harness

Once we were all kitted up, it's time to learn the basics. Having been regular beelay climbing and bouldering in the past, we weren't too worried about picking up the basics of ice climbing - well that was where we went wrong!

Our instructors, Ian and Alex, informed us that there's a lot of 'unlearning' you have to do to transfer your skills off the regular climbing wall and onto an ice wall.

Jack Ice climbing

5 points of contact for ice climbingSo, what are the basic principles of ice climbing?

Ice climbing requires smaller movements than regular climbing, to start with our instructors taught us the 5 points of contact you want to have with the wall when ice climbing and how to initially step up onto the wall:

  • Left axe, right axe, left foot, right foot and hips
  • Repeat. A lot!
  • Unlike regular climbing, ice climbing is about many small steps rather than big movements

Check out the top tips from Vertical Chill instructors on the 5 points of contact!

What routes can you expect from Vertical Chill?

Although the room is small, there's a good mix of route options, with ice overhangs and climbing wall to ice wall sections.

Brian Molyneux, the climbing expert at Ellis Brigham stated:

"The grades are  quite high on our indoor walls but they do change depending on how the maintenance guys are feeling - I would say on average from about grade 4 to 6+. It's much harder to climb on a freshly maintained wall as there are no old ice axe holes for you to hook you axes in so it's a bit more strenuous."

In terms of grade the day we climbed, the wall is roughly a Scottish Winter Grade 4-5 though as our instructors pointed out, these systems are subjective and can be the main focus point of a long discussion in the pub!

The Mountaineering Council of Scotland website describes these grades as:

  • Grade IV - Gullies and icefalls with sections of 75 degree to near vertical ice. Buttresses with reasonably technical sections.
  • Grade V - Vertical ice for longer sections. Steeper buttresses with technical difficulties

The room can take 2 climbers at a time though it does only have 1 beginner route so you either have to take it in turns or one climber must make quick progress and tackle some more complex routes!

Tim H Ice Climbing in WalesHow does it compare to outdoor ice climbing?

It's hard to compare indoor ice climbing to all the environmental challenges that outdoor ice climbing proposes; if you were climbing on Ben Nevis for instance, you would need to take into account exposure to height, wind chill, tiredness and the distance of the walk in.

However, indoor ice climbing provides a controlled environment to hone skills and prepare you for outdoor climbing, it's also great to give first time climbers the chance to experience ice climbing in a safe and predictable environment.

Brian Molyneux states "Indoor ice Climbing from a technical point of view is almost the same as outdoor ice climbing but thats where the similarity finishes. indoor you are on a top rope and a slip or a fall is of no big deal but a fall outdoors can have very serious consequences if your lucky."

All in all - indoor ice climbing is an awesome experience, it's a safe, cheap way to experience a sport which is very dependent on environmental conditions and not all that easily accessible to the average city boy! 

Heel low when ice climbing

We'd like to say a big thank you to Ellis Brigham's Vertical Chill for having us along to try ice climbing for the first time. If you'd like to try ices climbing then we highly recommend you do it - Take the Challenge now!

  • Encourage

    encouraged this.



    that is very cool and something I've never heard of. As someone who hates the cold, this won't be a sport I'll ever try!


    Very cool, not a climber so can't say I would try it but will be suggesting it to a few friends :))

    Andy D encouraged this.


    This looks really cool! i think first i may have to learn to climb...

    Andy D and Cags R encouraged this.


    This looks wicked awesome!!!! I've never heard of it either, so it's fantastic that you shared :) Thanks!

    Andy D encouraged this.


    @andyd1 it's actually so hot when you're climbing! Went with just a tshirt and trackies under the kit they gave me and boiled! @hamblin1991 - we found our prior climbing experience more of a hindered our ice climbing technique!


    Thats normal Cags, even walking up mountains in the coldest of weather I still generate a lot of heat...........but stop for 5 mins and your not long cooling down. Did they give ye a starter course on the basics of climbing with axe and crampons and belaying


    Yeah, we didn't learn how to belay, just the climbing basics with crampons and axes - definitely relied on the ropes a lot at the beginning, I didn't trust the crampons at all!

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