I enjoyed telling people that Rose (my friend) and I were going ice climbing in London, with Vertical Chill. The response was predictably always the same; “Ice Climbing? In London? How!? I know it’s been cold but surely it hasn’t been that cold!”
Yet, it is possible; Vertical Chill is a place that is tucked inconspicuously on the basement floor at the back of an outdoor retail shop in Covent Garden. It is an ice climbing wall, situated in, basically a massive freezer! My climbing experience previously had been limited to rock climbing and via ferrata so I was super excited to give it a go.
After a quick costume change into borrowed warm clothes right down to thick socks, and into unfamiliar gear, donning crampons, a helmet and a harness, and wielding two ice axes, I felt ready to brave Arctic conditions.
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Rose and I stepped eagerly through the ominous-looking door and into the icy conditions behind. We found ourselves in a small square room, just a few metres wide, but we immediately craned our necks upwards gazing at the 8 metre high slab of ice directly in front of us which dominated the entire room. The temperature was a chilly -6°C, but without any wind, and in our thick clothes, it felt refreshing rather than cold. Besides, I knew once we got going, we would heat up quickly.
Ice Climbing with Vertical Chill: Our Experience
Within a few minutes, after a very concise introductory spiel, and a clear and instructive demonstration, we were ready to give ice climbing a go ourselves. Our session was led by two Vertical Chill instructors, meaning we each had one person helping us master the basic technique, before roping us up to take on the main wall.
I swung the left axe above my head and it hooked firmly into a pocket in the ice with a satisfying thwack. The second axe ricocheted off, shattering a small section of ice and sending a shower of icy shrapnel whizzing around the room. The second swing found its target better and sunk into the ice feeling adequately secure. With that, I took the first cautious step up. Taking it in turn, I kicked my legs into the ice, the crampons just barely poking into the ice. It felt a perilous position, just a few feet off the floor, as if I might slip at any moment, and I was thankful for the reassuringly taut rope, and the motivating support from the guys below me.
Once grasped, the technique was relatively simple, and I soon got into the swing of it. I never quite trusted my feet though, and the idea that I might fall at any moment added some adrenaline and excitement to the whole experience. I repeated the steps and gradually shuffled my way up, until I found myself at the top. There was a bell there, which I clanged loudly and proudly, delighted to have made it to the top. I posed for a celebratory photo before sitting back in my harness to slowly abseil my way back down.
Next, it was my turn to watch as Rose dragged her way to the top. With only one person climbing at a time, I could now understand why Vertical Chill normally only takes on parties of two. If wishing to come in a group larger than two, this is still possible but it might be worth considering booking a 2 hour+ session rather than the standard 1 hour to allow more climbing time.
There are a variety of ice formations built into the wall, each with differing stages of difficulty posing a challenge even to those who have ice climbed before. Despite that, my instructors were very encouraging and gently pushed me to take on some of the more challenging climbs. It wasn’t particularly elegant, certainly lacking finesse, but I managed to make it to the top of the intimidatingly-named ‘the bulge’ and ‘the overhang’ within my 1 hour session, showing real progress.
Both Rose and I underestimated how strenuous ice climbing is. Supposedly, with correct technique it should provide a tiring workout for your legs. It is quite revealing that as I type this, one day after, my arms feel heavy and reluctant to press the keyboard buttons, and suggests that my technique still needs to be worked on. But, at least I now know where I can go to work on that and get my ice climbing fix… even in London in the middle of summer!
Where/When can I Ice Climb?
The Vertical Chill London “office” can be found in Covent Garden, which is just a two minute walk from the underground station. There is also a Vertical Chill wall in Manchester for those that are in the area.
Vertical Chill is open 6 days a week, closed on Mondays for ‘maintenance’ – essentially for the ice wall to be rebuilt. On a Tuesday, the wall will be fresh and climbing will be at its hardest as there are no pockets formed in the wall. Sunday on the other hand will be pock-marked with holes created through repetition over the week and therefore will be slightly easier. This may be something to consider, particularly if you are more experienced and fancy a challenge, but all in all is probably not too important.
The Vertical Chill Schedule
Ice climbing sessions begin at 10:30, with the last one starting at 5:30, and come in 1 hour slots. At the Manchester centre, sessions begin at 9:30 with the last starting at 4:30. I highly recommend to make a reservation as their slots get fully booked.
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Cost of Ice Climbing with Vertical Chill?
- A 1 hour session costs $35 (£25)
- Equipment hire is $15 (£10), while equipment hire and lessons together is $35 (£25).
For up to date prices and schedule visit www.vertical-chill.com.
($30/£20 at the Manchester Centre on weekdays) irrespective of your party size.
Please note that despite receiving complimentary services from Vertical Chall, all opinions are ours and remain completely unbiased.
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