I’ve tried climbing a few times before – always on one of those walls with all those different shaped pegs attached. I remember having to do as many climbs as possible in a few minutes for a corporate challenge day which totally wore me out, and playing about on a wall at Bovey Sands when I was a kid. There’s been more opportunities, too. Ice climbing, though, is something I never thought I’d have an opportunity to try as it’s generally associated with high altitude mountains and climbers with real skill.
Then a friend, Cathy, won a ice climbing experience in a competition and decided to donate it to her mini-adventure loving buddy. I love my friends! I had a look and would you believe it, inside the Ellis Brigham store in Covent Garden there is an eight metre high ice wall available for people to give climbing a go. Fantastic! As it happened I still had the voucher I won from Doubletree by Hilton last pancake day to use – a free weekend in London it was then!
The Vertical Chill ice wall experience is downstairs in the Covent Garden Ellis Brigham store, on the corner of Tavistock Street. It’s right at the back of the store, behind the walking boots and snowboards. There is a little viewing window where you can watch other people having a go – worth a little look if you’re mooching about in that area of London.
The experience begins by getting kitted up. It’s all branded gear that’s good quality but well worn (and a bit smelly as you might expect when many other people have worn and sweated in it before you!). You get everything you need – wear a comfortable t-shirt along with some leggings if your prone to getting cold (but bear in mind you’ll be working up a sweat and it’s only -5 so not too bad), and then dress up in the saloupettes and jacket, thick socks, gloves, climbing boots, harness, crampons and helmet provided. Our instructors were there to help us get ready, important if you’ve never put crampons on before, and once all set it’s through the door (mind the step) and into the ice wall.
Inside the wall is much smaller than I was expecting, floor space wise, although plenty big enough for LincsGeek and I and our two instructors (yes, one each!). The wall itself is eight meters high – very recently a small team of climbers scaled the equivalent of Everest on it, good show guys!! Inside is kept around -5 to -7 so it’s cool but comfortable – no need for thermals.
After the obligatory health and safety chat, we were climbing very quickly. Within a couple of minutes of getting inside the wall we were practising using the ice picks and crampons and learning how we should have our bodies on the wall – arms high and close, legs wide. We took our first steps up the ice face to get used to the equipment before we were getting too high for free climbing! One at a time we roped up and attempted the ice wall – the flat face to start with, aiming to scale the full wall and ring the bell at the top.
I went first. Still nursing a couple of bruised knees from all those burpees at crossfit earlier in the week, and being warned that my forearms and hands would likely be burning by the end, I gingerly started my way up. Gingerly wasn’t going to work though, so I took in a big breath and found places to put my hands and feet to make my way up. There were a couple of wobbles and I was very grateful for the instructor looking after the rope, but I made it all the way to the top and whacked that cow bell so it sounded loudly. I enjoyed that!
Once we’d both done that (LincsGeek was super fast compared to me) we moved to one side of the wall to a more tricky section. This involved what I think they called a vault – basically a big bulge in the ice you had to get your body up and over. Wow that used my arms!! I got over it and about half way up the wall towards the bell before I slipped and span around. LincsGeek found it harder too, although when he slipped he managed to leave his ice picks stuck in the wall so one of the instructors had to go up and fetch them. Oops!
We both had a second go at that but by now we both were really feeling the burn. We are just not used to using those muscles, and our beginners technique was a bit poor. We each made it up slightly further but no more bell rings for us, what a shame! I guess we’ll just have to go back and try again another day.
Our ice climbing experience was great fun – hard work but something we would definitely do it again. We aren’t about to announce a trip to climb the ice in the alps or anything, but we’ll be going back to Vertical Chill sometime (when I’m a bit stronger) to give it another go.
I love the little adventures that experience vouchers provide. Thanks so much Cathy for giving us this voucher and thanks Ellis Brigham and Vertical Chill for a great hour on the wall.
You can read my full bucket list (warning… it’s long!) – if you can help me with it in any way (giving me opportunity to complete something, inspiring me to get on with something, providing hints and tips, suggesting things to add) then please get in touch!