It’s been two years since we ended up hanging off a glacier in Chamonix with nothing but two ice axes and some spikey shoes to our name (we were wearing clothes as well. We’re just pretty big on hyperbole). It was terrifying if truth be known. We’d done climbing before but it in no way prepared us for its colder counterpart.
Heading to a glacier with no training was probably a little bit eager. Ridiculously so in fact. So we decided to take things a little bit slower this time around. We’d heard about Vertical Chill after speaking to some friends; an indoor climbing wall hidden away at the back of the Ellis Brigham store at Covent Garden. And when we say hidden we mean really hidden. We’ve been to the store numerous times to pick up stuff and we’d never actually noticed it.
Essentially a really big freezer with ice-covered walls, Vertical Chill is pretty much the only way you can practice ice climbing without jumping on a plane somewhere. So it’s not only perfect for beginners but also a really useful facility for seasoned pros who want to get some practice in (and trust us, practice is really important).
If you haven’t got your own kit then the team will sort you out with everything, including jackets, trousers, socks, shoes, axes, gloves and ropes. So you can turn up in whatever you want without lugging a big bag around the city. Nobody likes doing that in London.
We took the beginner session, obviously, where our teacher spent an hour taking us through all elements of how to ice climb. We started with a run through of the equipment, a safety briefing, and then finally, after a few demos, we strapped in and made our attempt at scaling the 10-foot ice wall (it’s probably bigger, it certainly felt bigger).
As mentioned previously, ice climbing is tough. Yeah, rock climbing or bouldering helps a bit, but there are so many intricacies and differences to doing it on ice that make it almost completely alien. First of all you’re hanging via two axes that you’ve stuck into the wall. If you haven’t done it properly they can pretty easily fall out. The same goes for the crampons. In rock climbing you feel a much stronger sense of trust in your position as you can feel the stability of your hands and feet. You know if you’ve got a firm grip on something and can trust in your own ability to hold it. As a beginner at ice climbing you’re relatively unsure that you’ve got a firm grip on anything.
Luckily at Vertical Chill you’re attached to a billet on one of the four routes to the top. So falling off is not quite as scary. Once you’ve fallen of a few times, and believe us, we fell off a fair bit, it’s starts to get a bit easier. You can focus a bit more on your movements and form than just desperately kicking and whacking axes at the ice.
And if you’re worried about it being cold, within about five minutes of climbing you’ll be pretty damn warm. Man, we were covered in sweat.
It’s a really enjoyable session though and a phenomenal little facility to have hidden away in Central London. The teachers were really good at explaining the technique and making you feel at ease. They’re also incredibly patient. Which is kind of what you need when you’re trembling with fear whilst hanging with two sharp bits of metal.
A trip to Vertical Chill will cost you £25 for an hour, with tuition £25 on top of that (so £50). It books up pretty fast though so plan quite far in advance. There’s also one up in Manchester if London is a bit too, well, south. Here’s the website to find out more.
Picture Credits: Vertical Chill