So it's wet, warm, and I'm waiting for winter to arrive...hence a trip to Ellis Brigham's yesterday at Braehead, Glasgow.... so I thought I'd check up on the status of the ice climbing wall at Snow Factor...I knew they'd opened up the skiing so went for a look....
The ice wall is there, but not being used...at all. It's been closed since before lockdown. Asking at the desk, I was told it's not open, and is unlikely to ever open again. I was told this is due to lack of staff to do safety checks on the wall, the ropes, or users.... there was no evident interest in the wall whatsoever.
How sad that a facility such as this is going to waste....
definitely a shame but from what I understand it was very labour intensive to keep it in any kind of decent nick. From what I was told they were having to manually pack snow/ice back onto the wall!
Guessing it wasnt cold enough to spray the wall to add ice or do a drip line, Ouray style. Possibly a design flaw?
What a waste, especially as the ski area is already being brought to the correct temperature, I guess it wasn't making enough cash.
There's a wee dry tooling cave in GCC which is good craic, especially if you're looking to get strong, unsure if you've been.
I've wondered how these walls work before. Is it a case of spraying water onto some kind of netting within a frozen environment? Or more like a vertical ice rink with refrigerant in pipes beneath the ice?
Shame, exactly the same thing happened at their London one (Covent Garden). AFAIK there aren't pipes in the wall it was done from above. the whole thing is a very tall industrial freezer (with a viewing window). When the cooling kicks in, which happened several times during a session, there was a powerful unit in the roof. It was a bit noisy and you could feel the blast of cold air and you'd have to raise your voice to communicate with belayer, but it seemed to work fine and it wouldn't be on too long before it stopped again
> I've wondered how these walls work before. Is it a case of spraying water onto some kind of netting within a frozen environment? Or more like a vertical ice rink with refrigerant in pipes beneath the ice?
From what I understand, No, and that's the issue. I seem to recall Ice Factor saying that you can't just spray water on the wall as it ends up too humid. Rather you need to shove snow ( ice?) into the holes to patch it up. And that's really labour intensive.
I'm happy to he corrected by someone who knows more...
However it was done? it was definitely labour intensive, the Covent Garden one used to be closed every Monday while they patched it up, so that's a whole day a week out of service each week, not just a quick spray at the end of a day
Many years ago there used to be an ice climbing wall at Xscape near Leeds. It was very labour intensive packing the snow ice on the wall manually, but I was told by someone in Ellis Brigham (who managed the facility) that the kiss of death was when the Centre Manager booked in for a session and couldn't get off the floor.
> definitely a shame but from what I understand it was very labour intensive to keep it in any kind of decent nick. From what I was told they were having to manually pack snow/ice back onto the wall!
> Guessing it wasnt cold enough to spray the wall to add ice or do a drip line, Ouray style. Possibly a design flaw?
Once asked the chap at Ice Factor why they hand-packed crushed ice onto the wall rather than run water down it. He said if they used water ice it was very hard to get the picks into and had a tendency to break off in big chunks and thus not last very long.
The Ellis Brigham ice wall in Manchester has closed too. IIRC their website made reference to the energy costs being at odds with their desire to lower their carbon footprint. Makes sense for the giant walk-in freezers but the logic is less obvious for the back of a ski centre at a similar ambient temperature.
> Once asked the chap at Ice Factor why they hand-packed crushed ice onto the wall rather than run water down it. He said if they used water ice it was very hard to get the picks into and had a tendency to break off in big chunks and thus not last very long.
That's definitely the case as in the corner in the icefactor where the freezer drips (or it gets some warmth to refreeze) the ice is bullet hard and dinner plates really easily. Makes for interesting climbing but not that enjoyable. The 'packed' ice is more like snow ice I think and is nice to climb on.
As other have said, at Kinlochleven they pack it on by hand and fill the holes. Its pretty time consuming and labour intensive but the next day when its frozen in place its like climbing on perfect bomber neve ice. if they were to spray of drip water onto it, large chunks of it would peel off when the punters started climbing on it as it would just shatter.
> but the next day when its frozen in place its like climbing on perfect bomber neve ice.
Which has always struck me as a bit weird about "indoor ice walls" because with that method of making the ice it's not going to be a realistic experience for people then going and climbing water ice. Even for Scotland which has interestingly pliant ice at relatively steep angles due to freeze thaw, you don't get vertical neve!
I've climbed on the 'indoor' wall in Saas-Fee which is made by running a hose from the top of the crag. It was clear, bullet-hard water ice with lots of mushrooms and 'chandeliers'. It was really, really hard to get your picks and front points into, and a smaller facility would soon show signs of wear with the potential for heavy mushrooms / curtains to become detached and come crashing down. I guess the ideal solution would be a wall with snow cannons blasting at it.
Oddly, I had an issue with the little sd card in my phone (repaired it on my PC) and while looking around to check everything is backed up and by chance I spotted an old photo of Vertical Chill so I thought I'd post it here. I think you can see from the pic it was icy compacted snow not pure water ice sprayed on. Also you can see just how beaten up it used to get towards the end of a week before the repair day they used to do. Those were good times pre covid
(no I don't wear TNF, I borrowed it. No I don't take pics at walls, this is an exception and I am blaming Mrs cantclimbtom)
> Maybe a group of time free folk could volunteer to pack the wall for free access and it could open up for the general (very small) volume of punters that want to use it?
Nice idea but I'm not sure they'd want Joe Public doing that.
> Now Snowfactor is defunct too... https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-63648794
It does seem a shame that it has closed down, especially to the staff who will no doubt be made redundant.
However three things spring to mind - the cost to the user to use the facility wasn't cheap, hence people probably chose not to go, and due to the cost to keep the place chilled it probably costs a lot of money to run, hence the high cost of admission.
And then, do we really "need" an indoor snow place at all - with energy concerns, just sayin like.
I read this just before my recent trip to Kinlochleven and felt guilty every time I knocked any ice off, imagining the poor person who was going to have to come in later and repair my damage with a bucket of slush to pat the ice back in place!
I was the team leader at the ice wall in convent garden for almost a year and an instructor for much longer. It was very labour intensive, would take 2 of us an entire day every Monday to patch the wall.
We would first collect and sieve all the debris on the floor collecting the powder and removing the big chunks. Then we would put the powder into buckets mixing it with water and carry these buckets up ladders (attached at the bottom with a sling and an ice screw but the top would slip a little) and patch the holes. One would start patching from the top and the other from the bottom who would get very wet. We would also have a compressor spraying water onto the wall while we went for lunch. We would then have to go and pat down everything that had been added from the mist and add lots of water with a hose.
All in all it was a pretty physical day where we would reduce the temp to -20 and theres no way to keeps dry. The ice that slowly built up on the floor from water run off we would have to remove about once a month my just going at it with a pair of old axes.
This Winter Conditions page gives a summary of what is being climbed at the moment, what is 'in' nick and what the prospects are...