Ice climbing skills

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 Albert Ross 10 Sep 2021

As an experienced rock climber who has never done any winter stuff, or even worn crampons for that matter, and with a trip to Norway booked this coming winter to ice climb, do you think a few sessions at Vertical Chill in London would suffice to get me ready? Or should I be booking a full winter skills course up is Scotland? Should add that the friends I'm going with have been ice climbing to Norway plenty of times before.

In reply to Albert Ross:

A winter skills course isn't going to help much for steep ice climbing, those are generally aimed at people who want to start winter hillwalking with one axe

 wbo2 10 Sep 2021
In reply to Albert Ross: I haven't climbed at Vertical Chill but I'd expect the ice to climb rather differently to Norwegian water ice at -10 for example.  That climbing bit you can learn when you get there, it's the before and after bits you might be able to prepare a bit better for?  Have you done much summer mountaineering or skiing? Adequate wooly underpants, jackets etc.? - I assume you're going to Rjukan, and a week there feeling cold  will be very cold and potentially miserable

 Albert Ross 10 Sep 2021
In reply to wbo2:

Yes Rjukan I think, and have done plenty of summer climbing, mostly single pitch, and skiing. Never climbed on ice or worn crampons though. Obvs will have some gear to buy!

 Kemics 10 Sep 2021
In reply to Albert Ross:

I 100% would go to and indoor ice wall if you have the option. It's quite pricey but if it's near you and you can afford it, absolutely go for it. Ideally get some coaching or a competent mate to come with and give you some pointers.

When I made the jump from rock to ice, I just bought some second hand kit and tried to intuitively wing it... and it doing so made loads of mistakes. You'll have loads of habits from rock climbing that will actually be unhelpful 

Rock climbing relies much more on personal technique and feeling whereas I found ice climbing far more structured and rote. In rock climbing there is no wrong or right way - if it works for you then great. I think ice climbing is much more systematic. I would encourage it strongly as it ultimately means you'll get much out of your holiday. 

 nniff 10 Sep 2021
In reply to Albert Ross:

I tend to go to Vertical Chill before the winter, to get the muscle memory sorted etc.  Always worthwhile and better to get the hand of it there.  I always apologise to the belayer in advance as it's going to be non-stop up and down until I can't swing an axe.  Different, of course, but worthwhile.  Scotland would be a very different thing again.

 LakesWinter 10 Sep 2021
In reply to Kemics:

I agree with what Kemics has said here - steep ice has a definite technique and it is well worth learning it properly.

This random animation illustrates it pretty well!!

In reply to Albert Ross:

Do both

Get to Vertical Chill Covent garden asap and then talk to your instructor (first session you need to be instructed) and pick them for every bit of info you can gain in the time. It will be an enjoyable session and definitely you'll learn, don't know how it looks now but precovid there was a mixed route left by the door that was fun and an ice bulge just to its right that you need to learn how to climb past. Tackle the routes to the right with one tool and you'll learn something about balance

AND get a winter skills course as some/much of that will be of use too, in a kind of related way - unless of course you find a frozen water falls in your Norway trip starting at the roadside with nice steps and handrail back down again


 HammondR 10 Sep 2021
In reply to Albert Ross:

Getting used to the movement and having some input into technique would be money well spent.

In my very humble opinion however, the best bang for your ice climbing buck would come from a structured training plan in advance. You simply cannot be too well trained for steep ice climbing. Something like from Uphill Athlete will set you back about £50 (plus the cost of access to an appropriately equipped gym). Getting in 8/12 weeks of this in advance could transform your experience in Norway.

Have a read of the free information on their website. It's gold dust.

In reply to Albert Ross:

Should have mentioned earlier...  you can climb dead trees, throw rope over branch (bear in mind it is dead so pick a big one) and self belay or get a buddy, climb it and lower down again. It doesn't make great climbing routes but it's a million times better than reading about it on a forum

You don't live near Kent and Sussex do you?   Just joking!! but if you don't understand the joke lookup Great White fright (and other routes of character)

In reply to HammondR:

I'm not dismissing this but are you saying this from personal experience?

I used to ice climb a lot when I lived in Finland, most weekends, at least 4 months a year. I've not ice climbed in southern Norway but from pictures I've seen of Rjuken it looks quite similar to Finnish ice climbing - mainly single pitch, lots of step off the flat onto vertical or steep ice, finish by coming off the steep immediately on to flat or much easier angled ground, and tree above for belays and abbing off. 

For someone who is an active rock climber but has never even put crampons on before, I think technique is by far the biggest hurdle to get over rather than fitness. You can be as strong as an ox, but it won't help much if you can't use you feet (anyone else remember Gresham's superb and hilarious essay in OTE back in the early 90s about going ice climbing in Glencoe and on Ben Nevis for the first time? It sort of made this point). 

Ice climbing is so much craft, at least to start off with. If someone can climb VS or 6a, let's say, they are plenty strong enough to hang onto a modern ice tool long enough to get up a 4 mtr vert section in the middle of a 15 mtr icefall (I show this, for example!), but if they've never done it before they are almost certainly going to completely flame out swinging their tools poorly, get shit sticks and not getting their legs to do enough.

I've never climbed on an indoor wall, but as long as an instructor knows what they are talking about, I could imagine being coached could help quite a lot.

Post edited at 15:07
In reply to TobyA:

Yep, totally agree with this. I myself am a fat chunk whose body mass is whoafully biased in the bad sense. That has never stopped me pulling up decently steep ice, and technique is the key to this. That's built up through time, experience, watching others, listening to other more experienced climbers etc. If a fat chunk like me can lead WI4+, then I don't see how being able to do 1 arm pushups is going to get you what you need. It might mean you are fit on the walk in, and hat you recover more quickly and that if you develop good technique you will be able to enjoy your time more, but it won't mean you can automatically climb water ice...

In reply to Albert Ross:

O hai

 CurlyStevo 11 Sep 2021
In reply to Albert Ross:

Even just mixed climbing at the wall regularly will help you get used to tools IMO (if you can locally). I'd certainly do some sessions at vertical chill if its not too much hassle for you also.

 Albert Ross 11 Sep 2021
In reply to CurlyStevo:

Thanks all and I think going to Vertical Chill and seeing how I get on would be sensible. One of my friends has a set of axes he can lend me but if I wanted to buy some crampons, plus B3 boots of course, what's generally recommended these days? Twin or mono point? Won't be trying that line in Kent any time soon. Looks terrifying.

 wbo2 11 Sep 2021
In reply to Albert Ross:

WRT Boots fit is everything.  A couple of days standing around in the cold , in the shade, with your feet hurting will not be much fun.  Scarpa and Sportiva are the main options, but other good options exist.

 Twin or mono - pros and cons to both - Toby wrote on that recently (link to thread please)..  Modular crampons like Petzl Lynz can be either.  

I agree to an extent with the opinion to get fit.  Winter climbing can be hard graft. If it's -12, -16 water ice will be a lot harder and more brittle than compressed snow so the technique may be similar, but more swinging will be going on.  Also, a day standing around in a windy, shadowy gorge (no sun in Rjukan) can be chilly so be prepared. 

 Cornish boy 11 Sep 2021
In reply to Albert Ross:

We had a session with an instructor at Vertical Chill before our trip to Rjukan. It was well worth it and good fun too so I would definitely recommend it. As others have said, ice climbing is predominantly about technique not strength, as we all found out that day 😂

We also hired a guide for our first day out in Rjukan, which we massively benefited from as we were all water ice novices. In addition to helping us with our technique, he also taught us how to rig Abalakov threads etc. However, if your pals are experienced you probably won’t need to do hire someone. 

Have fun out there! 

P. S. The ‘Heavy Water’ guidebook was our bible out there. 

Post edited at 12:26
 MattJ753 11 Sep 2021
In reply to Albert Ross:

Indoor ice wall is a good idea for specific technique, and winter skills course good idea for dealing with approach and descent slopes/avalanche risk etc...but I'd add that some weekends dry tooling in UK before-hand could be really beneficial and fun. It will add very specific fitness, and similar technique that will transfer to ice quite well...just be careful that getting good sticks in ice while leading is a different game to care-free 'tooling on a small edges while protected by bolts. 

 thegrowler1981 12 Sep 2021
In reply to Albert Ross:

Is it even open anymore?

 Toby_W 12 Sep 2021
In reply to TobyA: Ha ha, so true, I remember climbing my first steep waterfall ice.  It was the best conditions I’ve seen and it was cold, -15, the ice was blue and as hard as marble.  I’m pretty sure my technique was rather lacking.  I rolled over the top with a total, thank god feeling and then spent 5 minutes prising my fingers from the death grip I had on my axes.  The temperature around me was about +15 due to the heat I was radiating from my efforts.  Strength is vital for ice but deserts you in seconds with poor technique.



In reply to thegrowler1981:

> Is it even open anymore?

What a ******** shame, that was a great place. Pre covid it was usually busy/booked, popularity wasn't lacking.

In reply to thegrowler1981:

Gutted! I always used to book a session or two a year. One in the summer as a birthday treat and one just prior to the winter season especially if heading out to Rjukan.

In reply to angry pirate:

I suppose you can be ultra oldskool and go to Margate. It's not the same though. Think I'll have to make a trip some time, haven't considered that for years. My ice tools are antique junk, but then again you wouldn't want to ruin good kit. 

In reply to CantClimbTom:

Sadly it's a wee bit further than Manchester for me!

Good shout though. I was aware of some chalk climbing from the exploits of Mick Fowler et al but not Margate. I'll put it on the climbing wishlist and see if I can convince any of my mates to knacker their tools on it.

 Mark Bannan 12 Sep 2021
In reply to LakesWinter:

That random animation is not bad (better than the advice I was given many moons ago when I started!) but here's a better clip from an expert:

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