At this altitude each breath is increasingly harder as I try to suck in as much oxygen as possible out of the thin air. My breath hangs visibly in the air around my head every time I exhale as the temperature hovers around -2 degrees Celsius on our ice climbing in the UK adventure.
The lack of oxygen is starting to affect my muscles. Or is it the fact that we have constantly been going vertical now for nearly 2 hours. My left leg uncontrollably shudders again from the exertion as I cling to the solid ice wall. My fingers lock in a death grip on the slippery handles of my ice axe, the points of which are sunk no more than 2 cm into the glistening ice.
Splinters of ice continue to rain down upon my helmet every time I work them loose to drive them home again and again and again.
My head rings with the advice of the guide; “keep your heals down to work the crampons into the ice”. But instead my big toes ache from banging around inside my boot as they scramble for grip on the tiniest ledges. My brain cannot comprehend how these tiny 1 inch spikes hold my weight.
The stiff and frozen rope disappears above my head to loop around a single tiny ring of metal which is supposed to hold me in place once I take the inevitable slip. The other end is knotted in a haphazard looking fashion to my climbing harness which is starting to chaff in the most uncomfortable places. My forearms feel like they have been dipped in burning oil from the tension and I can tell they will only support my weight for a few more minutes at best.
And then the final piece of advice from the guide slowly creeps its way back into my mind…
“One last thing, whatever you do, DON’T look down”
I cannot help it. That overwhelming urge to know how far I will fall to my untimely death consumes me. I risk a glance over my shoulder to the abyss below me…
“Oh hurry up Cole you are nearly there!”
Rudely awakened from reverie I realise I am only 10m off the ground and in the safety of the world’s largest indoor ice climbing facility located in the heart of the Highlands of Scotland and not clinging to the side of Mount Kilimanjaro. Damn this is hard.
Ice Climbing in the UK
We ventured up to Kinlochleven in Scotland for a short weekend of adventure and to try our hand for the very first time at a spot of ice climbing in the UK. Now I can count the number of times I have been indoor rock climbing on one hand and definitely do not consider myself to be an expert at all.
In addition, I have been blessed with my Dad’s sense of Acrophobia, more commonly known as being afraid of heights so ice climbing in the UK gave me cold sweats before we even donned our climbing gear.
However, whenever I am faced with putting myself outside my comfort zone it always helps that I am highly competitive. This competitive streak has helped me overcome a number of different trials and there was no way I was going to let my mate Simon get the better of me by getting higher than I could. With that in mind we signed up.
We were told to dress warmly before we arrived and I am glad we did as the indoor venue is literally a gigantic freezer with the ice scraping the roof at a height around 13m.
Now that might not seem very high to some people but for sufferers of acrophobia it is the equivalent of scaling Everest. We spent about 15 minutes at the beginning with the guide getting kitted up with crampons, ice axes and nut-squeezing harnesses before being let loose on the wall.
When I say let loose I really mean it.
5 minutes of instructions with a quick tutorial on how to belay each other (in other words putting your life in someone else’s hands) and how to most effectively use our crampons and ice axes was the basics we needed. The simple instruction of “don’t smack yourself in the face or anyone else in the face with the ice axe” were duly noted as we swung as we hacked our way up the beginner wall.
Chunks the size of my fist rained down on the spectators below. We were very glad we had the helmets while ice climbing in the UK.
With the guide watching dutifully over our shoulders and only 5 in our group we quickly progressed from the beginner wall to the much higher and harder wall where they had held the Scottish Championships the day before.
I really was not lying in my story above, it really was that hard.
For the best part of 15 minutes I had clawed my way to within 1m of the top when I physically could not go on any further. My legs trembled, whether from exertion or my fear of heights I am not sure, and my forearms and hands just seized up completely. It took the remainder of my strength just to prise the ice axes out of the ice wall and swing out into the open air behind me to be lowered to the floor.
Thankfully I managed to get higher than Adela.
Have you been Ice Climbing in the UK?