From the edge: Ice climbing Europe
If scaling a vertical wall of ice hundreds of feet above the ground sounds exciting, keep reading! Here’s how you can test your grit, guts and Spidey skills on some of the best ice climbing pitches Europe has to offer.
About ice climbing
While ice climbing involves techniques utilized in rock climbing such as leading, belaying and rope systems, climbers use specialized equipment for ice while ascending glaciers, frozen waterfalls, rocky ledges, cliffs and slabs covered in frozen precipitation or water flows. Routes, courses and instruction are available for those just starting out and experts keen on sharpening their climbing technique.
When to go
The average ice-climbing season is usually late December to early March; climbing in colder climates could start as early as October or November, or extend climbing conditions into late spring on north-facing pitches in highest elevations. Many climbing guides suggest that the best climbing time period for longer sunlight hours and steadier freezing temperatures is from early January to early February.
With on-site, hands-on instructors, real ice walls, expert gear provided and year-round operation in climate-controlled facilities, these centers are excellent for beginners seeking to learn the sport or for advanced climbers hoping to train during warmer seasons.
Bever Ice Wall, Den Haag, the Netherlands: Half-hour climbing fees for the facility’s 12-meter (39.3 foot) ice wall are 25 euros with equipment and instructor, or 17.50euros if you bring your own gear (boots, crampons, ice axes, helmets, goggles and harness/belt). Minimum age is 14, and groups of six or more can get a discount. The wall is open during regular store hours and extends to 10:30 p.m. during weekdays.
The Ice Factor, Kinlochleven, Scotland: One of Scotland’s top visited tourist attractions, this indoor ice- and rock climbing facility, open every day but Christmas, has a 50-foot ice wall, the world’s largest indoor ice pitch. Facility services include daily 60- or 90-minute climbing coaching sessions, a restaurant, bar, steam and sauna rooms, child soft-play areas, and much more. The Ice Factor also offers outdoor winter climbing courses.
Vertical Chill Ice Walls in both London and Manchester, England: Vertical Chill operates 8-meter (26.2 foot) ice walls at both the Ellis Brigham Tower retail store in Covent Gardens, and Deansgate location in Manchester. Hour sessions range from £50 for those who need detailed instruction and equipment; £35 for equipment and instructor who belays and supervises; £25 if you bring your own equipment.
Where to go
Climbers can find exceptional ice climbing in the regions of Chamonix-Mont Blanc, La Grave and Massif du Pelvoux’s Dauphinè region. Adventure Consultants, Alpine Guides, Neil Hitchings and Undiscovered Alps all offer multi-day guided climbs in these regions and more.
Best locations for frozen falls are in the higher regions of the Bavarian regions of Zugspitz, Kampenwand, Berchtesgadener and Oberstdorf, in Allgau. Jochberg, halfway between Garmisch and Munich, is a popular spot for its icefalls. The Pfronten Steinach Ski Center has created a 15-meter (49.2-foot) ice tower for different skilled climbers. Guides and equipment are provided in hour-long sessions. The Ski Center also offers guided ice climbing to great icefalls and pitches throughout Bavaria. For details, contact Pfronten Tourismus or call +49 8363 698-88.
The Sottoguda icefalls of Fedaia Pass, Sella mountain group and south Tyrol’s Val di Fassa, Val Passiria, Valle Taurina and Val Martello offer great ice-climbing terrain. Alpine Guides and the Guides of Chamonix both offer guided climbs through Cogne in the Gran Paradiso National Park.
A world-renowned ice-climbing destination is Rjukan for its stable weather conditions and longer than average Norwegian daylight. Also highly rated are Hemsedal, Eidfjord, and best climbed during February and March when daylight lengthens are Lofoten, Lyngen Alps and Bodø. Northern Alpine Guides offers numerous ice-climbing excursions to these and a few “secret” spots.
Loška Koritnica’s “Valley of Inspiration” just outside Bovec is considered an ice climber’s paradise with its “infinite” number of ice walls. The Palnek waterfall, Logarska Dolina and Zgornjesavska Valley icefalls are also popular.
The Kandersteg is also considered one of the world’s top ice-climbing destinations. Icefalls within the Oeschi forest, the Allmenalp waterfall, and falls in Sunnbüel offer routes for beginners to advanced. Expert climbers will be challenged on longer, aggressive routes in the Gastern valley, at Giesenen and Oeschinen Lake. Other popular locations include Graubünden’s Val Lagrev and Flüela Pass icefall. Alpine Center Kandersteg offers a variety of courses for ice-climbing enthusiasts of all skillsets during December to March. The village of Zermatt also maintains an artificial ice tower in the center of town, while Alpine Center Zermatt offers guided ice-climbing trips during both the winter and summer, to elevations as high as the Hohlberghorn at 4,219 meters (13,838 feet).
Climbers should always stay abreast of climbing and inclement weather conditions when planning and just before a climb. See below for a list of sites offering 24-hour (or frequently updated) weather conditions.