Don’t worry, climate change hasn’t caused a new ice age in the North of England – not yet anyway!
Ellis Brigham on Deansgate have a refrigerated indoor ice wall and I thought I’d give it a try, so I booked a one hour ‘learn ice climbing’ session.
Imagine if the freezer compartment of your fridge was 20 feet tall and you had to climb to the top to get the oven chips down, well that was what this was like. It is kind of strange though to be ice climbing with various shoppers stopping to watch you through the windows next to the stairwell. This is how Clare managed to take the photos by the way, and also explains why some of them have a reflection of the shoe department in them.
The first challenge is getting into all the kit. Extra thick socks, stiff B3 boots, C3 crampons, over-trousers, anorak, harness, helmet with visor and mountain gloves. With all those layers on, it was quite a relief to sign the disclaimer and step through the thick fridge door into the minus 10 degree chill of the climbing wall.
My instructor was Bikky, a real Nepalise mountain guide, whose normal working environment is the high ranges of the Himalaya. I dare say cajoling a middle-aged mancunian up the inside of a two-storey fridge wasn’t quite as challenging as summiting Mount Everest but it certainly didn’t show as he was cheerful, encouraging and very knowledgable.
We started with the flat wall where Bikky taught me the correct technique, which we developed further as moved onto the gulley section and then finally onto protruding ridge section.
At this point I was starting to tire and my forearms were burning as I struggled to grip onto the pickaxes and balance on the narrow section of wall. You have to twist your feet inward as you kick into the ice or else your feet just ricochet off. I climbed this section twice and both times I lost balance and came off, but luckily Bikky held firm as I managed to traverse back to where I came off and on to the top.
Another issue as the hour progressed was the helmet’s plastic visor that protects your eyes from fragments of ice. As I huffed and puffed my way up the climbs, mine started to mist up. Back on ground level I tried to wipe the condensation off with my glove but it wouldn’t go. Bikky laughed and explained that it had frozen, so I was climbing with a frosted glass windscreen – obviously the reason I fell off twice and nothing at all to do with my clumsy balance issues!
Staggering back out, I was stopped by a small girl who had been watching and wanted to tell me that I’d done very well, so I’d impressed at least one person – which was nice.
Overall, an exhilarating experience which I heartily recommend and may well do again soon. And it is kind of cool to be able to say I was taught how to ice climb by an actual himalayan mountain guide from Nepal – many thanks Bikky.
All I need now is for that ice age to get organised so I can move on to the bigger stuff.