Ice climbing: The sport that’s benefiting from the UK’s wintry weather and frozen waterfalls

While most sports are struggling to come to terms with the Beast from the East’s wintry influence, one activity is positively thriving in the sub-zero temperatures.

The clue is in the name: ice climbing involves ascending ice formations, with breathtaking frozen waterfalls often providing the surface.

Ice climbers on the downfall at Kinder Downfall, High Peak in Derbyshire
(Peter Byrne/PA)

That picture and those that follow in this article show ice climbers scaling a frozen waterfall in Derbyshire, and for enthusiasts the current weather conditions are providing quite an exciting array of opportunities.

“Of course it is a seasonal sport, so every year we see a big uptake in the winter, but you get exceptional conditions like this and everybody gets excited,” said Mark Warner, an instructor, experienced ice climber and assistant manager at the Ice Factor in Kinlochleven, Scotland.

“We’re seeing waterfalls and climbs in England that very rarely come into condition because it rarely gets cold enough,” he continued. “People get excited to try them because they might only get the chance every 10 years or so.”

Ice climbers at Kinder Downfall, High Peak in Derbyshire
(Peter Byrne/PA)

A lot of people progress from indoor climbing to outdoor, while Mark did a lot of hill walking before moving on to rock climbing, then ice climbing – but isn’t the practice dangerous?

“If you were to go out yourself and try and go ice climbing, it would be very dangerous,” said Mark. “But with the right training, experience and instructions when you’re starting out, no.

“You build up a base of experience by starting on easier climbs, progressing within your comfort zone.

“The main differences are that in rock climbing you’re using your hands and feet directly on the rock, whereas in ice climbing you have ice axes in your hand, which obviously swing into the ice and you use to climb up, and you have crampons on your feet.”

Ice climbers on the downfall at Kinder Downfall, High Peak in Derbyshire
(Peter Byrne/PA)

With eight years of ice climbing experience, Mark said that in terms of surfaces: “The most dramatic tend to be frozen waterfalls, but ice will form on any natural drainage line if it’s cold enough.”

But he also warned that proper precautions must be taken before ascending.

“You need to make sure it’s properly attached and properly frozen,” he said. “If you climb on frozen waterfalls too early, where they’ve basically started to freeze but they’re not fully formed and attached, that can be very dangerous because the ice can collapse.

“Once they’re properly solid and fully frozen, obviously there’s an element of danger, but they can be fairly secure.”

Ice climbers on the downfall at Kinder Downfall, High Peak in Derbyshire
(Peter Byrne/PA)

For those interested in getting involved in ice climbing, the Ice Factor at the National Ice Climbing Centre is a good place to start, according to Mark, while if it’s outdoor progress you’re after, he suggests looking into the Association of Mountaineering Instructors.

But for those who are already experts, it sounds as though the perks of the job are quite spectacular.

“In terms of the UK, most of the ice climbs are fairly high up the mountains, so you’re getting a chance to experience an environment that very few other people will get to experience,” said Mark.

“It takes you to some of the most stunning and beautiful parts of the country.”

SportWeb editor