Rock Climbing, Abseiling & Canyoning

Ice Climbing In The UK | An Essential Guide

Believe it or not, the UK is home to some excellent ice climbing opportunities; here's everything you need to know

From the outside, ice climbing in the UK looks like a bit of a dark art. It’s like rock climbing but with an air of mystery – because while rocks are always there, ice often isn’t. Luckily, with the right kit, some good skills and the weather conditions aligning, it’s possible to climb the UK’s ice.

Now, your first question is probably, “Wait – can we even go ice climbing in the UK?” You’ve seen full on frozen waterfalls in Norway, but surely the UK doesn’t have that kind of weather? Well, good news is that we definitely do. Yes, it’s not as consistently cold as Norway (or a great many other places) but ice climbing is possible year on year. It’s just about finding the right routes at the right moment.

To convince you, I spoke to Lina Arthur, author of Snow and Ice – a guide to the winter mountaineering routes of Great Britain. “It is definitely possible to ice climb most years in the UK,” says Lina, “though your chances are highest in Scotland. In Scotland, the ice gully season on Ben Nevis usually runs from January until April, with February and March the most reliable. Pure water icefall climbing conditions in the Lake District and Snowdonia (and elsewhere in the UK) tend to come round only once every five to ten years – as in 2021, when there was an exceptional week of brilliant roadside ice climbing in the Lake District.”

A frozen waterfall in Wales. Photo: Getty Images / iStock

When are the conditions right for UK ice climbing?

The UK’s weather is pretty temperamental at the best of times. “Winter climbing conditions in the UK are notoriously hard to predict,” says Lina, “it takes practice and experience to interpret the weather forecast and apply it to a particular climb. Keep an eye on the Met Office and MWIS forecasts prior to your climb to understand the weather patterns. High pressure systems bringing cold air from Scandinavia can give brilliant conditions. A number of good snowfalls and periods of freeze-thaw are required to create reliable conditions and fill the gullies with plastic ice.

“Once the major ice lines on Ben Nevis have formed they are quite thaw-resistant and some may remain in good condition until late April. By contrast, ice routes further south may be in condition for only a few days before melting. Check the freezing level and the wind speed/direction and match these to the aspect and height of a route. It is best to be as flexible as possible – routes may be in condition on one crag and not on another.

“A final check of the Met Office update in the early morning can alert you to changes that have occurred overnight. You can also check conditions reports on UKClimbing and winterclimbingforecasts, but bear in mind that just because someone has logged a route, doesn’t mean that it was or still will be in condition!”

There’s indoor ice climbing to be done in the UK. Credit: Ice Factor

Where can I go ice climbing in the UK?

As with all ice climbing, UK routes are a mixture of water ice and alpine ice (frozen snow). Although, spoiler alert, there aren’t any glaciers to try. Because of this, many people get into ice climbing via mixed or winter climbing. There is also still at least one place you can try out ice climbing indoors in the UK. More on that later.

I asked Lina how UK ice climbing shapes up against other countries. “Ice climbing in the rest of the world is usually cascade climbing, where waterfalls freeze in persistently cold temperatures. There is some of this in the UK, but the UK generally lacks the reliably cold, precipitation-free weather which creates this kind of ice. And when cascade ice does form, it rarely survives for long.” But it’s not all bad news. “The variable conditions created by the UK’s maritime climate, frequently veering between severe thaws and blizzards, can produce incredible plastic névé (snow) ice, both in gullies and on open cliffs. This is fantastic to climb on and is totally different to ice climbing in the rest of the world.”


It’s the high places of the UK that generally provide the most ice climbing. That falls to National Parks and the ones with the higher mountains at that. Snowdonia in North Wales has lots of ice climbing options. Cwm Idwal is a popular area, or around the Snowdon massif. Lina mentions that The Devil’s Appendix (VI,6) is one of the most coveted lines in Wales but is rarely in condition.

Snowdonia in winter. Photo: Getty Images / iStock

Lake District

The Lake District’s mountains only reach 978 metres at most, but there are still many ice climbing routes if the weather is right. Summer ghyll scrambles (basically ascending a stream) can turn into ice routes in the winter. Lina’s favourites are Window Gully (II/III) on Great End and Launchy Ghyll (III/IV) when it comes into condition.


Cairngorm National Park may be famous for its plateau and eponymous mountain top, but there are several passes and gullies, full of interesting lines. Access to the north Cairngorms starts at over 1000m above sea level, and being on the east coast it is generally drier. This tend to mean more stable, cold conditions throughout the winter – if the winter is a cold one. It can even feel alpine.

Glen Coe and Ben Nevis

On the west coast of the Scotland, the famous valley of Glen Coe is considered the gateway to the highlands by many. Buachaille Etive Mor towers over the main road and Bidean nam Bian behind. The Mamores and then Glen Nevis are only a little further north. Then Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the UK, has a series of crags on its north east side. Infamous for lost walkers, but famous for those equipped to tackle them from below.

Lina says, “The classic Scottish gully ice climbs are Point Five Gully (V 5) and Zero Gully (IV 4) on Ben Nevis, but Left Twin (III,4) on Aonach Mor builds ice readily and is a great choice in lean conditions.”

The only indoor ice climbing wall in the UK is in Kinlochleven. The Ice Factor has a 12m ice wall and offers lessons as well as uninstructed climbing sessions.

Head to Kinlochleven for some indoor ice climbing in the UK. Photo: Ice Factor
Ben Nevis in winter. Photo: Getty Images / iStock

Even more UK Ice Climbing

That’s barely scratching the surface of ice climbing in the UK. There are whole hosts of Scotland that we haven’t covered, for a start. Of course, if you dig you can find local routes and grades all over the UK, mostly with excellent names. The UK winter grades run from one upwards, but it’s best to look into a detailed explanation of each grade. 

There are other places too, outside the obvious, that come into condition every once in a while. Back in the Beast from the East, people were ice climbing their local waterfalls from Devon to Derbyshire. And if you’re ever wondering about whether Kinder Downfall is up for ice climbing dibs, that’s a question that’s developed into something of a meme on the online climbing forums (yes, of course there’s a Downfall bunker parody). 

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