A few months ago I scrolled past a sponsored post on Instagram: a weekend of ice climbing in the Dolomites for £250, inclusive of hotel accommodation, breakfasts and transport.
I had never ice climbed before, but, being drawn to all things snow, ice, and outdoors, had always wanted to. I had assumed I’d need to be a far more experienced climber before I could even try, or at least have a fat wallet to pay for guidance and equipment. (I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve seen some amazing travel experience and subsequently wondered which organs I could do without.)
But here was a UK-based outdoors adventure club that promised to take participants of any and all levels to the world’s most beautiful mountain range for an active weekend escape at an accessible price point.
The company was called “No Boundaries”, and I scoured their website to find out how on earth they could afford to deliver on this promise. As someone who is passionate about making outdoors adventure available to everyone, especially inner city folk, I was pleased to learn that they share this same vision. The company reinvests all its profits back into itself and is run by a dedicated team of seasoned local guides with strong personal connections to the Dolomites.
In the meanwhile, I saw that they offered different activities too: hiking, mountaineering, bouldering, lead climbing. There were both introductory packages and the opportunity to attend these trips as more experienced individuals. In other words, you could go as a complete beginner having never climbed a thing in your life before, or an outdoors lover looking to try something new or to simply keep learning in a new environment.
Being stuck with a large tour group is one of my travel nightmares, so the idea of small, focussed groups (I was with 7 people) appealed to me. Fast forward a few months later and I was en route to Milan, where I would be transferred to Hotel Breguzzo in the Dolomites for my weekend of ice climbing with No Boundaries.
WHAT YOU’RE PAYING FOR
- Ice climbing activity / mountain guides fees
- Equipment hire — all equipment included (ropes, axes, harness, helmet) apart from ice climbing boots which you can rent for £30.
- Transfers to and from the airport — fly into Milan and you’ll be picked up by the NB driver. Depending which airport in Milan you fly to, it’s either a 2 or 3 hour car ride. (2 hours from Milan Bergamo, 3 hours from Milan Malpensa).
- 3 nights accommodation at 3-star Hotel Carlone in Breguzzo. (Arrive Saturday morning, depart Monday late afternoon). This is not some fabulous five star resort, but if you’re coming here for outdoors activities you shouldn’t expect it to be anyway. It’s all the basic things you need – bed, bathroom, breakfast, food – with a little extra thrown in via the ‘wellness centre’ which provides a sauna and something called an ‘emotional shower’. I have no idea what that is because I forgot to bring a swimsuit, but I am determined to find out next time. I hope to laugh, cry, and truly become one, emotionally, with the shower.
- Transfers from the accommodation to the ice climbing sites.
WHAT YOU’RE NOT PAYING FOR
- Flights to and from Milan. You can see the No Boundaries page for more information under ‘recommended flights’ if you want to make sure you’re traveling with the group. If you don’t mind arranging it yourself, you can easily meet the pickup driver at any of the airports once you land.
- Lunches and dinners.
Lunch: In the morning, en route to the ice climbing sites, you stop off at a supermarket to pick up snacks and lunch for the day. There’s an Italian deli that makes really nice sandwiches with fillings of your choice (sun-dried tomatoes and cheese was my go-to). While ice climbing there’s no set lunchtime, so we all just got to graze on our snacks and sandwiches throughout the day between climbs whenever we wanted.
Dinner: 15 euro 3-course menu each night (small selections of soup, pasta, meat) plus buffet for salad appetiser and pretty generous dessert offerings!
- Any other clothes you might need that you don’t have. You want to be fully prepared for an icy adventure, so make sure to wear appropriate clothing – remember your layers! 1. Base / 2. down / 3. shell. I wore a base layer shirt, a fleece over it, and then my ski jacket. The others had hard shell jackets and options for multiple insulating layers underneath. On your lower half, you can wear thermal base layer leggings with hiking trousers or ski trousers. You also want gloves – preferably mountaineering gloves, and bring an extra pair in case your first pair get wet.
WHO CAN GO
- In a word: anyone. Obviously there’s an assumption that if you’re interested in the outdoors and activities like this, you may have some basic fitness already, but mental perseverance is always more important. You don’t need to be exceptionally fit. The guides can cater to your needs.
- Yes, it does help a little bit if you’re used to ascending vertically – that means, if you have some climbing experience already. But, again, you don’t need to.
ICE CLIMBING: ABOUT + EXPERIENCE
Ice climbing is like rock climbing, but on a totally different surface. So, you need some different tools. Ice climbers use crampons, axes, ropes, and other technical equipment to climb on ice. No Boundaries provides and handles all this equipment, the only thing you need to pay for (if you don’t already have them) are ice climbing boots to rent for the weekend at £30.
For years ice climbing was just a part of mountaineering — climbers only got the gear out to traverse icy sections of mountains in order to continue upwards. Over time, the thrill and challenge of ice climbing has seen it become an adventure strictly in and of itself. There’s a rush about having your face flat against the side of a glacier or frozen waterfall, using specialised tools to scale its slippery and textured surface. It is, of course, considered an extreme sport.
No Boundaries isn’t going to take you to treacherous, crevasse-riddled terrain. You’ll stick with simple (and stunning) frozen waterfalls. These will certainly still challenge you and coax you out of your comfort zone. There were certainly a couple routes I couldn’t complete and nerves I had to overcome. Just remember that these routes are specially set up for each group’s experience level by a knowledgeable local guide. You’re in good hands and there’s no pressure on you to do anything you’re not comfortable doing. This is an introduction to the sport — it’s all about gaining experience, having fun, and learning how to be a better ice climber!
The first day of ice climbing took place at a site far from the main road where our car was parked. It was about a 20 minute drive from the hotel followed by an hour walk/hike inland through the forest, equipment in tow, to reach an open clearing with all the frozen waterfalls.
There, our guide Andrea set up ropes on two different waterfalls. There were experienced climbers within our group, so it was easy to start climbing with everyone belaying each other. The highest we went was around 30 metres.
On the second day of ice climbing, Andrea gave to me: more routes at a much closer site and some technique tips for free. Win! This time the site was only a 5 minute walk away from our parked car, and beautiful in a different way: less remote, but still offering seclusion next to a clear mountain stream between tall snow-dusted trees. The sun was out that day and the ice was a wonderful shade of blue. I loved the footpath that ran behind the ice and allowed for some really cool shots.
I’ve bouldered before (though I haven’t for a while now as I’m still recovering from a toe fracture) and have done some lead climbing, so I’m familiar with the sensation of ascending vertically. Did that help me? Not really. I may as well have never climbed a thing before, because ice climbing felt totally new and different to me! I asked the other climbers in the group and they felt the same. The only comparison we could draw between the two disciplines was the importance of skilfully shifting body weight & being aware of foot placement. Other than that, our bodies were learning something entirely new. This is a good thing for the group because it’s a great equaliser: suddenly everyone is starting from square 1 (assuming no one has ice climbed before) and truly sharing the experience together.
And boy is it fun! You feel like a total badass with the ice axes. The locations are stunning and there are plenty on offer depending on what the guide feels is best for the day. It was a supportive and easy-going environment, with Andrea always on-hand to give advice and periodically holler “well done!”
I would definitely ice climb again. It’s not a question of whether I would, but when I will. This experience has inspired me to keep learning and I’m grateful to have uncovered this hidden gem of a company. Their transparency & sincere devotion to each participant is a type of uniquely attentive care you can only get from small companies like this. For example, a single guy joined our group late after having been with a separate ice climbing group for the previous two days then spontaneously deciding to stay longer. While the rest of his friends flew back to London, No Boundaries arranged for him to join our group and extended his stay without a single fault. Any time things do go slightly awry – e.g. I had a little trouble checking in on the return leg of my journey – they are quick to action and will help you. If you’re UK-based and want an easy way to venture into the realm of extreme or outdoors sports, or you fancy a weekend away to celebrate your long-time love of adventure, I am satisfied to report that No Boundaries is a safe bet. Thanks Instagram!