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Climbing Vertical Chalk Cliffs with Ice Axes

Ten of the world’s best ice climbers took on the challenge of ascending sheer cliffs of chalk – one of the most difficult rock types to climb – as the first ever Red Bull White Cliffs competition came to the Isle of Wight.

The U.K. is the only place where chalk cliffs can be climbed and the unique competition format and environment challenged the climber’s stamina, endurance and skill in a completely new way.

Above the Needles, the cliffs at Scratchell’s Bay pushed the climbers to their limits, really testing their skills ahead of the winter climbing season.

Greg Boswell on the 130-metre speed route Photo Jon Griffith
Greg Boswell on the 130-metre speed route Photo Jon Griffith

Canadian Gord McArthur said of the location: “It’s wild. Every aspect of this climb and this venue is completely different and unknown, which makes it really exciting. I’ve never climbed anything like this before, with crashing waves right behind you. We’re used to climbing on limestone, but on chalk you are more on the edge of whether your tools will hold.”

Typically a World Cup ice climbing course is held over 15- to 25-metre pitches, but the Red Bull White Cliffs format challenged the climbers to ascend the full 115-metre cliff face as fast as they could.

Russia’s Aleksei Tomilov took first place, ascending the cliff face in just 16 minutes 46 seconds. Jeff Mercier of France was second with a time of 19 minutes 8 seconds and American Will Mayo took third in 21 minutes 40 seconds.

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