AUSTRIAN mountaineering experts have been drafted in to build the world’s biggest climbing wall on the outskirts of the Capital.
The 90ft-high wall will be the showpiece of the new 16 million Adventure Centre being built at Ratho.
The company behind the much-delayed project said today it was now confident of opening the new attraction by the end of August.
The wall, which will be 330ft long and feature more than 300 potential routes for climbers, is expected to be one of the most striking of its kind in the world.
One of the developers, Edinburgh climber Duncan McCallum, said the team building the wall were highly experienced climbers from the international "home of mountaineering".
He said: "For the last few weeks a team of Austrian climbers from wall-building company Pantarai have been constructing some of the most spectacular climbing walls anywhere in the world.
"There’s been a group of between eight and ten of them from the Zillertal and Stubai valleys near Innsbruck. Stubai is really the home of Austrian alpine mountaineering and these are some of the gnarliest dudes around."
The Austrians are also experienced carpenters, having grown up in an area where many people build their own homes, and have used this expertise to construct the artificial walls at the centre. Mr McCallum said: "These are guys who have always wanted to work in climbing, which they love, so they have an innate enthusiasm for building the wall."
The centre has taken delivery of 11,000 "bolt-on holds" which climbers will use to attach ropes to and hold on to as they follow the various routes up the wall. All grades of climb will be available, some no harder than "a slightly complicated ladder" and others "needing a high level of gymnastic ability like being able to pull yourself up with one finger", according to Mr McCallum.
The centre was expected to open last year but has been subject to a number of delays. In a storm last April, the Millennium Dome-style roof was ripped off. And the cost of the mainly privately funded project has more than doubled from original estimates.
As well as the world’s largest purpose-built climbing arena, the five-storey building - housed in a converted quarry - will have mountain biking circuits, a "via ferrata" modelled on those in the Alps, an aerial adventure course and scuba diving facilities.
It will also feature an adventure sports gym and health club, accommodation, film auditorium, conference facilities and a bar and a restaurant. Around 100 people will be employed at the site.
The complex is expected to draw up to 260,000 visitors each year and last year it was named as one of three Edinburgh organisations recognised as "visionary" by a BT national awards scheme.
Deputy Lord Provost Steve Cardownie said: "This will be huge and will attract rock- climbing events which are held all over the world to Edinburgh.
"It’s a great addition to the facilities we already have in Edinburgh and will be able to hold concerts and other events - not just rock climbing-based ones."
A spokeswoman for Edinburgh and Lothians Tourist Board said: "The Adventure Centre will provide a visitor attraction, sports arena and conference venue quite unlike anything else in this area.
"It will offer endless flexibility to meeting organisers."
Next month, the Adventure Centre will open a sales office in the grounds of the Bridge Inn in Ratho. As part of the drive to attract members there will be site tours of the climbing arena.