Ice climbers ascend Iowa silos’ challenging, man-made frozen walls


by Harriet Baskas, NBC News Contributor

While we don’t know which weather-weary Bostonian just invented the sport of jumping into snow piles, we do know which rock climber came up with the idea of covering an Iowa grain silo with ice and then inviting the public to scale it.

That climber is Don Briggs, an outdoor-pursuits professor at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, who came up with the idea in 2001. Briggs created curtains of ice on the grain silo by rigging hoses to spray water on the structure. The resulting ice wall serves as an ideal and unconventional 80-foot-tall climbing site in the middle of the Great Plains. 

“If you climb a natural waterfall, you’ll have cascading, which is where water comes down, hits shelves and creates resting spots,” said Briggs. “But we don’t have resting spots. It’s straight up and one of the hardest places to climb.”  

Now a regular winter weekend attraction (a daily pass is $35), the challenging climb on the repurposed silos opens for the season whenever temperatures are consistently around 26 degrees Fahrenheit. And while not yet a blockbuster attraction, the silo climb draws both novice and expert climbers from nearby towns, and some as far away as Arkansas, Kentucky, Canada, California and Alaska.

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