No Mountains? Ice-Climb the Silo


CEDAR FALLS, Iowa, Feb. 6, 2007 — -- As temperatures drop to 17 below zero in the frozen plains of Iowa, those looking for excitement bring a mountain sport to their farms by showering the silos with water, which creates an ice field of sorts.

"You're not supposed to be ice-climbing in Iowa, but we're doing it," said Don Briggs, who admits it feels like "cheating" somehow.

Briggs uses garden hoses and some jury-rigged shower heads to water the silos every evening, and the wind and cold create towering stalactites that stretch 70 feet straight up.

This bizarre marriage of agriculture and extreme sports was the brainchild of Briggs, who teaches physical education at the local university. The idea came to him while working on a neighbor's farm.

"There's a lot of people around this community. … They were just like 'he's nuts, he's got a screw loose or something and it'll never work,'" Briggs said.

But it did, and it attracts dozens of adventure seekers each week, including one visitor from China. First time climber Sara Kanopka said the 70 feet of ice was not so intimidating while she was standing on the ground.

Once she was tethered to the silo and a spotter on the ground, she sounded a lot less certain. "When I start climbing, I'll probably have one of those 'what am I doing?' moments," she said.

With an ice ax in each hand, and pointed metal crampons strapped to her boots, Kanopka makes her ascent -- pulling on the axes to test the ice, and then struggling to find firm footing. She slips off the ice, but her friend Megan Stadleman, who is holding her safety line, yells, "I've got you … keep going."

Twenty slippery minutes later, Kanopka reaches the top, exhausted. "I don't know if I'm hooked, but I'd do it again," she said.

"You have to do something in the winter," said climber Cliff Roy. "We live in Iowa. It's winter five or six months a year. It's either this or hole up, and this is more fun."

And it's also a way to relax and find some peace of mind. "You forget all your troubles," Roy said. "It's just you against the ice, and there's no other concern."

Briggs doesn't charge the climbers who come to his friend's farm. They sign a release form, strap on their gear, and begin climbing.

An unused barn filled with space heaters and old furniture doubles as a climber's lounge. That's where Briggs talks about his dream. "My goal one day, seriously, is to be driving down the highway in Iowa and look over and see silos iced up, and people climbing them."

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