Ice Climber Tackles Iowa Silos

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Don Briggs suits up to scale the silo i

Don Briggs suits up — with multiple layers — to scale a silo. Kathryn Floyd hide caption

itoggle caption Kathryn Floyd
Don Briggs suits up to scale the silo

Don Briggs suits up — with multiple layers — to scale a silo.

Kathryn Floyd
Grain silo i

Water is sprayed on the silo over a period of days to get ice that ranges from 4 to 6 feet in thickness. Patricia Olthoff-Blank hide caption

itoggle caption Patricia Olthoff-Blank
Grain silo

Water is sprayed on the silo over a period of days to get ice that ranges from 4 to 6 feet in thickness.

Patricia Olthoff-Blank
Don Briggs climbs up the side of an iced grain silo. i

Briggs says this is the most difficult kind of ice climbing because it's straight up. Kathryn Floyd hide caption

itoggle caption Kathryn Floyd
Don Briggs climbs up the side of an iced grain silo.

Briggs says this is the most difficult kind of ice climbing because it's straight up.

Kathryn Floyd

Would-be ice climbers in Iowa encounter a very foreseeable problem: a lack of natural ice formations to scale.

Enter Don Briggs.

Briggs, a health and physical education instructor at the University of Northern Iowa, has been creating ice walls to climb on the side of grain silos for 10 years.

So how does one ice a silo? Take a garden hose, attach a typical showerhead and put it at the top. When the water cascades down the sides, it freezes when it hits the metal bands holding the silo together. Run the water at intervals over the course of a few days and you get ice that ranges from 4 to 6 feet in thickness.

Next, Briggs and his fellow climbers strap clamps on metal boots, then pick up a couple of axes and some climbers rope, and start up.

Briggs says this type of ice climbing is the most difficult because the silo is a straight wall stretching upward rather than a natural ice formation with a waterfall effect that allows for periods of rest. But once you get this type of climbing in your blood, he says, it's addictive.

That definitely is the case for Briggs, who often finds he climbs all day and sometimes until midnight. Climbing at night requires putting a spotlight on the iceberg in the middle of a cornfield, which he says really illuminates the night sky.

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