Ice Climber Tackles Iowa Silos When you think of locations for extreme winter sports, Iowa doesn't usually spring to mind. For the past 10 years, Don Briggs has been trying to change that. He's been icing the sides of grain silos and scaling them just as you would Mount Everest or any other ice wall.
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Ice Climber Tackles Iowa Silos

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Ice Climber Tackles Iowa Silos

Ice Climber Tackles Iowa Silos

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OK. Thanks to the magic of radio, I'm back in the warm studio now, but my guest is not. As a matter of fact, he's in Cedar Falls, Iowa, enjoying an extreme winter sport that will definitely get your nose running - ice climbing.

(Soundbite of ice crunching)

What you're hearing is ice climber Don Briggs getting ready to scale the side of a frozen grain silo. And yes, you heard right, he's in Iowa. Of course, there are no natural ice formations in the Hawkeye state apart from the frozen bits in the driveway. So if you live amongst the cornfields but dream of ice climbing, Don Briggs is your man.

Briggs is a climbing instructor at the University of Northern Iowa, and he's been creating manmade ice walls on the side of silos for a decade. And about now, he should be midway up. Hello, Don Briggs, you crazy man.

Mr. DON BRIGGS (Climbing Instructor, University of Northern Iowa): Hi, Jackie.

LYDEN: How far up are you?

Mr. BRIGGS: I'm about 30 or 40 feet up right now.

LYDEN: Are you worried about falling?

Mr. BRIGGS: No, I'm actually attached to a rope that goes up to the top of the climb - up to the top of the silo - and then back down to a belayer who's taking the rope up as I ascend.

LYDEN: What's the view like up there, Don?

Mr. BRIGGS: Well, the view is really nice. I can see all the way to our campus, which is about six miles away. As I look the other way, I can see my own home, which - I live about a mile from the silo here.

LYDEN: How do you create an ice wall on the side of a silo?

Mr. BRIGGS: Well, actually what we do is we run a garden hose - just a regular garden hose up the silo and put a spray nozzle in the end of it - it's a shower head actually. And then what we do is we turn the water on and keep the water flowing and going. It doesn't freeze up until it hits the silo. And then when it hits the side of the silo, those steel bands that go around the concrete keep the ice on, and it forms up and it gets about four feet thick. And that's plenty of ice to work with and get yourself up.

LYDEN: This is what I love about the Midwest. People are off the rails in these completely low-key ways. And give me a description of the curtain of ice coming over the silo. Is it two feet thick, four feet thick?

Mr. BRIGGS: It's - well, at the top right now, it's about, oh, maybe three feet thick. And it's just a clustery - it looks like a great, big, huge pillow.

LYDEN: You mentioned you had climbed other ice formations in northern Wisconsin. How does climbing the side of a silo compare to, say, cliffs?

Mr. BRIGGS: This - silo ice climbing is a lot more difficult than any other ice I've been on. And the reason why is because this is straight up.

LYDEN: Right.

Mr. BRIGGS: Whereas all the other ice that we climb is what we call waterfall ice. It has a little bit of cascading effect to it and that - there you go - and that makes it a little bit easier to climb that type of ice.

LYDEN: I'm sure Everest is easy after you've done the silos of Iowa, no doubt. Do you ever climb at night?

Mr. BRIGGS: Yes. In fact, we've got a whole group of people coming out today. We're going to climb until midnight. We're going to turn some lights on. And this thing really illuminates the sky. It's really beautiful at night. And then find a hot tub somewhere and enjoy that. Well, I'm at the top here.

LYDEN: Fabulous. Congratulations. Well, Don Briggs, it has been an absolute pleasure talking to you. And I wish you many, many more successful climbs.

Mr. BRIGGS: Well, thank you very much. You're welcome to come out and climb anytime and join us.

LYDEN: I would very much like to do that. Don Briggs is an instructor at the University of Northern Iowa. You can see pictures of some of these frozen silos and Don Briggs making his way up them on our Web site. That's at

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