Ice Climbing in Iowa

Few states are as progressive as Iowa. Iowa was one of the first states to allow women to own property (1838), prevent forced repatriation of slaves (1838), legalize interracial marriage (1851), grant African Americans the right to vote (1867), desegregate the public schools (1868), elect a woman to public office (1869), and many other laudable actions. A more complete list can be viewed here. This progression doesn’t end with civil rights issues.

Just a sports like skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, to list a few, have seen great progression in their sports over the last 25 years, ice climbing was ripe for change. Along came Don Briggs — a professor at the University of Northern Iowa — who had the outside-of-the-box mentality to expand ice climbing to grain silos. Suddenly Iowa had a new achievement to further strengthen it’s reputation as one of the great mountaineering states. As an example from Iowa’s resume, Melissa Arnot — the world record holder for the most summit’s of Mt. Everest by a female — graduated from the University of Iowa. It only seems right that Iowa is leading the way in Ice Climbing too.

Eduardo Trujillo-Rivera

Eduardo repelling

luke fostvedt silo ice climb

Luke climbing up the silo

Silo ice climbing can only be completed safely when the temperatures are consistently below 26F. It also requires a expensive investment in gear if you are a serious climber. Luckily, Don Briggs has a “warming room” full of gear for the inexperienced climber to use.

Neither myself nor my friend Eduardo — the only person I could convince to try ice climbing — had any experience ice climbing. Fortunately the staff were full of insightful answers to our naive questions. When I asked what the best route up the wall is, I was instructed to “go up”. After having to quit 80% of the way up the wall, my belayer discussed the climb with me and asked probing questions like: “why did you drop your axe?”

Luke Fostvedt Ice climbing

Luke all geared up.

Kidding aside, they had four ropes available for all the climbers to use. Eduardo and I spent three hours trying all the routes. We both were able to reach the top of the 80 ft silo on three of the four rope routes. In between climbs, we went and got some complimentary hot chocolate and warm tang to warm ourselves back up. One of the hardest parts of climbing was on the rope that was right on the edge of the shade. One moment you’re looking at a dark ice face, the next you are trying to see features against the sunshine reflecting off the ice. Just like with rock climbing, you don’t want to be using your arms to climb. You don’t climb a ladder using your upper body, so why would you try to climb a ice face using our arms? I was obviously climbing incorrectly because my forearms were dead half-way up the climb. All-in-all it was a fun day though and I’m very happy I went.

As I have found during my time living in Iowa, there are many hidden treasures that are waiting to be explored and experienced. I hope to go back and climb the silo another day.