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Slippery slope: Ice climbing in the Cedar Valley
Ice climb

Slippery slope: Ice climbing in the Cedar Valley

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CEDAR FALLS, Iowa --- Simply climbing 10 or 20 feet puts one in pretty rare company.

The world of ice climbing is a pretty specialized arena, particularly those who seek to climb steep faces for the technical challenge and fun, rather than simply as a way to get from point A to point B in mountain climbing.

But strapping into a harness and attempting to scale a frozen silo is truly unique. A farm northwest of Cedar Falls is certainly the largest in the Midwest, if not the only one available to the public.

On Saturday, several area conservation boards combined to encourage people to give ice climbing a try. They attracted a few new climbers to the sport and mixed with old hands, familiar with the sport from the 14 years Don Briggs has helped ice down silos in the area.

Leah Takes, 10, of Cedar Falls, gave ice climbing a try for the first time Saturday at Rusty Leymaster's farm. She was joined by her father, Dave, and 13-year-old sister, Kyra. They're a family that likes to stay active outdoors through the winter, but trying to climb an iced-down silo was a first for them.

"Even though they say you should use your legs, it's hard," Leah said after her first attempt. She made it about 20 or 25 feet up the silo, just far enough where it starts to get a little scary.

She tried it again later and began to master the technique of kicking her crampon-studded boot into the ice to gain a foothold. It proved a difficult challenge, but certainly more rewarding than what many of her peers would have been doing at the same time, perhaps watching tv on their couch.

"When you're in the house you get bored really easy," Takes said.

Another 10-year-old, John Anderson, of Des Moines, is already an accomplished climber. He started when he was 5, thanks to his parents both being climbing enthusiasts.

Anderson has his own helmet covered with stickers, including at least one from the famed Ouray Ice Park in Colorado. He also is thinking ahead, figuring he will have to peel all those stickers off if a mountaineering company like Black Diamond someday decides to sponsor him.

On Saturday he already had scaled the 80-foot silo twice and was closing in on ringing the cowbell at the top a third time when a crampon came off one of his boots. He rappelled down the face disappointed that he wasn't able to finish the job.

For the young Anderson, getting the technique down has come naturally. He sees a world of possibilities in ice climbing.

"With ice climbing you can go out in the woods and climb a waterfall. You can find all kinds of things to ice climb," he said.

Bob Lee has worked with Briggs on ice silos since the outset. It's mostly volunteers and University of Northern Iowa students who help run the show, tending to belaying ropes to secure the climbers and giving tips to new climbers.

They've had groups come from all over the Midwest and beyond to climb in the Cedar Valley.

"It just keeps growing," Lee said.

In the first year, they had 15 to 20 people climb. Now they get more than 300 per season and had about 60 climbers out on Saturday.

UNI supplies the climbing gear for newcomers to use, while Leymaster turned an old hog nursery into a spartan, but comfortable lounge for climber to warm up inside. A fee is charged for climbers and season passes are available. More information about silo ice climbing is available by sending an email to


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