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Obsession and Ingenuity, Part III: Farming Ice in Farm Country


Don Briggs surmounting yet another overhang on the "difficult" silo. [Photo] Andy Rowland

The resulting speed-climbing competition—drawing climbers from as far away as Saskatchewan—was a Red Bull event for the next three seasons. The fourth season,, among others, donated gear for educational use and as prizes for the competition.

Don described his vision of ice creation in a book, Silo Ice Climbing: Ice Climbing in the Midwest, an instruction manual that describes the intricacies of the project. It includes logistical information, such as legal protection for the climbers and owners, that allow would-be ice farmers to focus on the climbing and not the potential repercussions.


In conversation, Don is calm, self-effacing to a certain degree, and quietly adamant about his principles. He pays for a portable toilet on site to head off issues with sanitation, and he sets up strict rules regarding foul language and smoking.

"Can't have people smoking, certainly not smokin' the wrong tobacco; it puts off the wrong message."

Good luck, as the general weekend mix on a non-comp weekend is half Northern Iowa students and half members of the local climbing community.

The numbers quickly grew. "Think you're the only ice climber in your area? Guess again. The word will quickly get out, as it's pretty tough to hide a silo draped with a ton (or ten) of ice. You'll be surprised how the word will spread, and ice climbers are going to come creeping out of the woodwork... and will no doubt obtain your phone number to call you to see if you would be willing to share your ice."

The structure of the silo allows for easy attachment of multiple anchors. [Photo] Andy Rowland

Think you and your friends are the only ones who can ice climb? "Get the farmer and his family on the ice, and they'll be doing the setup the following year and offering ways to make it even better. They will be more receptive to the whole process.

Unknown climber. Farming ice on the north side of the silo is crucial to keeping the season, such as it is, as long as possible. [Photo] Andy Rowland

"We're all guests here at the place. If we go out to dinner, we take the farmer with us, pay his tab. We pitch in on jobs around the farm. If Jim needs to move some hogs and asks for two people to help, we send four. If he asks for four, we send eight."

Last year's late-season ice collapse left the farmer's grain bin destroyed, and Don's bank account equally devastated. He paid for the replacement out of pocket, and, instead of giving up, is hoping that his experience with liability waivers and the legal recreational use of private lands will help him to open a local quarry to farmed ice. He's been eyeing it for the last few years, and if he can get local authorities' support, Iowa may have some taller, and slightly less bizarre-looking, ice this season.

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