Maybe it’s a sign of insanity. Or maybe just cabin fever.

On Tuesday, I stood outside in the below zero weather, soaking up the windchill and documenting a farm house fire. Out in the rural Midwest, there are no trees to buffer the wind, so it rips across the frozen terrain, cutting through everything in its path.
Two days later, it was another house fire, but the temperatures were lower. The wind was so fierce, my filings hurt, and my phone died when I tried to update my boss. That day, when I arrived home, I wrapped myself in a blanket and sat on the couch sipping warm tea until bedtime.
So, when Saturday came around, what did I do?
Ice climbing, of course.
Being the land of agricultural sprawl, the area doesn’t have much in the way of mountains or giant waterfalls to scale. There are a few good sledding hills, but not enough to justify downhill skilng. But there are plenty of old grain silos, so a few years ago a local university athletics professor teamed up with a farmer to hose down a dormant tower in the middle of winter. The resulting ice columns have been a draw ever since.
A $35 day pass includes safety gear, foot spikes and ice axes and access to a propane-heated warming house (formerly some farm outbuilding) with hot chocolate between assents. There’s even a friendly farm dog that comes around.
The 80-foot tall silo has five lanes rigged with top ropes and manned with belay buddies. The instructors say silo climbing is some of the most challenging. Natural waterfalls tend to freeze at an angle, but silo ice runs straight down. Only one in 12 make it all the way to the top on the first try, one instructor tells me. Another says it’s more like one in 20.
Saturday was a balmy 20 degrees Fahrenheit with light wind. This was my first time ice climbing. I’ve done rock climbing before (and I brought my own helmet but didn’t need my chalk bag) but not all the techniques transfer. I kept trying to find purchase with the side of my foot instead of kicking in a toe crampon. When I did kick, it was a bit too hard.
The climbing was slippery, and wielding the axes burned out my forearms before I got too far. After awhile, I learned to use my legs and ease up on the grip whenever possible to give the arms a rest. I had one minor fall when my hand slipped and left an ax sticking in an ice pillar. My belay locked the rope, and I swung to the left and then worked my way back to retrieve the tool.
In the end, I wasn’t able to make it to the top after a few tries. That’s my new goal. Lucklly, there are plenty of frozen days coming up.