Ice climbers ascend: Frozen climbing tower in Fairbanks is open for winter

Fairbanks Daily News-MinerDecember 24, 2013 

FAIRBANKS -- The University of Alaska Fairbanks' ice climbing tower has opened for its second winter and the ice-making operation has gone smoother this year than it did last, both in terms of quality of ice and the production process.

"The ice has formed up to resemble more what a real waterfall would be; it's more vertical this year," said Sam Braband, outdoor facilities manager for UAF's Department of Recreation, Adventure and Wellness.

Last year, the first the wall was in operation, the ice featured a multitude of "cauliflowers," big, lumpy, clumps of ice that resemble giant, frozen versions of the vegetable. While cauliflowers are interesting to look at, they don't offer the challenge climbers are looking for because they are much easier to get an ice axe into, Braband said.

"It looks cool and it's kind of fun, but if you're going down Fox (Creek) or Dragonfly (Creek) it's not going to be like that," he said.

This year, workers knocked most of the cauliflowers off before they could form in an attempt to keep the ice more vertical, Braband said.

Climbing hours and prices will be the same as they were last year. The tower is open from 4-8 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 12-4 p.m. on Saturday. There is no charge for UAF students with a Student Recreation Center membership, but there is for the general public. All the equipment needed is included in the user fees. No experience is necessary and DRAW provides certified belayers.

The opening for the ice tower was later this year than last because of warm weather in October and early November that prevented staff from making ice. When it finally did get cold enough to start making ice in the second week of November, Mother Nature tossed another curve ball in the form of a storm that featured freezing rain and above-freezing temperatures. The rain and warm weather may actually have helped make for better ice, though, Braband said.

"It didn't really damage the ice we had up there," he said. "It might have made it a little bit better. It kind of melted away the cauliflowers and stuff."

More ice still needs to be built on the east and west sides of the wall, but the back side of the tower has a full complement of ice for climbers to dig into, Braband said.

"It's definitely gone smoother," Braband said of the ice-making operation this year compared to last year. "It's not perfect yet, but it's coming along.


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