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Finding Minnesota: Ice Climbing In Sandstone

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(credit: CBS) Mike Binkley
Mike Binkley has been covering Minnesota news for more than 25 year...
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SANDSTONE, Minn. (WCCO) — In the winter, Minnesota skaters can get a smooth sheet of ice by hosing down their outdoor rinks.

But in Sandstone, they look at ice more vertically.

The city has hoses and sprinklers at the top of a steep cliff in Robinson Park, to keep the surface icy.

That creates giant icicles, drawing climbers who want the extra challenge of scaling a surface that can easily break off.

It’s Minnesota’s first ice park designed specifically for climbing, in what used to be a sandstone quarry.

“It’s a physical rush, it’s an emotional rush, trying to figure out the puzzle,” said Greg Martin, a Minneapolis firefighter who drives up to Sandstone twice a week to go climbing.

“For me, if I’ve had a stressful shift, climbing takes away that stress,” said Martin, “because all you can think about when you’re climbing is climbing.”

The city reached an agreement a few years ago with climbing groups including the Minnesota Climbers Association to create the park.

Rules are posted at the entrance, and climbers have agreed to help enforce safety restrictions and clean up after themselves.

Tony Vavricka, another climber, said it’s a growing sport.

“You’ve got to have the outdoor spirit,” he said. “You’ve really got to love the cold. You’ve got to be able to put up with the wet damp weather.”

Vavricka founded the Sandstone Ice Festival which is going into its eighth year, December 14-16.

The old quarry will have a fresh new coat of ice for those who’d like to try it.

“We’re expecting possibly up to 400 climbers over the weekend,” said Vavricka.

The festival will feature climbing clinics, a chili cook-off and winter camping.

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