MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota may not have the towering mountains, but there is a strong climbing community.
In the winter months, Minnesota’s cold weather climate creates a unique opportunity for climbers who prefer ice over rock.
The options for ice climbing are somewhat limited, but in Duluth, one spot has attracted climbers for years.
For a winter destination, an old Duluth quarry seems the unlikely choice.
Yet, every season, the ice-covered cliffs offer an invitation many can’t ignore.
“In the winter time, this is where we come to ice climb,” said Lucas Kramer, president of the Duluth Climbers Coalition.
High above the frozen ledges, Kramer and fellow climber Joe Fetzik set the foundation for the day’s climb. They set an intricate web of rope anchors needed to keep each climber safe.
“It’s like creating the perfect math problem, although you want to make sure you get this one right,” Kramer said.
As they knot and loop ropes, in the distance, the Duluth horizon reminds them of their reward.
“This is the reason I absolutely love it,” Kramer said while looking off into the distance.
That view becomes the incentive needed to overcome the challenge below. Scaling a 60-foot wall of ice is no small feat.
“It’s always challenging, physically and mentally,” Fetzik said.
As he makes his way up the icy cliff, every movement is measured with his ice pick and winter crampons.
The frozen face of the rock wall has an unpredictability not found in rock climbing. It’s why climbers are always roped in to stay safe.
“If I said I was never scared when I was climbing I’d be a liar,” Fetzik said.
Defying gravity is already challenging enough, but quarry climbers faced one more obstacle.
Half the 1,000-foot wall fell on private land while the other half is county tax forfeit land.
“Anyone who used that side of the quarry was trespassing,” Kramer said.
“It was always kind of a concern because you don’t want to make people mad or ruin it for other climbers,” said Maggie Kading.
Knowing its appeal among the climbing community, an effort began last year to turn the entire area into public land.
Lucas and the Duluth Climbers Coalition turned in a proposal to the city to make the area a park that would be available year round for several outdoor activities.
“People come here because of the beautiful views, because of the isolated feel it gets you, in spite of the fact you’re in the middle of Duluth,” Kramer said.
Recently, the city purchased the private property which moves the process of becoming a park one step closer to reality.
“Where we’re at now is waiting for the paperwork shuffle threw desks and the necessary signatures,” Kramer said.
Ice climbing may have its challenges but with one less hurdle, more thrill seekers can enjoy the view.
“It makes it more of a destination and opens it up to people who’ve never tried it to see what they can do,” Kading said.
You don’t have to be an expert to climb the quarry.
The University of Minnesota Duluth offers lessons and equipment rental.
The last weekend in February there is a special climbing event for anyone who wants to give it a try.
For more information, click here.
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