By John Lauritsen

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Any mountain climber will tell you that the view from the top is always worth the climb.

That saying holds true in southeastern Minnesota as well.

The city of Winona has an ice wall, where after some persistence, climbers can find themselves 100 feet above ground.

In this week’s Finding Minnesota, John Lauritsen shows us what it’s like to reach the summit.

“You can see we have a nice view. We have the lakes in town and the river valley, and the bluffs of Wisconsin,” said Ross Greedy, outdoor recreation coordinator for Winona.

During February’s cold and seemingly endless snow, the bluffs around Winona stand tall — almost like rock fortresses overlooking the city below.

But there are those who would rather be a part of the landscape than take a picture of it.

“It sounds a little out there and far-fetched, but when you start doing it, I don’t see a lot of people that don’t like it,” said Greedy.

Three years ago, the city created an ice wall. This year, they built a bigger and better one near Sugar Loaf Bluff. Once you pass the signs that warn you to climb at your own risk, people have a chance to get vertical — 100 feet straight up to be exact.

“It’s life-changing. It’s completely life-changing,” said Eric Barnard, director of outdoor education for Winona State University. “There are very few cities in the world that you can live in and have a livelihood and just ice climb whenever you want.”

“We’ve got folks coming consistently from Omaha, Des Moines, Chicago, Madison and the Twin Cities,” said Greedy.

To get the ice just right, they run water from a fire hydrant into shower heads that spray a mist across the rock. After a couple days, layers of ice build up and it’s ready.

“It was really fun. Scary, but fun,” said Mary Larson, a first-time climber.

“It was a rush. You go into a focused zone because you are hanging by a thread at a few points,” said Adam Baker, who drove from Decorah, Iowa, to check it out.

Crampons, which are like knives that dig into the ice, are put over your boots. And a belt and rope are needed for belaying, acting as a lifeline.

Ice axes help you gain purchase. With a big wall, small steps are needed.

“The challenge is to be able to think clearly when you are in that environment,” said Barnard.

Inch by inch, step by step, it’s a game of efficiency: strength versus fatigue.

But it’s true when they say the best view comes after the hardest climb. For some people, it challenges them and then changes them.

“You have to have a little physical strength to do it, but it was a rush and a beautiful view once you got to the top. Can’t wait to go up again,” said Baker.

“It’s great with rock climbing now being in the 2020 Olympics, and with ice climbing, have a World Cup just like professional skiing. It’s just exploding. It’s pretty cool to see how happy it makes people,” said Barnard.

Sandstone and Duluth are also cities that have created ice walls.

For more information on what’s happening in Winona, including free climbing days, visit their website.

John Lauritsen

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