For a guy who doesn't like winter, John Reeves sure has a funny way of showing it.
How else do you explain the nearly 150-foot-tall, prehistoric-looking tower of ice Reeves has grown -- and continues
to grow -- next to the Steese Highway eight miles north of Fairbanks?
"I don't really care for winter; I guess that's why I do stuff like this," Reeves said. "You've got to act crazy to
keep from going crazy."
With nothing more than a well, a pump, some 1-inch copper pipe and a regular old Fairbanks winter, Reeves has created
something that is absurdly Alaska.
"It's unique on the planet," said Reeves, standing next to his masterpiece on a sunny Saturday. "It's not like
anybody else has one of these things."
Draped with thousands of icicles and several cauliflowers of ice protruding from its torso, the giant white
stalagmite looks like something from the ice age. It was 141 feet tall Thursday and is still growing. It is about 70
feet wide at the base, and it narrows as it rises.
The "Fox Icescraper," as some are calling it, is taller than any building in Fairbanks, though that will change in a
month or two when it begins to melt.
Two weeks of bitterly cold weather during January may have stunted the tower's growth, said Doug Buchanan, president
of the Alaskan Alpine Club.
"We didn't go up it for a couple weeks when it was too cold," said Buchanan, who is the one who climbs the tower each
week to extend the pipe and sprinkler head that has been spraying water 24 hours a day since mid-October, when
temperatures were cold enough to turn water into ice. "The ice was just too brittle."
The tower has developed into one of Fairbanks' top winter tourist attractions. The Alaskan Alpine Club's Web page,
which features photos, background and updates on the giant spire, receives almost 150,000 hits a day, Buchanan said.
Fairbanks residents, meanwhile, have been flocking to Fox to check out the tower, which sits about 100 feet off the
highway and can be spotted a few miles away on Goldstream Road or the Steese Highway, a white thumb sticking up among
the green spruce trees as drivers descend a hill into Fox.
In a half-hour stretch Saturday, at least a dozen vehicles stopped on the side of the road to inspect and photograph
the chalky-white tower. Several hopped out of their cars to snap photos.
"It's a zoo out there sometimes," Reeves said, leaning against the hood of his blue pickup truck. "I've been out here
and there's been 50 cars on the road. You see them drive out from town. They park, they take some pictures and then
they head back to town."
Karen Lundquist with the Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau is one of the many locals who have made special
trips out to Fox to monitor the growth of the tower.
"It's pretty cool," Lundquist said. "It's real impressive."
From her experience in the Alaska tourism industry, she isn't surprised at how popular the tower has become.
"People get into anything that relates to cold and ice," Lundquist said.
A man whose eccentricity and entrepreneurship match his size, the 6-foot-9-inch, 350-pound Reeves is always up to
off-the-wall ventures that involve uniquely Alaska angles.
"It's just John being John," is how Lundquist put it.
So far, though, Reeves hasn't figured out a way to make any money on his ice tower. In fact, it's costing him
$200-$300 a month in electricity to power the pump that supplies the water that feeds the tower.
"It's well worth it just for the fun of it," Reeves said. "People really dig it. I'm getting a kick out of how many
people enjoy it."
Besides, he said, "We can grow it cheap around here."
This is the second year Reeves has grown his ice monolith in Fox. The tallest last year's inaugural edition got was
"Last year, it was a wall; this year, it's a tower," Reeves said.
Instead of using two three-quarter-inch pipes to pump water like he did last year, Reeves used one 1-inch pipe this
year and a bigger sprinkler head with multiple taps. The result is "more water and more power," Reeves said.
With a flow rate of 100 gallons a minute, Reeves figures he's pumping 6,000 gallons of water an hour into the tower.
By the time he shuts off the pump in April, Reeves expects to have accumulated around 80,000 tons of ice, a statistic
calculated based on the flow of water and the number of hours the water will run. Last year's ice wall had about
45,000 tons of ice, Reeves calculated.
The tower of ice is laced with chambers and tunnels and offers "high-quality ice climbing," Buchanan said.
"It's the biggest thing north of Valdez that you can get to that's vertical," he said. "It beats anything in the
Buchanan maintains a Web site for the Alaskan Alpine Club (www.alaskanalpine
club.org) that features a series of
updated photos, a history and specifics about the tower.
"It went from 500 hits a day to 190,000 hits a day in a matter of a week," Buchanan said. "Now it's averaging about
140,000 hits a day."
People from all over the world have written him e-mails regarding the ice tower, he said.
It was Oct. 17 when Reeves turned the water on, and he figures it will be April before he shuts it off, because it
begins to hasten the melting process.
"I think we'll probably get six more weeks," Reeves said. "I hope we don't. I'd love to see it start warming up. I
don't really like winter."
Ice from last year's monolith lasted until July 9. It's anybody's guess whether ice from this year's larger edition
will last through the summer.
"It's a lot taller and there's a lot more ice," Reeves said. "It should last a lot longer."
Next year, Reeves is hoping to construct a sort of ice park on the site with the tower featured as the centerpiece,
along with sculptures carved by local artists using ice from ponds he has built. Reeves is also planning to erect a
geodesic dome he purchased and dismantled in Valdez last summer that was part of one of the old Distant Early Warning
line sites built in Alaska during the Cold War.
"It's going to look like a big golf ball sitting next to the road," he said. "It's going to look like another planet
when I'm done."
Anybody who knows Reeves knows not to doubt him.