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Lake City's 'accessible' ice climbing park is a hit with adaptive climbers

 Adaptive athlete Derek Riemer ice climbing at the Lake City Ice Park.<br/>
Laura Palmisano
Adaptive athlete Derek Riemer ice climbing at the Lake City Ice Park.

The Lake City Ice Park in the tiny mountain town of Lake City, Colorado, is growing in popularity with adaptive ice climbers.

In early February, the town held its annual ice climbing festival. A group of adaptive athletes who traveled from across the United States attended.

29-year-old Derek Riemer of Louisville, Colorado, traveled five hours to climb here.

“I ski a lot, so I have to balance ice climbing with skiing, but it’s a really fun thing to do in the winter,” he said.

Riemer is blind and said he uses sound and touch instead of sight to help him climb.

“Ice is very tactile, and you can feel what’s convex and what’s concave with the ends of the tool because they have such a sharp point,” Riemer said. “It doesn’t require a ton of visuals at all.”

 Adaptive ice climber Derek Riemer in front of the ice wall at the Lake City Ice Park.
Laura Palmisano
Adaptive ice climber Derek Riemer in front of the ice wall at the Lake City Ice Park.

He also rock climbs. So he said ice climbing was a natural progression.

“In ice climbing, I can make my own foot holds for a lot of the time, and my own hand holds a lot of the time,” Riemer said. “Unlike with rock climbing, where you are at the mercy of your holds. Ice climbing gets rid of a lot of those variables, so in some ways, it’s easier to adapt.”

Riemer is one of nine adaptive athletes who came to the ice park on a guided ice climbing trip with Paradox Sports. The Boulder-based nonprofit facilitates adaptive climbing opportunities and training.

Paradox Sports instructor David Egan traveled from Seattle to Lake City to work with the adaptive climbers.

“As Malcolm Daly (co-founder of Paradox Sports) said so profoundly, ‘show me what you got and we’ll go from there,’” Egan said.

He said outside of the guardrails of safety, everything in adaptive climbing becomes creative, and the point is to have fun.

“We want them to walk away, wheel away, crutch away,” he said. “Anyway they go away with something accomplished. It’s all about empowerment.”

In 2021, Katy Nelson of Montrose, Colorado, suffered a spinal cord injury.

“I was really fortunate that my injury is considered an incomplete spinal cord injury, so I have minimal paralysis,” Nelson said.

Before her accident, the 33-year-old was an avid rock climber. She was determined to return to it.

“Because I really, really wanted to get back outside and out doing the things that made my heart happy, I had that extra motivation to do my PT, my homework, and all the work that came with it,” she said.

Nelson is back to rock climbing, but in the winter she now also ice climbs. She started last year and said the sport has taught her some things.

“I have mostly just learned more about how I want to use my body and how I can use my body to compensate for what it is not going to do anymore,” Nelson said. “This is a sport where no matter what, everyone has to use tools.”

Those tools would be ice picks and crampons.

 Adaptive ice climber Katy Nelson stands in front of the ice wall at the Lake City Ice Park.
Laura Palmisano
Adaptive ice climber Katy Nelson stands in front of the ice wall at the Lake City Ice Park.

“The Lake City Ice Park is, to me, probably one of the best accessible ice parks I’ve ever been to,” said Sam Sala, the national program manager for Paradox Sports.

He compared it to the Ouray Ice Park just over the mountain pass. He said Ouray is larger and logistically more challenging to access.

“You start at the top of the gorge, and you have to hike people down or lower them into the gorge,” he said. “With people with physical disabilities, and some of them have limited mobility, getting down into the canyon and getting back out can be the hardest part.”

Sala said ice climbing in other areas can involve navigating difficult terrain or travel into the backcountry, but that’s not the case with the Lake City Ice Park.

“Lake City, we drive up to the parking lot,” he said. “Walk 150-200 feet, and we are at the base of just absolutely pristine, beautiful, steep ice. There’s not really any place like it.”

Adaptive athlete Derek Riemer offered this advice for anyone nervous about attempting the sport or any new activity.

“Part of managing fear is having a progression to get better and being intentional about the things you learn at any given point so that you're not doing too much at once,” he said.

Riemer also suggested if you plan to try ice climbing, go with people who are experienced and can guide you.
Copyright 2024 KVNF - Mountain Grown Community Radio. To see more, visit KVNF - Mountain Grown Community Radio.

This story was shared via Rocky Mountain Community Radio, a network of public media stations in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico including Aspen Public Radio.

Laura joined KVNF in 2014. She was the news director for two years and now works as a freelance reporter covering Colorado's Western Slope. Before moving to Colorado, Laura worked as a reporter for Arizona Public Media, a public radio and television station in Tucson. She's also worked at public radio station KJZZ and public television station KAET Arizona PBS in Phoenix. Her work has aired on NPR, the BBC, Marketplace, Harvest Public Media, and on stations across the Rocky Mountain Community Radio network. Laura is an award-winning journalist with work recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists, Colorado Broadcasters Association, and RTDNA. In 2015, she was a fellow for the Institute for Justice & Journalism. Her fellowship project, a three-part series on the Karen refugee community in Delta, Colorado, received a regional Edward R. Murrow Award. Laura also has experience as a radio host, producer, writer, production assistant, videographer, and video editor. She graduated summa cum laude from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University.