Iowa Mountaineers story gets documentary

The Iowa Mountaineers, a former UI student organization, disbanded in the early 90s. However, the club will be revived through an upcoming documentary.


Jenna Galligan

Former Daily Iowan photographer and filmmaker John Richard digitizes slides using a light table, LED light, and macro lens in his apartment on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019. “There’s something special about handling old material.”

Pedro Barragan, Arts Reporter

The Iowa Mountaineers was a student and non-profit organization at the University of Iowa that sought to take students and faculty to peaks across the world. Although the group no longer exists on campus, their stories continue to be told among Iowa City residents — including in a documentary on the club that’s in the works.

Margie Ebert, whose late husband Jim Ebert led the group after his parents stepped down, said she was excited about telling the group’s story to a broader audience.

“It feels wonderful,” she said. “There are so many stories from the Iowa Mountaineers. From first descents, new routes, naming mountains, first groups here — some of the most historical people in climbing were part of the Iowa Mountaineers. It’s a long history. There’s a lot of amazing stories to tell.”

Jenna Galligan
Former Daily Iowan photographer and filmmaker John Richard digitizes slides using a light table, LED light, and macro lens in his apartment on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019. “I wanted to be able to capture what was on the mounts as well as what the picture was of.”

The Iowa Mountaineers was established in 1940 by Jim Ebert’s father, S. John Ebert. Jim Ebert experienced climbing at a young age, traveling to Alaska before its statehood in 1959. He later would use his mountaineering skills for a rescue team while serving in the Vietnam War. The experience would also lead him to become a UI instructor for the former physical education department.

“He was trained as a medic during the Vietnam era, but he was pulled because of his climbing experience. He was pulled to teach mountaineering to the troops,” Margie Ebert said. “He realized when he came back that he should really be teaching a rock-climbing course.”

UI Departmental Administrator Patricia Goodwin went on three ventures with the Iowa Mountaineers during her time as a UI students in the early 80s, taking a leadership course taught by Jim Ebert. Goodwin found the trip to be life-changing, creating her love for the outdoors and making new friends.

“He was going to lead this trip with the Mountaineers to the Grand Canyon during spring break, and I thought, ‘Why not? I’ve never done that type of thing,’” Goodwin said.

John Richard, a local filmmaker, has taken the task of telling the Mountaineers story in the yet-to-be-titled documentary.

“Since there’s also other people in the Mountaineers who took films, I’ve been trying to reach out to as many people as I can to add those into the collection digitally or physically, so they can eventually be preserved,” Richard said.

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The Iowa Mountaineers were also a source of entertainment for Iowa City residents. The group presented slides and films of their outings at MacBride Auditorium.

“A big to-do on a Sunday was to go and see the Iowa Mountaineers,” said Richard. “They would have a dozen shows a year. Two of those shows would be ones that they put together of their own trips.”

Click here for contributed photos of the Iowa Mountaineers trip to the Grand Canyon and the Wisconsin River in 1985. Taken by member Patricia Goodwin. 

Although long-gone, Margie Ebert said she believes that the Iowa Mountaineers left a lasting impact on the Iowa City community. The group possessed an ambition that pushed many faculty and students to travel — one of them being Paul Petzoldt, the founder of the National Outdoor Leadership School.

“We always had a core [group] of people all over the world that worked with our people,” Margie Ebert said. “We went to Africa, Peru, New Zealand, Europe. We climbed the Alps, all across the United States. Wherever there were mountains, we would go.”