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A Colorado ice climbing park is a hit with disabled climbers

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Meanwhile, back here on Earth, as spring approaches, America's ice climbing season is winding down. Ice climbing is an alpine sport whose aficionados use ropes and other specialized equipment to scale frozen waterfalls or cliffs. It is a sport that is technical, cold and sometimes dangerous, and it's those challenges that draw some disabled people to take it on. Laura Palmisano with member station KVNF reports from Lake City, Colo.

LAURA PALMISANO, BYLINE: The tiny Rocky Mountain town of Lake City has its own ice park. The town showers water over cliffs when temperatures are cold enough for ice to form, creating what looks like chandeliers suspended on the rocks above a frozen creek bed. People climb these ice walls using ice axes and spiked boots. The park is busy today. Dozens of climbers are here for the town's annual ice festival, like 29-year-old Derek Riemer, a software engineer from Louisville, Colo.

DEREK REIMER: 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.

PALMISANO: Reimer decided to try the sport last year because he likes to rock climb, and it seemed like a natural progression. Riemer is blind. He says he likes ice climbing because it's a new challenge.

REIMER: Ice is very tactile. You kind of can feel what's convex and concave with the ends of the tool because there's such a sharp point. It doesn't require a ton of visuals at all. There's a lot of feel involved.

PALMISANO: Riemer is on a guided ice climbing trip today with Paradox Sports, a Boulder based nonprofit that helps disabled people go climbing. Guide David Egan (ph) quotes one of his organization's founders.

DAVID EGAN: Show me what you got, and we'll go from there. So if I need to figure out how to get your tool onto your arm that doesn't have full function, we'll figure that out. If someone has - they're in a chair, we'll figure out how they can use their arms more.

PALMISANO: Egan says outside of the guardrails of safety, everything in adaptive climbing becomes creative. And the point is to have fun.

EGAN: We want them to walk away, wheel away, crutch away any way they go away with something accomplished. You know, it's all about empowerment.

PALMISANO: Climber Katy Nelson, who's 33, suffered a spinal cord injury falling through a set of stairs in 2021.

KATY NELSON: I was really fortunate that my injury is considered an incomplete spinal cord injury, so I have minimal paralysis.

PALMISANO: Nelson was a rock climber before her injury, and she helped disabled people learn that sport. Climbing helped her recover, she says.

NELSON: And last year, they finally conned me into ice climbing, and I immediately fell in love with it.

PALMISANO: Nelson credits the adaptive climbing community for helping her return to the sport she loves.

NELSON: 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 really, you know, do my PT and my homework and all that work that came with it.

PALMISANO: Nelson says her biggest takeaway has been to put her energy into what's most important to her. On this day, it's the community she found through ice climbing. For NPR News, I'm Laura Palmisano in Lake City, Colo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Laura Palmisano
Laura is a senior reporter and producer for KVNF Community Radio. You may also on occasion hear her host Morning Edition and Local Motion on KVNF. Laura has worked at public radio and television stations in Phoenix and Tucson. Her work has aired on NPR, the BBC, Harvest Public Media and the Rocky Mountain Community Radio exchange. She was a 2015 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 and an Award of Excellence from the Colorado Broadcasters Association. Laura also has experience as a videographer and video editor. She graduated summa cum laude from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University.