The Iowa Mountaineers: An Untold Story from the University of Iowa

You are here

April 10, 2023
Image description: A group of Iowa Mountaineers with alpinist Joe Stettner on Mt. Rainier.

A group of Iowa Mountaineers climbing with alpinist Joe Stettner on Mt. Rainier in 1949.

Image taken from

Story: Ashton Knatz

Photos: Courtesy of the Ebert Family

Since its founding in 1847, the University of Iowa has had a rich history of student involvement on campus. With over 500 student organizations, every student can find something to get involved in. One unique organization that was active on campus from the 1940’s to the 1990’s was the Iowa Mountaineers, a group for students interested in mountain-climbing and nature expeditions. The group was made up of people from all different walks of life, and they traveled across the country to places like Colorado and Washington on exciting expeditions. In spite of Iowa’s flat and mountainless landscape, the Iowa Mountaineers was the fourth-largest mountain-climbing club in the United States during their peak, rivaling even that of the Sierra Club. The Iowa Mountaineers made an impact on student-led environmental movements in the United States.

A group of Iowa Mountaineers pose for a photo across from the Old Capitol

before embarking on their trip to Colorado in 1942. Image taken from

Over the course of nearly 50 years, the group pioneered environmental activism and education, taking thousands of Midwestern college students and adults all over the United States. The Iowa Mountaineers was an organization filled with passion and spirit. The group was notable for their progressive efforts in gender equality and including those with disabilities. They embarked on thrilling expeditions in a safe way in order to include as many people as possible. Members of the Iowa Mountaineers forged lifelong friendships, and some found true love - several members of the group even got married!

A group of Iowa Mountaineers relaxing near Mt. McKinley in 1951. Image

taken from

Despite the great success of the group and the passion exuded by its members, the group was unable to continue its presence on campus in the late 20th century, and eventually dissipated in the 1990’s, with little explanation as to why.

So, what happened to the Iowa Mountaineers? John Richard has been working to answer this question, and his efforts will culminate in a documentary about the group and its history, featuring live interviews from former members and their families.

John Richard is an independent filmmaker that has produced a number of noteworthy documentaries and short films, including Saving Brinton (2017) and The Simple Gift of Walnut Grove (2015). His latest project concerns the hidden history of the Iowa Mountaineers and their legacy they left behind. The engaging history of the Iowa Mountaineers has been carefully preserved through audiovisual material, photographs, letters, and other artifacts. These artifacts were almost lost to fire, but the efforts of the Ebert family helped keep the legacy of the Iowa Mountaineers alive.

A sample of stereo slides from an expedition to Maligne Lake in 1957, from the

personal collection of Joan Cox. Image taken from

John Richard will be discussing his work on April 27 from 6:30 - 8:30 PM at the Kollros Auditorium (Biology Building East). During this event, you can expect to hear audio clips of campfire songs recorded by the Mountaineers, see antique artifacts from the group’s involvement on campus, and watch the trailer for What Happened to the Iowa Mountaineers? Mr. Richard will also give an opportunity for audience members to ask questions at the end of the presentation.

We encourage anybody who is interested in environmental education and activism, mountain-climbing, and nature expeditions to come to this event, as well as anyone who is interested in learning more about the University of Iowa’s student history. The Iowa Mountaineers have a story that will be kept alive through the efforts of Mr. Richard, and it will be shared for years to come.

A collection of Iowa Mountaineers artifacts. Image taken from