Photos

How the Affinity Ice Climbing Clinic is Welcoming BIPOC Ice Climbers

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Driving for hours through a winding canyon, we crested the ridge and then rose above the clouds. There, above the rest of the world, we found ourselves surrounded by mountains that seemed to touch the sky. The journey to get here seemed never ending. The road was icy and narrow, which made it difficult to navigate, and for some the path was riddled with judgement and scorn. But we all knew that it would be worth it. We all knew that we were meeting up for a good cause with a purpose. We knew that we were meeting to create meaningful change in a world that needed it now more than ever. 

Several weeks before the gathering, I had been asked if I would document an ice climbing clinic focused on Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) climbers; that is, ice climbers that don’t look like typical ice climbers. Ice climbers like me. The Inclusive Outdoors Project was hosting the clinic to offer BIPOC climbers a safe space within a vibrant climbing atmosphere. It was the chance of a lifetime and I wasn’t going to miss it for anything, including a global pandemic. 

 group photo of the BIPOC Clinic this past winter (Dec 2020). A small turnout due to the pandemic but we were all excited to make this event come true.
group photo of the BIPOC Clinic this past winter (Dec 2020). A small turnout due to the pandemic but we were all excited to make this event come true.

Growing up as a person of color in a rural area of Northern California, I always identified as being the only brown person I knew who was into mountaineering and action sports like ice climbing. I never saw anyone like me in the magazines, on film, or in real life. I knew this clinic and my photos might be a way to change that. 

Our group met up near a trailhead in the Hyalite mountains outside Bozeman, Montana. Snow fell from the sky as we went through introductions and instructions. I immediately felt at home. It was a level of comfort in the mountains I had rarely experienced, with a group of people who I had never met. It was inspiring. Despite the six-foot distances between each us and the masks we all wore, we quickly went from strangers to friends. We told jokes, shared stories and prepared our gear and our bodies for the adventure ahead. 

Throughout the day our connections grew stronger and we supported each other on every climb and at every crux. I found myself wanting to listen to everyone’s story, no matter how dark or how hard it had been for them to get here. I took more pictures than I usually do. I don’t know why. It just seemed to prolong the moment and I wanted to capture the entire experience. 

In the end, as the sun set and we cheered in celebration of our climbing efforts, I reflected on the power of the moment and the pride and inclusion that clinics like this can offer. I was grateful to be in the mountains that day and I hope that my photos can offer a hint of the inspiration we felt and inspire others to chase adventures and dreams outside of their typical and expected spaces.

Vasu Sojitra, Co-Founder of the Inclusive Outdoors Project, takes part in the BIPOC clinic while prepping for the day. Vasu has been a long time advocate for creating more equity and diversity in the outdoors.
Vasu Sojitra, Co-Founder of the Inclusive Outdoors Project, takes part in the BIPOC clinic while prepping for the day. Vasu has been a long time advocate for creating more equity and diversity in the outdoors. Photo: Chris Donovan

Cal Smith wears his native american Grandfather’s jacket while he jumps into mix climbing, literally one day after his first time ever attempting ice climbing.
Cal Smith wears his Native American Grandfather’s jacket while he jumps into mix climbing, literally one day after his first time ever attempting ice climbing. Photo: Chris Donovan

Fred Campbell, a climbing guide for Climbers of Color, instructing on ice tool placement.
Fred Campbell, a climbing guide for Climbers of Color, instructing on ice tool placement. Photo: Chris Donovan

Don Nguyen aids Michelle Lin in a detailed instruction about placing ice screws.
Don Nguyen aids Michelle Lin in a detailed instruction about placing ice screws. Photo: Chris Donovan

Michelle Lin, from Portland, Oregon, tops out her first ever ice climb.
Michelle Lin, from Portland, Oregon, tops out her first ever ice climb.

Don Nguyen smashes his way up a route in Hyalite while he works on his crampon technique.
Don Nguyen, co founder of Climbers of Color and also a climbing guide, shows his pure raw energy as he demonstrates good crampon technique. Photo: Chris Donovan

Matt Zia, a guide from the Montana Mountaineering Association, delicately taps his way up a piece of ice.
Matt Zia, a guide from the Montana Mountaineering Association, delicately taps his way up a piece of ice. Photo: Chris Donovan