Diverse Climbers of CC Discover and Create Community

A four-day Outdoor Education clinic breaks down barriers and launches new Black and Latinx climbers.

Sometimes going up is easier than getting back down. On his first day ever to rock climb outside, Nate Vincent ’24 made his way to the top of a route in Red Rock Canyon Open Space after a few lower attempts. He just needed to rappel back down to complete this new challenge. But Vincent’s body was having none of that. His heart raced. His head pounded. He could not make his muscles move. At the thought of leaning back and hanging on the rope, everything within him screamed no way!

“I’m definitely afraid of heights,” says the first-year from Miami.

Fortunately, Vincent was climbing with Devo Derby, an Adidas ambassador and American Mountain Guide Association-certified guide, who was leading the group. Once he climbed to the top, Derby reminded Vincent of the rope’s multi-ton weight limit and walked him through the steps they had practiced on the ground: Sit back. Trust your gear. And let your weight do the rest. Together, the two descended slowly and safely to the ground.

The next day, Vincent was back, reminding himself, “I can do this. Just listen to what Devo told you.” He quickly topped out again and felt the fear threaten. This time he was ready to talk himself through. “It took me a good two or three minutes to adjust my mindset,” Vincent says. “I basically took one step every 30 seconds till I finally made it to the bottom, which was a huge thing.”

The more Vincent kept climbing — and rappelling down — the more comfortable he became. It was just the kind of experience Ryan Hammes, director of Outdoor Education, might have hoped for when scheduling the Diverse Climbers of CC 4-Day Introduction to Rock Climbing over 7th block break in April 2021.

“Their confidence really grew. By the end, it was cool to see them push themselves and try something a little harder,” Hammes says. “And being in community, they worked with each other for all that time. There was great bonding — cheering each other on and encouragement.”

“It basically helped me discover my love for climbing,” Vincent says.

Open to Black and Latinx CC students, the multiday clinic provided a progressive introduction to rock climbing, beginning indoors then moving to outdoor crags. Each participating student was able to keep their climbing shoes, harness, helmet, and belay device, thanks to funding from the Ritt Kellogg Memorial Fund. Black and Latinx instructors provided valuable experience and mentorship with Derby leading the Black climbers and Juan Miguel Arias ‘12, Riley Scholar-in-Residence in the CC Education Department, filling in with Hammes when the originally scheduled guide withdrew due to injury.

Hammes says the clinic is part of Outdoor Education’s ongoing efforts to make the outdoors accessible to all CC students and to help remove any potential barriers — social, financial, systemic or any other — especially as the CC community continues to grow more diverse.

When Magdalena Sotelo ’21 learned about the Diverse Climbers clinic, she was excited to build on her limited climbing experience and to receive the gear she could use to continue climbing after she graduated. The Outdoor Education assistant leader from Chicago quickly invited several friends who joined her. She also appreciated the clinic’s focus on Latinx students.

“Sometimes climbing courses are not set up for small Brown women like me,” Sotelo says. “Having people know that and try to change that is important to me. Just being introduced to this new activity and it being something I can participate in with other people like me is the most important.”

Sotelo felt her confidence grow throughout the clinic. “After the four day trip with Outdoor Ed., I became more trusting that my body can do what I want it to do, and I can trust that the people around me will keep me safe — that they want to take those extra steps in checking my harness and all my stuff to make sure I'm going to be OK on the climb,” Sotelo says. “Finding that trust and community within the group has made me want to climb even more.”

Derby especially enjoyed the camaraderie, support, and added confidence that came when the Black and Latinx Climbers groups merged on the clinic’s final day. “They were sharing stories. They were sharing thoughts. They were sharing beta of how to do the climbs,” he says. “It was just more of a community and a friend group atmosphere.”

Community is what’s important, Derby says. While the pursuit of the challenge matters, it’s the like-minded friends to share the highs and lows that transcend the actual activity or sport. 

“That’s the whole point, right?” Derby says. “You can have the worst day outside, the worst weather, the worst climbing, but if you have a good set of friends with you or a group that gives community, it makes the world that much better.”

Expanding that community is at the heart of Outdoor Education’s efforts to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion at CC and, by extension, in the greater outdoor community. While Vincent and Sotelo say they value the opportunity to try a new activity like climbing in a safe, culturally comfortable atmosphere, they also expressed the desire to be included in a broader, more welcoming outdoor culture at CC and beyond. They don’t just want to be Black or Brown climbers — they want to be climbers, period, exploring new endeavors, pushing their limits, being respected for their skills and welcomed because of their shared interests and humanity.

In conversations during the clinic, Derby challenged the Black climbers to be willing to push themselves to find, join, or even create opportunities to climb with others — just as they had done by joining the Diverse Climbers clinic when friends turned down their invitations. Still, the students hope to see the culture progress among CC students.

“I would love to have people be more outgoing in terms of inviting others, other people of color, into their groups — because accessing the outdoors on your own can be inaccessible due to financial reasons or transportation,” Vincent says. “It can be very daunting to ask another person that’s not a minority.”

“Climbing is something that everyone might like if they had the time and space to try it,” Sotelo says. “If we are open to being more inclusive and inviting others to climb for the first time, it might bring out more students of color without dread to the climbing activities and in Colorado, in general. It’s intimidating sometimes. So removing that barrier — that’s helpful.”

Sotelo plans to keep climbing after graduating this spring. “I'm excited to find a group of women in Seattle to climb with,” she says. “Now that I have my gear, I’ll feel like I’m less of a burden and more like I can actually do it and be of some help — like I know how to belay; you can trust me.”

With three years ahead at CC, Vincent is in the process of becoming an Outdoor Education trip leader. “I definitely would love to be leading more trips in the fall,” he says. “My goal is to lead at least 50 trips by the end of my senior year.”

You can bet he’ll be welcoming everyone to join, and he’ll know just how to encourage the beginners.
Report an issue - Last updated: 07/27/2021