Color the Crag is a climbing festival that celebrates diversity: it draws climbers of color (and allies) from around the country to the sandstone boulders at Horse Pens 40 in Alabama. Their mission is to rewrite the script on what climbers and leaders in the outdoor space can look like and to increase access to climbing for historically marginalized communities.
Each year, The Cliffs provides a scholarship to send one NYC climber of color to Color the Crag. The selection process is tough and we have no formula for the perfect candidate, but we look for a climber whose heart is aligned with the spirit of the festival. This year, we were thrilled to give this opportunity to Janine, a Latina climber, social worker, and advocate for physical wellness and outdoor experiences.
Janine works at a non-profit clinic in NYC serving predominantly Black and Latino patients. She manages the care of 50 high-risk, chronically ill patients, heavily investing in their well-being and positive health outcomes.
Here is her recap of her weekend at Color the Crag:
My friends at The Cliffs helped me book my flight to Chattanooga, TN and I stayed my first night at The Crashpad, a climbers’ hostel. Shoutout to The Crashpad and the wonderful host, Corey! I woke up refreshed the next morning and was preparing breakfast when I happened to bump into two others who were also making their way to the festival, Taimur, and his mother, Cindy.
They were on a cross-country roadtrip to Bishop, CA, where Taimur was relocating for a new job with the Access Fund. Congrats, Taimur! I squeezed into the backseat of their car between crash pads and Taimur’s worldly belongings, and we were off!
It was a magnificently gorgeous day and Horse Pens 40 was stunning: boulder fields stretched as far as the eye could see. Mother Nature took her time in creating these beautiful boulders, gently sloping in incredible shapes that seemed unreal. I couldn’t help but to just stare up in awe; it was incredibly unique, like no place else.
We assembled our tents and wandered around, taking it all in. It felt like an amusement park for climbers. I was amazed at just how many boulders there were and my heart skipped with excitement.
We grabbed our shoes and chalk bags and headed straight for Bumboy, a climb on a boulder lined with slopers stacked one on top of the other in a perfect grid. I had never seen anything like it before and was a bit baffled by how to work with the holds. I’ve only been climbing for four years and am constantly looking for ways to continue perfecting my technique.
Taimur has been climbing since he was 15 and moved over the rock with incredible grace. He noticed my hesitation and helped guide my breathing and movement. With his help, the butterflies dissipated and I began to enjoy the climb. I felt a smile spread over my face—a smile that remained for the rest of the weekend.
Later that afternoon, Zachary Lesch-Huie, the Interim Executive Director of the Access Fund, joined our climbing session. I fan-girled at first, then realized that he’s just another climber, here to climb the same boulders that I was, and to take part in the same community.
As the festival filled up, I marveled at the faces and complexions of the festival goers. Our shared passion for climbing had brought us all together, from coast to coast. Throughout the weekend, I climbed alongside professionals in the industry, new climbers, experienced climbers, and people like me, who simply found joy and strength in climbing. I felt no judgement—I just felt supported and empowered in climbing.
The workshops were awesome and the energy was electric. I chose a workshop with Sam Elias on the quality of climbing, thinking that I could learn a thing or two from a man who has climbed Everest. Although he’s soft-spoken, his passion was contagious. He facilitated an amazing discussion amongst the workshop-goers.
As we all gathered by a swingset and picnic table, we shared our testimonies on what climbing has given to us. It was powerful. One of the most memorable testimonies was from a 13-year-old Latino boy who was at the festival with his older brother. His parents were from Central America and he spoke of climbing as a tremendous source of joy in his life. He remains engraved in my memory because to me, he represents the future of climbing and I think it’s wonderful that we—his fellow workshop-goers—and Color the Crag get to be a part of his narrative.
Our community is incredibly kind, strong and supportive. Color the Crag made me more aware of how small our community is, but reinforced our shared eagerness to challenge these numbers. I strongly believe that mentorship is essential within our climbing community of color, particularly among inner-city youth. We have the power—and the responsibility—to create safe spaces and encourage the next generation to pursue their outdoor passions. I was introduced to climbing at 23, and wish that I had been introduced to it sooner. My hope is that I will continue to take part in communities and organizations dedicated to bringing access to the outdoors to underserved communities.
I am grateful for the amazing weekend I shared with new friends and hope that you’re thinking about attending Color the Crag next year! As my new friend Taimur said, “Life is full of happy accidents”—you never know what your experience will be like. I can guarantee that you will bump into amazing individuals with powerful testimonies and forge wonderful friendships.
Thank you to Mikhail from Brothers of Climbing and Bethany from Brown Girls Climb for putting on the event and creating this wonderful shared space. And thank you to The Cliffs at LIC for helping me make the trip possible this year.