S’lacio Bankston struggled on the icy pitch, lost his footing and backed off. Later, the 20-year-old refocused and invoked Mohammed Ali to pump himself up: “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee!” Bankston sent the frozen waterfall on his second effort as his friends erupted in cheers.
If Black climbers are rare, African American ice climbers are especially so, but trying to change that are a group of alpinists featured in “Black Ice,” a new 40-minute Reel Rock film.
Californian Manoah Ainuu helped lead the athletes from Memphis, Tennessee on their first ice climbing experience. A North Face-sponsored athlete with Yosemite credentials on Half Dome and El Capitan, Ainuu gracefully led a pitch up the jagged ice. Then the Compton native and other trip leaders helped the Memphis climbers follow suit with their ice axes and crampons.
“This is what it’s about, getting people psyched on being outside and connecting with each other through the vehicle of climbing,” said Ainuu.
Despite bone-chilling cold, the group experienced a heartwarming journey of discovery and growth.
Famed mountaineer Conrad Anker, another California native, assisted the group as its only white member. “This trip is a great opportunity to learn more about people and in the process hopefully become a better person,” said Anker.
Groups promoting diversity
Ainuu and Anker aren’t the only Californians trying to diversify the outdoors. Throughout the Golden State, groups are trying to make outdoors recreation more inclusive and welcoming.
Outdoor Afro organizes frequent outings in California and beyond. Participants this year enjoyed paddle boarding in San Francisco Bay, bird watching in Oakland, kayaking in Richmond’s Marina Bay, and visits to Tomales Bay, Point Pinole and Redwood Regional Park. Group members celebrated Juneteenth with a trek to Etiwanda Falls near Rancho Cucamonga.
“Outdoor Afro is important because it provides a refuge for Black folks to come together in community and build some Black joy in nature. Nature makes me feel at peace, at home in my body, in my mind and spirit, and just feel free,” said group leader Julius Hampton. Find more information at outdoorafro.com.
Spanish speakers enjoy magical experiences like exploring Yosemite, kayaking on the Russian River and spotting bald eagles through the Vamos Afuera (Let’s Go Outside) program of the Sonoma County nonprofit LandPaths. Vamos Afuera leads at least a dozen outings per year for hundreds of Spanish speakers, and LandPaths delivers monthly information to some 10,000 households about the outdoors, provides youth education and runs a summer camp.
Helping families who have never camped nor visited Yosemite discover those pleasures provides joyful memories for Guadalupe Casco, a bilingual field specialist and trip leader. “We are committed in truly fostering a love of the land for everyone,” she said. Learn more at landpaths.org.
More than 3,000 people new to the outdoors are getting inspiration from Bewilder, a new venture by Yvonne Leow of June Lake. Bewilder publishes free camping and backpacking trip itineraries along with guidance for how readers can reserve campgrounds, backcountry permits and enjoy their outdoor experiences. Bewilder’s newsletter promotes beginner-friendly outings to places like Angel Island, Mount San Jacinto, Morro Bay and Pinnacles National Park.
Most of Bewilder’s subscribers are women and people of color, though Leow offers her information and services to anyone for free. “Everyone should have a chance to experience the beauty and freedom of the outdoors,” she said. For more information, visit bewilder.camp.
Gateay Mountain Center began a new effort to introduce the outdoors to under-resourced youth in the South Lake Tahoe area, with a focus on engagement with the Latinx community. Youth, Ecology and Adventure (YEA!) Camps exposed kids to camping, hiking, kayaking, rock climbing and more at no cost thanks to community donations.
Based in Truckee and Donner Summit, Gateway Mountain Center offers enviro-literacy and outdoor adventure experiences to school groups from all over Northern California, including many Title One Schools. Gateway also runs a robust nature-based therapeutic program for youth in their region suffering from serious emotional disturbance, complex trauma and substance use disorder. Before Covid, the different programs supported around 2,000 young people per year.
“Every kid can benefit by having their hearts and minds opened to the natural world,” said Peter Mayfield, the center’s founder and executive director. To learn more, visit sierraexperience.org.
Two years after Scouting BSA began admitting girls into its troops, nearly 1,000 girls nationwide have earned the program’s highest rank of Eagle Scout. Boy Scouts of America began allowing gay youth in 2013, lifted its ban on gay adult leaders in 2015 and changed its name to Scouting BSA in 2018. The group endorsed Black Lives Matter and introduced a diversity and inclusion merit badge, required for Eagle Scouts, last year.
“All Californians outdoors” is the vision of California Outdoor Engagement Coalition, an association of businesses, advocacy groups, land agencies, and other groups which share that goal. Participants share information about job openings, funding opportunities, workshops and other events. “We serve as an umbrella that can help bring people together,” said organizer Jenny Mulholland-Beahrs. Visit inclusionoutdoors.com to find out more.
Rounding out this far-from-complete list, the Black Folks Camp Too company and Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics aim to promote inclusion with a unity blaze patch and message. The symbol represents community, welcome and equality.
Earl Hunter, who founded Black Folks Camp Too, hopes to encourage more African Americans to enjoy outdoor recreation and find employment in the industry. “Enthusiasts want to see more diversity in the outdoors,” Hunter said. “We’re going to change the world.” Find more information at lnt.org/unityblaze or www.blackfolkscamptoo.com/unity-blaze.
Matt Johanson authored the new guidebook “California Summits,” available at sierrasplendor.com/books.