A few weeks ago I started projecting boulders outside. That means choosing one particular line on a boulder and working out the moves over several sessions (days). It’s a similar idea to practicing “YYZ” on Guitar Hero II until you nail it, or training for a half-marathon.
It’s a process, one that takes time to figure out the intricacies and/ or to build up the strength needed to climb the line. A project should be something a bit beyond your current abilities.
So far in climbing, it’s not something I’ve tried. Rather, a typical day at the crag would consist of jumping on a bunch of routes, and maybe re-trying one I’ve done before. I’ve rarely gone back to the same route, or wall or boulder over the past year.
Because I had only been attempting V4 and V5 boulder problems, grades I could reasonably get in one session, I firmly believed that was my level. I was “a V4/V5 boulderer.” I’d jump on an occasional V6 or V7 at the end of a session, make some progress, but never return.
Reiterating point one, I didn’t send any that first day, but I was able to work many of the moves. I thought I might be able to get them the next week, when I was fresh.
Turns out, that’s true. In week 2 I sent Terrorist (my first V6!) and in week 3 I sent Bulletproof (my second V6!).
I got me wondering: What might I be able to accomplish if it did take a full seven sessions?
A V7 or V8? Hell, there’s a V9 I’ve been eyeing at that looks doable. That’s way beyond what I would have considered for myself just four weeks ago.
From a different angle, have I been arbitrarily holding myself back because I didn’t think to work harder problems? Without consideration, I was constraining myself. Perhaps subconsciously I even thought these grades were “beyond me.”
In some sense, I don’t know what the boundaries are or what my limit is. This matters because growth happens at the edge. Food for thought as I continue my own climbing career.
Considering the bigger picture: What could you accomplish if you actually started projecting something at your limit?
Luke Buxton believes in magic. Or he at least looks for the enchanting in the everyday.
“I’m a bit of a romantic,” he says, describing the heart-twitch-awe which climbing evokes for him. “It’s the joy of intimacy you get to have with a beautiful natural element.”
Whether it’s the boulder strewn and timeworn coastline of Nova Scotia or the thundering Roc nest towers of Canmore, the natural world casts a spellbinding connection for Luke.
Perhaps it started in his childhood. He grew up in the Skeena Valley, surrounded by the coastal mountains of Terrace, British Columbia. Maybe it was learned; he was a deep observer who drew and created obsessively all throughout his childhood. For sure, the mythical aesthetic has been further cultivated through climbing.
“Yosemite feels like it could easily be the home of ancient Forest Giants and Squamish’s Grand Wall is so lush and beautiful you sense a Faerie Sprite under every fern patch and mushroom,” he encourages.
Luke eventually made his way to Halifax, Nova Scotia to pursue an education and career in animation. (He’s an accomplished art director, animator, and production designer, who has worked on short films for the likes of Willow and Jayden Smith, and nationally syndicated television shows). During his 12 years in the maritime province, he became involved in developing local crags, and eventually was put onto Gibralter, one of the many untapped expanses.
“It’s a pretty forested area with easy public access,” he shares. “My roommate [Mark Maas] and I were inspired to put in long days developing new climbs.”
They had fun, crafted worthy lines, and wanted a way to share their uncovered treasure with the climbing community. So Luke decided to make a guidebook, with his own mystical twist, of course.
I chatted with Luke to learn a bit more about the inspiration for the guide, and how he came to see the world through Tolkien-colored specs.
Aaron: What brought you to Nova Scotia?
Luke Buxton: I was raised in Terrace BC, and currently live in Vancouver, but Halifax formed a fairly large chunk of my life through my twenties. I was 22 at the time (I’m 37 now) and was living in a VW camper van with my cat traveling and climbing throughout Canada.
I worked odd jobs as I went and sold paintings. I had heard of the glacial erratic bouldering in the East Coast and Halifax seemed like a fun spot to stop for a while and find work as I knew there would be lots of people my age due to it having so many Colleges/Universities. I obviously had no clue it would suck me in for 12 years, or that I would find my career path and meet my wife there.
How did you get involved with the local climbing scene?
As I’m a bit older, I learned like most from my generation: outside and through a friend. I followed him up a multi-pitch trad climb on my first introduction and fell in love with the intricacy and challenge of bouldering a short time later.
I did a climbing trip in Europe with him which included helping a small crew develop some boulders in the Italian Alps, and then more climbing trips throughout the States cemented it as a personal passion I would keep for life.
By the time I reached Halifax I was hungry to meet local developers and experience the unique granite. Halifax had at the time a fairly small but strong and passionate community of climbers so it didn’t take long to make friends and be a part of the scene.
What does climbing mean to you?
Like many who are obsessed with climbing, it encompasses many things to me such as community, physical/mental fitness, and personal growth. If I was to narrow down one thing that makes climbing special to me it’s the joy of intimacy you get to have with a beautiful natural element. Taking a hike is one thing, but analyzing, scrubbing and being so aware of every crystal on a large stone in a forest is truly unique to climbing.
When my cheek is brushing up against a warm stone on a delicate slab climb I feel the happiest I can possibly feel.
What is the Gibralter guide?
Some of the local developers had directed me towards Gibralter as one of the better untapped areas with plenty of potential for new climbs if you were willing to put in some heavy lifting scrubbing the rocks. It’s a pretty forested area with easy public access and my roommate and I were inspired to put in long days developing new climbs and sharing them with our friends and the bouldering community.
Making a guide was the easiest way to share our year+ of development with everyone and I was excited to put something creative and fun together. My roommate and close friend Mark Maas put many hours excitedly scrubbing and exploring Gibralter with me and I even named the first boulder we scrubbed together after him (the Maasy boulder).
Years later (2 years ago now) he lost his life to depression and accumulating chronic injuries that were robbing him of his ability to do the things he loved. Gibralter holds an even more special place in my heart now as a sort of memorial place, a space he loved and cherished. He is dearly missed by many.
Why imbue the guide with magical storytelling?
Being in the animation industry (I design the worlds in cartoons) definitely had a big impact on how I approached the guide. I don’t think I ever really thought it through so much as it just naturally became whimsical and was influenced by my creative influences.
I wanted the map to feel like the map at the beginning of a Tolkien fantasy novel or something similar because when we explored those woods we felt that way; adventurers seeking out treasures buried under moss. Now looking at it I think it’s pretty amateur in delivery, but I’d like to think it has retained some charm.
Was there any overlap between magic and climbing for you, before the guidebook?
Sure, I think I interpret many aspects of my life with a rather fantastical or whimsical slant; I’m a bit of a romantic.
I guess I always approached climbing with some element of child-like wonder. It’s pretty easy to do when the places that climbing takes you are often so magical and surreal to begin with; Yosemite feels like it could easily be the home of ancient Forest Giants and Squamish grand wall is so lush and beautiful you sense a Faerie Sprite under every fern patch and mushroom.
How did the land itself play into the design of the guide?
The forest in Gibralter feels more like the BC rainforests I was used to climbing in at home, in contrast to the rugged Atlantic coast where most of the bouldering had already been covered. It felt natural to give it that whimsical forest-fantasy look.
Was there any outcome for the guidebook you were hoping for?
Not really, I knew it would just be something shared among locals and friends. It was a fun project on the side with no big expectations.
Anything else you’d like to add?
If anyone reading this can make an effort to visit Nova Scotia, they should!
Go sample the amazing granite and super friendly and perpetually psyched community there. It really is a little known gem in North America.
A year after Gibralter guide was released I wrote one for local developer Rich Lapaix’s “Jessie’s Diner” area (neighboring to Gibralter). Around that time the useful local digital guide, MoBeta, was in full swing and I felt it was less relevant to finish off my PDF guide and never got around to wrapping it up before we moved back out West.
I’ve been approached by enough people in the community who want to see it that I decided to retroactively finish/fix it and release it to the community. It was done in the same style as Gibralter and acts in a sense as a Part 2 of Musquodobit bouldering.
At the least, it can serve as an accurate historic documentation of the names and lines developed by Rich and a handful of others who paved the way for the growing climbing community of Nova Scotia.
“This place is special,” Michael declared. I drove to Bolton, Vermont to see what he meant.
Driving West along the backroads of Route 25, and across the Connecticut River from New Hampshire to Vermont, a change is immediate:
Vermont smells different.
It’s all cow pies, farmland and pine trees, like it was bottled in a can then freshly cracked open. First sip supernova. Piquant.
Here the land is more maple syrup than metro. More timber-lined ridge than car parked mall. Instead of New Hampshire’s concentrated range, mountains rise and fall away like waves at low tide. Troughs are unfurled rugs of mauve fields barricaded by rounded peaks with a tarmac running through.
The car pulsed along, wind rushing through the open windows. Scott Hutchison’s tiding brogue drifted from the speakers, my lips and tongue moving in synchrony.
302: Past Berlin, Middlesex, Waterbury, continue by a flea market perpetually being set up, then take a sharp right to a steep drive.
There, a black barn.
“You must be the writer,” a hulking man with snow white hair and a braided beard declared.
“Something like that,” I said.
He stood up gingerly and extended his hand, “I’m Kirk. Welcome to paradise.”
Michael Hunter looks a lot like his father, and sounds like him too. All rumbling motor engine and belly laughs.
The Hunters are developing the 37+ acres of the Black Barn Farm into an outdoor hub. In what is likely to be the first bouldering hostel and campground in Vermont, you can sleep right next to the rocks. As it stands, his property has one of the densest concentration of erratics in the state.
When you visit you’re bound to meet friends, family, and people from the community. The place is always open, and it was designed that way.
Michael’s angle is “coming into resonance” with others, a practice he’s cultivated over 15 years as a mental health counselor. On his property, that means creating space for others to enjoy the land.
While I was there I chatted with Michael about his vision and what the hell “allemansrätten” means.
Aaron: What are you creating here?
Michael: We bought the place five and a half years ago, and we decided as a family that we wanted to share this beautiful spot. We’ve been improving the land, figuring out how to steward it the best.
We focused in on the natural resources: Bouldering, there’s steep terrain for backcountry skiing, disc golf, fly fishing—there’s brook trout all along the stream here. We want to create an outdoor recreation hub.
I also like craft beer, and we do beer shares; Sipping barrel aged stouts [things like that], we sit in the barn and talk about the different flavors. (Editors note: He laughs).
What about the boulders?
My friends, [Pete Cudney, Sam Simon, and others] the ones developing the boulders here, tell me that [outside of Smuggler’s Notch] the boulders in Vermont are few and far between.
You’ll have this big boulder, it’s awesome, but then have to walk two miles through the woods to another one, then a half-mile to another after that.
According to them, this is such a high concentration of good quality rock with amazing lines, all in a 300 square foot area.
That’s the wizard boulder (he points to the hunk of rock over my right shoulder), and the first climb that went up: “It’s complicated being a wizard [V5].”
There are other lines: Dharma Bum. Society of Solitude. Ghost in the Sky. All these are beer names from different breweries [in Vermont].
Why steward the land? To share it?
The previous owners [before the last] actually spread glass along the river on the property. They didn’t want people using the land. We thought that was ridiculous.
There’s a Scandinavian word, and actually it’s a law, called allemansrätten, that translates to “the right to roam.” Everyone has the right to walk through, fish, whatever. You can’t camp right behind someone’s house—you have to respect the land and the people on it—but basically this land is for everyone.
[At Black Barn Farm] we share everything. If you’re here and you’re hungry, you’re going to eat. People just kick money in the moonshine jar. I had a hiker that came for one night, stayed for a week. He helped around here, did a bunch of chores, pitched in a couple bucks.
How are you building this out?
In developing this, I’m in conversations with CRAG Vermont, to see how this fits in with their broader initiative of making climbing available to everybody.
The Catamount Trail, which is the cross country ski trail that goes from Jay Peak down to Harriman (300 miles from the border with Canada to Massachusetts), it goes right up here over the back of my property.
There’s a cabin up there called the Bryant Cabin that sells out in minutes each year. We’ve talked with them about building a spur down here and a yurt or a cabin [to offer another option].
We’re dong this slow, starting with primitive camping to get going. The next step is to make this into a small campground: Lean-tos, a couple of teepees, etc.
How did you make your way here?
I grew up in Connecticut and moved to Burlington for grad school. I had worked in residential care for younger kids, and got my Masters in Counseling at UVM. I’ve been a licensed mental health councilor and drug councilor for the past 15 years. So I was living here.
My mom passed away, six years ago. My dad was still living in Connecticut in a three story house. We wanted dad to stay with one of us; Sister lives in California, brother is in Texas. He went out to California for about a month and a half, loved it. He went to Texas for awhile, and Texas sucks (he laughs), so he didn’t want to go there.
Then he came up here. He was coming up here all the time anyways because it’s close.
We had dinner on a Sunday night, and he told us, “Okay, I’m going to sell the house in Connecticut and move in with you.”
On Monday, my friend sent me the listing for this place. It had just come on the market.
“It’s everything you’ve ever wanted,” he said.
Everyone that buys a house has a bucket list of like 30 things, and you maybe get two of them. We had that list and everything was there at this house.
On Monday, I drove past after work. The previous owners were out front moving stuff and packing. They invited me in. I stayed for two hours, told them about my mom, how I grew up jumping in rivers like this, just told them the whole story. By the end of that, they told me, “We want to sell this house to you and your family.”
Two months later, on the Summer Solstice, June 21st, 2013, we closed on the house. And it was ours.
I spent the first night here with my best friend, the one that showed me the listing. And we slept on a couch in the backyard because we didn’t have furniture or anything. (He laughs).
We walked to the upper meadow under a full moon, and the whole meadow was covered in daisies. Daises were my mom’s favorite flower. Growing up, my dad always used to give her daises on anniversaries and her birthdays. I get goose bumps thinking about it now.
The way it all worked out—the way my dad decided, the way that we found it, the way I talked to those people. This place has an energy about it that shit like that happens all the time.
You said the way you grew up—you would jump into rivers, and things like that—was that something you wanted for your own children?
Oh ya, absolutely. My dad used to take us up to the Zealand Campground, near Mt. Washington. That’s the Ammonoosuc River. Every summer we’d go up and stay there, and jump in those pools.
I grew up doing that and I wanted my kids to have that.
When the previous family walked me around, everything in my head was, “My kids are gonna grow up here. They are going to love it!”
The Black Barn Farm is hosting a bouldering competition as part of the first ever Vermont Climbing Festival on Saturday, Sept. 21.
In this interview series we talk with people who spend their time traveling and climbing, while still holding down a steady income. From nurses to coders, writers to outdoor guides, we want to show that you don’t have to go full dirtbag to live the itinerant life. Because contributing to your 401k while seeing the world doesn’t sound so bad.
Name: Jacob Bushmaker
I came across Jacob’s blog, The Wandering Climber, earlier this year when I was researching cheaper travel/ climbing destinations in South America. There were surprisingly few resources, but I eventually landed on TWC’s The Top 6 Rock Climbing Towns in South America – Why Should You Go?. It was great! I quickly dove into the rest of his pieces on Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, and others. His articles are well written and full of useful bits.
1) What do you do?
I currently have two jobs.
1) I work as a sales agent for a company called Unbundled Attorney, where we connect people with lawyers who are looking for affordable legal representation.
2) I run a blog called The Wandering Climber, which focuses on providing climbers with beta on the world’s best rock climbing destinations [Editor’s note: Typically lesser known places].
I’ll be answering the questions in respect to my work with TWC.
2) What are some of the perks of the job?
A few things. Probably the most notable is it is completely remote, meaning that I can work from just about anywhere in the world. This is pretty much a necessity for anyone who wants to travel long term… unless you have some other source of income!!
Second is that I’m my own boss. I don’t have any set hours, deadlines or anyone to “answer” to.
It is also great to be creating something. It has its own intrinsic value which is sort of hard to explain. [I like to be able to] look back and be like, “yea, I did that.”
Lastly, this is a way for me to give back to the rock climbing community with my unique experiences and knowledge. This is a perk of the job I really didn’t anticipate, but it has been awesome to get so much positive feedback from people who have read my blog and used it.
“The only people who think this is easy are ones who haven’t done it before.”
3) What are some of the challenges?
There are a lot of challenges with running a blog as a business.
The only people who think this is easy are ones who haven’t done it before.
With the incredible freedom which comes from being your own boss comes the pretty obvious drawback that there is absolutely no one keeping you accountable.
This is particularly difficult when you’re posted up in one of the world’s top climbing destinations. As you might imagine, these environments aren’t exactly conducive to “hard work.”
Also, it is always an ongoing challenge that I have to learn how to do things on my own. I have never had a “teacher” [for this stuff]. At times things can be super frustrating.
4) What motivated you to pursue this path?
The whole journey started when I read the 4 Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris. It really opened my eyes to what was out there and has fundamentally changed my life in just about every sense imaginable.
I went from a 9-5 office job (I was a Civil Engineer) to working remote, visiting about 30 countries in 4 continents, and living abroad in South America.
There were the obvious perks of living abroad, such as learning another culture/ language and meeting new people/ traveling which appealed to me.
In addition, there are also some financial benefits of working abroad which don’t get mentioned as much, such as having a huge reduced cost of living.
5) How does this job allow you to travel and climb?
If I was just doing one of the two jobs, I would have plenty of time to dirtbag. I did so for about 2-3 years, but there sort of came a point where I started taking work more seriously again.
Over the past six months I have been much more “buckled down,” you might say.
The site launched in February of this year, and [so far] I’ve always had another full time job which takes up a ton of time. If all goes well, within the next 6 months to a year, I’ll be able to comfortably support myself with the income earned off the blog. [At that point] I’ll be able to make the decision whether I’d like to pursue it full time or not.
Right now, I work more than full time between my two jobs, probably in the 50-60 hours a week range.
“Travel and being an entrepreneur is romanticised, but I’m here to tell you that sometimes it just sucks.”
6) What do you wish you knew when first starting out?
The hardest thing about this lifestyle has always been things I left behind when I was an engineer: The “steady” job, “good” career, friends, family and security were all sort of thrown aside to live the dream.
Travel and being an entrepreneur is romanticised, but I’m here to tell you that sometimes it just sucks.
7) What is one lesson learned from your journey so far?
It is better to focus on the process than the goal.
Once you get going it just becomes another day in the life, and before you know it your on your way.
8) Anything else you’d like to add?
You overestimate what you can do in a year, but underestimate what you can do in five.
My point: Just get started now, be patient and incredibly persistent!
You can learn more about Jacob, his work, and his travels:
In this interview series we talk with people who spend their time traveling and climbing, while still holding down a steady income. From nurses to coders, writers to outdoor guides, we want to show that you don’t have to go full dirtbag to live the itinerant life. Because contributing to your 401k while seeing the world doesn’t sound so bad.
Name: Jack Lyons
Job: Front End Web Developer
1) What do you do?
I’m a front-end web developer. That means I write code for basically anything you see and interact with on a web page.
Working on the front-end is fun because it’s really easy to impact the look and feel of a page just by changing a few lines of code. It feels more artistic because you literally start with a blank canvas with every new page you build.
Currently I work as a freelancer and have a variety of clients located all around the world. Every day is filled with different challenges and I like being able to switch between client projects whenever I like.
2) How did you learn about web development?
Back in 2014/15 I was travelling in China, teaching English in Hangzhou, a city just west of Shanghai. I was pretty miserable with my current situation: Teaching English wasn’t as fun as I thought, mainly because the working conditions were brutal. I really wanted to make a change.
The only reason I was in China was so I could climb at the infamous crags of Yangshuo (hands down, some of the best climbing in the world). After a few months of teaching, I quickly realised that it wasn’t a sustainable way to work and travel and so I started researching other options.
That’s when I stumbled upon the whole “digital nomad” scene. I would read blogs and follow all the cool kids online who were “living the dream” with just a backpack and a laptop.
I got chatting with a colleague at my English school who had a background in IT. Funnily enough, he had a big fat book Chinese/English book on HTML and CSS. He let me borrow it and I immediately devoured it. For the next 6-12 months I just totally immersed myself in learning to code because I knew it would allow me the chance to create the lifestyle I always wanted: To work and travel on my own terms and without burning a hole in my savings.
3) What are some of the perks?
For starters, I get to create my own schedule. I can work early, late, from a cafe, at home, on the couch, at the library…
What’s more, I can pick who I want to work with and what I want to work on. I use a freelancing platform called Upwork that allows me to have a profile and be contacted by potential clients who need help. This means that the work literally comes to me and I don’t have to lift a finger to find new work.
And lastly, I can save money even while traveling. This is huge for me, because I can take my remote career seriously and contribute to my pension, as well as personal savings and investments.
4) What are some of the challenges?
I know this sounds like a “first world problem,” but traveling in developing countries or rural areas means little to no wifi. While this makes for a relaxing getaway for most, this can be a seriously frustrating experience when I’ve got deadlines to meet.
Other than that, all general travel issues apply. Being flexible comes at a price.
5) What motivated you to pursue this path?
My dream has always been to be financially free and able to live and work wherever I want. Second to that, I love rock climbing and want to spend my days out at the crag rather than in the office.
I wanted a career where I could climb by day and work at night, or just take a day off whenever and make up my hours later.
To me, it only made sense that I’d need to find a job that would be online. Coding suited my personality well but I certainly could have gone down the path of a blogger / copywriter / online marketer and gotten the same results.
6) How has your life changed since you started this?
Well, for starters, I no longer have to go to an office from 9 – 5 every day. I don’t really have a boss and I can charge whatever rate I feel is acceptable based on the project at hand.
I love the fact that I am able to see so much of the world and still have money left over. I thoroughly enjoy my work and need to pinch myself most days. I’ve lived in Europe, USA, Asia and travelled to over 30 countries. I’ve climbed in some of the most beautiful places in the world ( Greece, China, Austria, Germany, Croatia, Slovenia, USA, Thailand, New Zealand, Australia).
7) What does a “typical” week or month look like?
It depends where I am. Currently I’m based in Boulder, Colorado. It’s nice to have a home base because it gives you time to decompress from all the travel. It also allows you to get settled and lock in when you’ve got some serious deadlines or big projects to tackle.
When traveling or on a climbing trip I try to scale back my work commitments because I know how demanding and exhausting it can be. For example, currently I am on a two week road trip with my wife in Alaska. I decided to take the entire time off, which is very rare for me to do, but it was absolutely necessary because I had been working on some big projects over the last couple of months. I needed some time out to recharge.
Coding is really, really mentally taxing. It requires a lot of brainpower. It’s hard to stay focused when your work environment keeps on changing. So I prefer to plan out my work schedule depending on where we will be and when.
8) What do you wish you knew when first starting out?
The matter of fact is this: Coding is hard and takes so so so soooooo many hours of dedication, practice and patience. It’s not for everyone and it can be an incredibly frustrating profession.
I think one of the best ways to accelerate your web development journey would be to sign up for a coding bootcamp (bonus points for an exotic location somewhere in the world). This won’t make you a coding wizard but it will help lay a solid foundation, to meet like-minded peers, and to have dedicated help from a mentor.
Having a mentor helps a lot but you have to realise that no one is going to hold your hand out in the “real world.” You’ve gotta have grit and figure things out for yourself.
Know that there will be roadblocks, bugs, meltdowns and disasters – it’s going to be how you react to them that makes the difference. Keep calm, and know that you will figure it out. Just learn to do whatever it takes to get unstuck – even if it means paying an expert for their time. You’ll learn from your mistakes and grow rapidly if you have the right mindset.
9) What is one lesson learned from your journey so far?
Patience is an important “skill” that can be developed throughout difficult situations under high stress, commonly known as “stress inoculation.”
I’ve had so many moments where I just wanted to smash my computer and curse my code for not working. But over the years I’ve learned to channel this into a more relaxed state where I can work through the problems in a calm and focused manner (sometimes).
10) Anything else you’d like to add?
Yeah! If you’re interested in becoming a digital dirtbag then check out my blog over at Medium: Adventure In My Veins.
There I interview other wanderlusting climbers who have built a lifestyle and a living around their digital skills. If you know anyone who you’d describe as a “digital dirtbag,” then please get in touch!
You can learn more about Jack, his work, and his travels:
Pieter Cooper strode into a downtown Brooklyn gym and saw something through the chalky haze that made him stop in his tracks.
He was alone, but emboldened. With locked eyes he walked across the room.
“Oh you do this too?” he offered. David Glace reciprocated.
“It was like Black Guy No. 1, Black Guy No. 2. That was the joke,” Pieter says. But where were the other climbers of color?
“We should form a group to bring more awareness that we are out there doing it,” they mused.
Mikhail Martin is the fourth musketeer of the team behind Brothers of Climbing (BOC), along with Andrew Belletty. He comes across like the mastermind of the jig, a willing leader with a programmer’s articulation for simple clarity and a Caribbean easy-goingness.
Our call opens and it sounds like Mikhail had a long day. He’s not grumpy, but weary. It was Friday at 6PM after all. His straight-shooting questioning softens with a bit of banter and the jokester bubbles in with a chuckle that unveils his characteristic upbeat vibrato.
If you attend a BOC meetup you’re likely to hear Mikhail belt out Bieber, but he doesn’t sing today. Instead we chatted about what it’s like to build a community, and how the role has evolved over the years.
In the REI mini-mentary on BOC, Cooper, who eventually wound up as the Manager at Brooklyn Boulders, relays a story that catalyzed why they needed to form BOC:
“I’ve had black kids say, ‘nah, we don’t do this, we don’t do [climbing].’ That made me go, man, this kid is saying that, what else does this kid think he can’t do just because he’s black or he has not seen a black person do [you name it]?”
“This goes back to not being exposed to the outdoors. The problem is we’re telling ourselves that we can’t do it, and on the other end, there’s no one telling us that we can do it. So it’s a problem on both sides of the coin, and we have to attack it from both sides,” Martin says in an interview with Off the Strength.
The quartet wanted to show that, yes, people of color do climb. The hope was to encourage others to give the sport a try.
Mikhail, Pieter, Andrew, and David decided to start simply, informally at first, just a group climbing in the gym. The impetus was to “have a good time, and to try to be as welcoming and personable as possible,” relays Martin.
Word spread, more people came and the community of Brothers of Climbing developed.
On Community Building:
Establish a culture of inclusivity
“We were hooked on the sport, and we wondered why more people of color weren’t. We found it came down to the expense of climbing at a gym, the established climbing culture, and a lack of outreach. We couldn’t really do much about the costs,” Martin says. “But we could make a difference with the culture and outreach,” he notes in an Outside Magazine article.
BOC wanted to be as welcoming as possible for first-timers. Many members of the group are newer to the sport, and at their yearly bouldering festival (which they co-organize with Brown Girls Climb), most attendees are climbing outside for the first time. The initial impression could be the difference between one-and-done and on-going interest.
At the meetups, the more experienced climbers help out the newbies and the organizers make sure to establish a fun, relaxed environment. Martin credits having a diversity of interests among the group as a way to connect with members, “not all discussions are about climbing, we talk about new music, movies, etc.,” he says. Even something as simple as playing their own music at the gym sets a different note.
Localize the group to local needs
There are now meetups in Chicago, Philly, DC and Oakland. Each locale has its own feel, but the common denominator is that everyone is happy to find community and come together.
“You really have to read your community. What do they need?,” urges Martin.
In NYC, goofy and outgoing is the MO, including spontaneous karaoke sessions. In other communities, a different style of leadership may be needed. Every city has a unique history, varied experiences, and specific needs. The final “product” has to factor in the particulars of the local scene.
Listen to the community The group has evolved over the years as the founders themselves have matured.
“We started when I was 23, now I’m 29. As you get older, you start to realize other issues, other things become more important,” says Martin. In order to be role models for the future, the founders incorporate the concerns of the members into the direction of the group and their personal actions.
For one, communication and mutual understanding is key: Ask if someone is comfortable with you spotting them; Ask what someone’s preferred gender pronoun is. If someone doesn’t feel welcome, the founders want to talk with them to figure out how to fix it.
Since BOC started back in 2013, climbing has changed, the political landscape has evolved, and bigger concerns around equality in employment and representation have taken on a larger focus for the group.
More About Brothers of Climbing
The conversation expanded into a foray on fair compensation, the bigger picture for BOC, and Martin’s goals for the year. Another late night in the books talking about something he cares about.
“BOC’s mission is to increase involvement of minorities in the outdoors. Right now we’re starting with climbing,” says Martin. Seems like they’re on the right track to do a lot more.
No thanks to Boulder Denim, I’m reneging on that position.
Why? Simply, they are the most comfortable pair of climbing pants I own, and the best jeans I’ve ever had. They are lightweight, ultra-stretchy, and make my butt look good (probably). What’s not to like?
The company, Boulder Denim (BD), has helped popularize the climbing-specific jeans trend. The basic blues have long been a staple of pebble wrestling, from old painter’s pants and Levi’s to Prana’s yoga-centric styles. However, these options weren’t designed for climbing, they were good enough options for the job. In dirtbag parlance that pretty much means climb on, because they are pants, and they cost me $5 at Savers.
Climb people did, not realizing what they were missing out on.
BD was started to change the palette from pants that were palatable to downright delightful. They launched on Kickstarter back in 2016 to wild success (raising over $90k), then had a second campaign of wilder success for their updated 2.0s, in 2018 (raising over $267,000).
People dig them. And I wanted in.
So I reached out and asked if I could test a pair of the 2.0s, and Taz and Brad were kind enough to oblige.
Anywho, I’ve been wearing them non-stop for over a month, making up for lost time since the last jeans to grace these thighs was over 8 years ago.
They’ve been worn on Rumney schist, Lynn Woods granite, Hammond Pond puddingstone, Smuggler’s Notch gritty schist, shitty schist, switch foot schisty and other such New England varietals. The climbing has consisted of a lot of bouldering, some sport, and a little trad.
My #UnecessarilyHighHeelHooks are NBD in these. They stretch in a variety of ways, from aggressive step-ups and twisty drop knees to split-like stemming IF I have them rolled up to below my knees.
I experience some restriction in movement when the legs are full-length (two rolls at the cuff, they sit just above the ankle). My knee gets caught in the fabric on big movements–which doesn’t prevent the action–though it does slightly encumber the motion. This is not experienced when they are rolled up (same two rolls, pushed to knee). They have much greater stretch horizontally and diagonally (i.e., pulling the pant leg apart width-wise) than vertically (i.e., trying to stretch them down the length of the leg).
It is unclear if they need to be broken in more because I’ve primarily worn them pushed up in the summer heat.
With that said, they are surprisingly elastic. If I pinch and pull, the jeans have the same give and bounce-back as my running tights, except these look better and don’t hug my junk.
The seams are reinforced and solid so far, whereas I popped some stitching on my Outdoor Research Ferrosi pants when doing squats. I would squat in these.
Fit and Look
They are stylish in a relaxed, I just woke up and grabbed these, rumpled, off the floor kind of way. And they look good.
I received the 2.0 Men’s Athletic Fit in Newmoon Blue, the darker of the blueish options, and they go well with my wardrobe which mostly consists of tank tops at the moment. Because summer.
When I can get away with it, I wear these all day, from town to crag and back again.
The 2.0s come in two sizes: Slim and Athletic fit.
The Athletic cut provides a slightly roomier leg circumference, but still maintains a thinner, tapered look common these days.
BD recommends sizing down one to two inches from your normal waist measurement. I got a 29″ (normally a 30″ or 31″) and they fit perfectly, resting at the top of my hip bones. The inseam comes standard at 32″.
The original Kickstarter video claims the fabric has “a 92% stretch retainment, compared to an industry average of just 60%.” I’m curious if the waist will bag out over time, as it is quite stretchy.
One minor complaint is about the hidden zippered pocket (which sits inside the front left pocket). The extra fabric doesn’t lay completely flat–given the additional material and bartack–which was noticeable in an, oh this is a little niggly here isn’t it? manner. The zipper also feels a bit stiff as it pressed on the crease where my thigh inserts at the pelvis (the area of the pectineus muscle and adductor brevis; look it up if you feel inclined). I feel a trifle like the Princess and the Pea with this fussing, but maybe it’s just flat pockets or bust for me.
So far so good. Though this will take time to really tell.
One downside of the stretch is that the jeans sometimes snag on sharp rock, such as when knee barring. After a climb at Rumney where my thigh scraped against the schist, a thread was pulled out from my quad area. I snipped it off, no big deal.
The fabric is about as thick as found on Prana Brions, though more breathable and with a more attractive cut.
All climbing, though especially bouldering.
Bouldering because they can keep your legs from getting torn up. Way back when two months ago, my ankles, shins and knees were ivy draped in scrapes and scratches because I would wear shorts while climbing. The leg feature of the pants has helped bring the number of dings and dents down dramatically.
When the weather cools, these will make excellent travel pants because they don’t seem to carry stink (unlike my synthetic pants) and they have stain resistance. Sometimes I drink and sometimes I spill, but that’s been no my problem at all in these.
The following is pulled from the Boulder Denim website: