Behind the mainstream media eye lies the rest of us—all of us “average” yet avid adventurers and chasers of a life well-lived; and quite frankly, we help drive the outdoor industry. We come from cities, small towns, or the woods themselves. We are diverse, greatly so, and all-encompassing: be it ethnicity, orientation, or wealth. The outdoor community spans many generations and the more it grows, the more lives it touches in ways never imagined. From the gear we buy to the “Instagram likes” to the real-life experiences that populate the crags, backcountry trails, fests, and competitions, we are the core of what defines outdoor tradition and lifestyle. And the more we nurture the outdoor community the less it matters where we come from and how, or what we look like—but media and society at large unfortunately see things through filtered lenses, and many of us come from places and backgrounds rarely mentioned.
From underprivileged communities lost to the vastness of the Inland Empire in Southern California, the first post in this series will feature 3 women who have found climbing and the great outdoors in different and inspiring ways, despite defined gender roles and financial hardship.
Intros and edits by Sara Aranda
Jamie C. Gonzalez – 25 years old – from Moreno Valley, CA
Jamie is currently making the rounds across a few states with her boyfriend Carlos Antunez, exploring and living the dream. They have started a company called Outer Core Climbing and for now are selling their HangDog invention – a comfy leash for climbing shoes so you don’t lose them on the wall! Jaime’s goal is to move back to Yosemite, climb Royal Arches at least once a week for endurance, and climb the Washington Column by the end of summer.
“The first time I experienced the real outdoors was in 2010 (I was about 18) when I went on a road trip with my mom for a family reunion. The drive was incredible and although we didn’t really get out of the car too much, just being in other states and seeing huge trees and driving in the forest for hours, or an endless desert, really showed me just how much was out there. I discovered climbing in 2013 when my boyfriend got us a Groupon for the Hangar 18 climbing gym in Riverside. It was truly something different and a fun way to exercise and push yourself.
As a kid, we went camping a handful of times at Silverwood Lake. I honestly didn’t like going outside much when I was young. I was very shy and didn’t make friends as easily as my sister, so I mostly liked to stay inside and read or do homework. In the neighborhoods we grew up in we were allowed to play in the front yard for a little while with supervision like any other kid, but we weren’t allowed to pass the boundary of the front yard. Sometimes weird people would linger around our neighborhoods so there would be days or weeks at a time where we weren’t even allowed to go out and get the mail. In middle school I had a friend who would invite me with her to her dad’s cabin in Idyllwild, and that was technically some of my first experiences in the woods. I always loved taking off for a few minutes by myself, but I would never go too far because I was afraid of getting lost. Since I grew up in a place where being outside meant strict adult supervision, I felt the same way in the woods, as if anything could and would happen. At home I was especially never allowed out at night and we had so much light pollution it’s not like I could really see the stars anyway. I became fascinated with watching airplanes and helicopters and imagining they were stars or that they would someday take me to far away places.
When my sister and I were born my parents were both in their early 20’s and did what they could to make ends meet. For a few years my parents rotated work schedules so they would be at home and not have to leave us with a sitter. My mom would work days while my dad worked nights and a few years later they traded and my mom worked nights while my dad worked days. It was hard for them, but with the love and attention they gave us we hardly noticed we were broke. When they did both go back to work full time we stayed with my aunt or grandma. Neither of my parents went to college so in the early years they both worked minimum wage jobs, which meant we were on food stamps for a little while. New clothes were a luxury and during our early years in school we had to go shopping at those food and clothes donation banks. I remember the utilities getting shut off sometimes so we would go to my grandma’s house to eat or shower until we could afford to get it turned back on. But donated food or not, my parents always made sure there was something on the table and my sister and I were clean.
Ethnically, I am Mexican and Native American. I was raised mostly with the Mexican side, and when I say Mexican I mean Mexican-American. I don’t really know if I can even say what part of Mexico my family is from. It has been quite a few generations since my family came here, so we mostly just say we’re from East LA. But normal in my family is getting a full time job, renting a house, and being able to pay the bills. My parents were the first to begin to break free from that, as they are both musicians. They have a passion for music and a contempt for the system so they have always told my sister and me that if you can find another way to make money and be happy, do it, or you’ll be stuck working a 9-5 for someone else your whole life.
There was a point in time when the whole family was down on luck and we fit 15 people inside of a 4 bedroom 2 bathroom house. A few years later everyone went their own ways, my parents lost the house in the housing crash, and we were forced to move. When I was a little older, towards high school, both my parents had found decent paying full time jobs and still played music on the weekends for extra cash; and while we weren’t necessarily rich we were able to buy clothes from regular stores and we even had cable for a few years.
Thus, my first big interactive outdoor experience wasn’t until 2014 when my boyfriend took me and some friends to Yosemite. It was January so it was cold, but I could explore as much as I wanted to without having to worry about staying in a certain proximity. We scrambled on rocks along the Merced River, found little caves and really just played. We asked around for some advice on how to get a job, then applied and started working there in April of 2015.
When I had just moved to Yosemite, I was wandering around somewhere near Mirror Lake. I sat down off the trail to meditate when all of a sudden it started to rain a little bit. I contemplated leaving but I was really zoned in so I brushed it off and continued to sit there a while longer, but it really started pouring and then I heard it – the loudest thunder I’ve ever heard in my life. I thought the valley walls were going to crash in. I tried to be brave and get back to meditating. A few minutes later it came again and needless to say I was scared shitless, ran out of my little haven, hopped on my bike and headed home as fast as I could pedal, racing the storm and hoping I wouldn’t die. It was so powerful and from that moment on I had a deeper understanding and respect for the Earth. It wasn’t the kind I thought I had by recycling or deciding to carpool, not a vague respect of the Earth, but a connected bond with the world that now surrounded me.
To be honest I always thought outdoor activity, like snowboarding or hiking or water sports, was for rich white people that could afford ‘fancy’ outdoor clothing and boards and boats. In a way I still have that stigma in my head. If you look at something like the top climbers in America, you will get a list of 8 white people, American or European, and maybe an Asian or two. When I think alpinist or mountaineer, I think of a category of predominately white males and some females. It is just an observation, but there are not many people in the mainstream climbing media that come from the same places that I have. Yet, I can’t say that I feel underprivileged nor underrepresented because I think climbing as a whole is an amazing sport that really recognizes women as crushers, and there really are so many people from all over the world climbing – it is a world sport. I guess my point is, I have to figure that just because I don’t see anyone from my kind of neighborhood on the media doesn’t mean that there aren’t any.
Climbing and the outdoors has without a doubt changed my perception on life. My favorite climbing experience is free-soloing Matthes Crest in Tuolumne with my boyfriend and friends; and after climbing in Tuolumne and doing some gnarly approaches in order to, I feel like anything is now possible. I now analyze life in terms of taking the path of least resistance. I now look at physical fitness not just as a way to keep the body moving but as a lifestyle. If I can hike 10 miles, climb, then hike back and finish the day with a jog having asthma and health obstacles, then anyone can do it. I can now share these beautiful places with my friends and family who are still stuck working the 9-5 and evoke their sense of adventure. I also now know first hand that there is a community of people that love to explore and they aren’t just ‘rich and white.’ There are other options than just working your whole life to own a house and do what everyone else does. The outdoors has changed me almost completely, even though I still don’t have any money. But there’s still so much to learn and there will always be that lingering fear of the unknown.
One thing I hope to change or to see changed is the mentality of the people who live in lower income communities. I hope they can see that it is not more expensive to discover new things or to take a day off to spend outside. If they could resist buying fast food or alcohol or anything extra for a few weeks they can not only go somewhere new but start to feel better in the process. I want to share a different mindset with them, that instead of complaining about where you come from or where you live, seek opportunities elsewhere because opportunities are everywhere – you honestly just have to look for them and actually pursue them with an open heart.”
Kimberly Martinez – 18 years old – from Riverside, CA
A proud Latina, Kim is currently attending Riverside City College pursuing higher education while also trying to figure out how to spend more time outdoors. With only a year of climbing under her belt, she is already breaking into 5.12 sport lines. Her current dream is to learn the ways of trad and climb Astroman in Yosemite, appropriately becoming an Astrowoman.
“I first heard about climbing my sophomore year in high school. I was taking a guitar class and one day we had a substitute teacher named Alain De La Tejera. He was a big climber and runner and had just spent the summer living and working in Yosemite National Park. He talked about the climbing club he started and he encouraged me to join several times. Finally, in 2016, my senior year, I realized what I was potentially missing out on and decided to give it a try. Immediately I fell in love with climbing – which was strange, because I never really liked sports. Climbing was different. On my first outdoor trip with the club we went to Joshua Tree and I was absolutely blown away. I didn’t even know such places existed.
Growing up I was never taken to the outdoors. I was drawn to exploring, but I just wasn’t lucky enough to be out there. In my culture, I was raised to be a girl – to clean, help make food, and get an education. I’m expected to do my chores before going out and I obviously have a curfew, but I’m not allowed as much time out as my brothers, because I’m a girl and my parents worry too much.
I remember my parents having stable jobs growing up, but then things went wrong. We ended up losing our home and had to go from place to place, renting. We continue to rent today and the only person who works is my dad. At times it gets hard for my family to pay bills, so it leads to arguing. So, yeah, I do come from a low income family and it gets hard sometimes, but I still see that life is good and we try to make it work.
I’m very grateful that through the SoCal Stone Monkeys climbing club I have access and the ability to travel and experience more. Much of my community does not have the chance to engage in these types of outdoor activities. The main reason is that most don’t know these places even exist, and another, they don’t know where to start. They have no one to show them or mentor them, nor do they even try when they label everything outdoors as expensive. I consider myself so lucky to be experiencing all this. My family definitely thinks I’m some sort of a crazy/extreme person.
Granted, climbing gear can be very expensive and my parents would honestly rather me not participate; and it is often too hard for them to pay for my trips. Another grateful thing are periodic donations from friends of Alain to the club like harnesses and chalk bags. This has made a huge difference in my life and my peers, as we often cannot afford shoes even. The only money I receive is from FAFSA and when an outdoor trip is brought up I have to make sure I use my money wisely. Plus, since I am going to school, my parents, and even Alain, would rather me stay completely focused and not work.
Since solo venturing isn’t something women in my family do, I also don’t even know how or where to begin explaining myself. My gender plays a big role in bias against climbing, not only from my parents but from male peers as well. Some claim that I cannot pull hard moves or should not try a hard climb. I’ve received comments from people who claim that I’m going to get manly hands or a manly body. I don’t understand why that matters and why it has to be defined as manly. I’m doing what I love to do and am not harming anyone. So I push those comments away, because at the end of the day only the unhappy people are going to be making those comments while I’m strong and happy; and there is proof everywhere that women do just as much as men in climbing, and at times, more.
Right now, my top outdoor experience would have to be Yosemite. I went the summer of 2016 three or four times and each time was different. I wanted to cry because it felt like home. It blew my mind! Seeing what’s possible really pushes me to keep training. The outdoors/climbing life has changed so much in me as I’ve learned to be mindful. I’ve learned how to dirtbag. I’m also slowly breaking out of my shell as I’m typically a shy, quiet person. I’ve been introduced to so many adventurous people, so many ways of thinking, so many ways of training, etc. It has even surprisingly changed my family. I have more freedom with my parents as they become aware and understanding of the sport and lifestyle. I’ve had to push them, of course, to get them to understand, but it is important for everyone to see that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. And I lead by example, especially with my younger cousins. I try and teach them that because we were put here doesn’t mean we must follow what everyone else is doing. I want them to know that there is more than this city we live in. There are mountains and there are Joshua Trees!”
Denice Lopez – 28 years old – from Fontana, CA
Denice is a woman who isn’t afraid to say what’s on her mind. She plays rough, climbs hard, and loves Hot Cheetos, but also enjoys taking the time to sit down and crochet. Denice is also one of the few female route-setters in California, if not across the States, setting as the lead for Hangar 18 in Upland, CA. Her current dream is to climb 5.14 by the end of 2017.
“I discovered climbing back in 2010. A guy I worked with who climbs and still climbs took me one day and I just fell in love with it. I remember driving to the gym thinking, ‘How hard can this be?’ We arrived 5 minutes before the gym closed. Lucky enough, the guy who invited me knew the employees so they let me climb. Little did I know I would only last 20 minutes before my arms felt dead. I remember waking up the next day saying, ‘Geez, I can’t wait to go back and finish that green V0.’
I grew up with a dad who still acts younger than me. He took my sisters and me hiking, fishing, camping, skiing, shooting and showed us how to change a tire, change car oil and build a house from the ground up. He worked hard and played even harder. Yet, I would say that the way I live now is not considered normal to most of my family. I talk to them about camping, climbing on rocks, falling, and loving the sun and they don’t understand that nature is life. What my family used to expect of me was to go to school, work hard, find a man to love and care for. But as time goes by, the more they know that I’m living my own life, doing what I think is normal, always chasing the sun.
My family didn’t always have the newest things but we always had a home, warm clothes and never ran out of food. With 4 daughters, my mom and dad had their hands full. My mom was a stay at home wife and loving mother. My dad worked anywhere from 40 to 60 hours a week. I’m not sure how my parents did it but somehow we always had everything we needed. As an adult, I discovered that the outdoor lifestyle I wanted is expensive! But once you have everything you need, it’s not as much. Still, as a climber I have the need and want to go and keep going, moving, traveling. It’s hard to have your whole life fit in a car. Or more so, it’s hard to let the things go that really don’t matter but have sentimental value. I tend to work multiple jobs at once just to keep my climbing habits happy.
As a female in today’s outdoor world I actually feel privileged in a way I think people don’t think about. The climbing, and any outdoor, industry really is male dominated, so when I apply for an industry related job I tend to play the female card a lot – sweet talk them about ‘how great I am’ and how super social I tend to be. YES, I’ve flirted before. How can I not when I need a job and a guy is interviewing me? I’ve been lucky enough to land positions at Hangar 18 and Gear Coop and Rock City – no flirting required. But I tend to be very outspoken. I’m bold and blunt, so when it comes to climbing, selling climbing gear, setting and teaching people how to set, I don’t beat around. I say it how it is and if they don’t like it or feel uncomfortable then we can talk about it. But I’ve noticed that since I tend to work with a bunch of guys (as most climbing gigs) they have ‘tough’ skin and I at least rarely hear any negative comments. But what does that say about how women act to ‘keep up with the guys?’
Regardless, I feel lucky enough to have had great managers who are willing to give me a shot. At Hangar 18 they took me in and represent me as one of the only female setters who is also a head setter for the Upland location. I’m pretty sure I am one of few females who can say they are a head setter for a gym. As far as the community goes, I would say that when I walk up to the crags I assume that most guys assume I’m showing up with guys so that they can set up the ropes for me. But I tend to climb just as hard. I guess I notice it when I start a random conversation with the fellow climbers; how they only talk to the dudes, then once I start climbing and sending their projects do they start talking to me like we have been friends for years. It is quite funny and it happens more than I’d like to admit.
Growing up in California I never noticed a difference in people until I got to High School and was exposed to the bigger picture of ‘race.’ My neighborhood friends were very diverse, so I thought diversity was relatively normal. There were my sisters and me (Mexican), two kids from up the street (black guys and their younger sister), two white guys, two Asians. We even started a little neighborhood club we called KFC (kids fun club). We would ride our bikes around and do car washes for our parents.
Before climbing I was honestly naive about many things. My dad never taught me to preserve nature. Not that it’s his fault, we just didn’t know any better. The more I started climbing and hiking, the more I learned about picking up my trash and other peoples’ trash, to not step on plants, stick to the trail, conserve as much now so one day my children’s children will be able to see what I once saw. So I hope that when I am outside I don’t offend people when I tell them not to crush the brush. But really, I do what I think is right and speak my mind when I see bad ethics. I’ve been taking new climbers outside and I have to teach them to not leave a mess, which is the first step we all must take when discovering the outdoors. Honestly, this is how all climbers should be – complete and brutal stewards who fight for the Earth, and to set the standards for anyone watching.”
Stay tuned for more features showcasing stories from badass adventurers who may not be represented well in social media and despite upbringings, have found climbing and the outdoor lifestyle. If you know someone whose story you think should be heard, feel free to contact me via bivytales[at]gmail[dot]com!
**Editor’s Note: The title has been edited. It has been brought to my attention that the term ‘Hispanic’ may be deemed oppressive to some, as it represents colonialism and the stifling of Latinx culture and history. I was unaware of these specific implications at the time this piece was published and my intentions were not ill-formed. I have asked each featured woman about their opinions regarding the matter and if they prefer to be identified, in the title of this piece, as otherwise. Each woman has expressed that the term does not offend them and they are satisfied with its usage here. However, I still decided to change the title. I am always happy to explore language in such ways. If you ever come across language that you find politically oppressive on BivyTales, please keep in mind that myself or my copy editors may simply not be aware of its growing connotations (though we try very hard to stay informed!); thus constructive conversations are best for resolving and discussing any issues. I’m ecstatic when the community lovingly teaches me something! Thank you for understanding. – Sara, 07.15.17