Youth Outside | Climbing is for Everyone

In this feature from Mountaineer magazine, learn more about our Mountain Workshops program and hear from students about the transformative experiences they've had while climbing with The Mountaineers.
Placeholder Contact Profile Hannah Pratt
Tacoma Science and Math Institute teacher
May 23, 2023
Youth Outside | Climbing is for Everyone
Neveah stoked to be climbing outdoors for the first time.

I learned how to rock climb through The Mountaineers. Learning to climb this way is empowering because you learn for yourself how to climb safely. As a teacher at the Tacoma Science and Math Institute (SAMI), a public school housed in Point Defiance Park and Zoo, I like to take this empowering educational approach with my students, and one great thing about my school is the requirement that teachers collaborate to co-teach an interdisciplinary class in January. We are encouraged to dream big.

Since my passion is rock climbing, I wrote my climbing class idea on the whiteboard in our community space to see what would come of it. My colleague Brett Knisely, a physics teacher and fellow climber, said he would love to co-teach.

I immediately thought of The Mountaineers. I knew that teaching public high school students how to safely enjoy the outdoors would dovetail nicely with The Mountaineers mission, so in January 2022, I reached out to Sarah Holt, Tacoma Program Manager, to see if it would be financially and logistically possible to bring SAMI students to The Mountaineers.

Sarah suggested the Mountain Workshops program, a decade[1]old program that works with a variety of youth serving organizations to offer customized partner programs that meet the educational goals of the group. We were excited about the flexible, hands-on curriculum designed to expose our youth to transferable outdoor skills and impart a desire to explore and conserve the outdoors. The program provided the opportunity for our students to learn skills applicable to almost anything they’d do for the rest of their lives: communication, planning, overcoming obstacles, teamwork, and more.

We didn’t have the funds to cover the complete cost, but Sarah offered that if SAMI could cover the instructor costs, The Mountaineers donors and grants could cover the difference. We were thrilled, and partnered on 11 Mountain Workshops in January 2022. The class was wildly successful among the students—so much so that we continued weekly Mountain Workshops during the spring 2022 semester for our Action and Adventure class.

The learning didn’t stop there. In fall 2022, I felt empowered by the Mountain Workshops experience to teach a rock climbing class as part of SAMI’s regular course offerings. We climbed at Exit 38 over two Saturdays and spent one weekend climbing and camping at Vantage. For many, Vantage offered a first-time camping experience.

As a queer, Hapa (a Hawaiian pidgin word used to describe anyone who is part Asian or Pacific Islander), Chinese-American woman, I am passionate about creating more opportunities for students from marginalized groups. I want to diversify the climbing community to make it clear that rock climbing is for everyone. Our class prioritized finding guest presenters who identified as adaptive climbers, climbers of color, non-binary climbers, bigger-bodied climbers, and female climbers to share their experiences, and we discussed how to facilitate climbing access to folks at the margins. I enjoyed the opportunity to share what brings me so much happiness and love to think that we are planting seeds: some students may become climbers, may find joy in the outdoors, or may decide they like camping. Mountain Workshops made these revelations possible.

A word from the students

Leo Brownawell

I am a disabled climber. I was born with Brachial Plexus Palsy (Erb’s Palsy) in my right arm and have always had to adapt to activities that would otherwise be effortless with two fully functioning arms. Climbing is one of them. Rock climbing, as we all know, relies heavily on the use of both arms. Reaching above your head to grab the next hold is second nature to most climbers, but for me, doing so is an impossibility. Unless assisted, I am unable to reach even an inch above my head without wildly swinging my arm in the hopes that I successfully grasp that next hold.

IMG_20221201_184459_862.jpgLeo climbing at Vantage. 

When I was first introduced to rock climbing through Mountain Workshops, The Mountaineers welcomed me to the climbing community with open arms and an inspirational attitude. I was shown that I can achieve greatness in climbing. Without The Mountaineers and the relationship it has with SAMI, I may have never proved that to myself. I am grateful to The Mountaineers for making their Tacoma Program Center available to SAMI students. It allowed us to strengthen our community and love for climbing. Due to the Mountain Workshops, I can achieve things I would not think possible for myself.

Neveah Ladson

I had never climbed before and really didn’t know anything about it. I never saw rock climbing as a thing people of color did. I knew no climbers and saw climbing as an affluent recreational activity. Little did I know, The Mountaineers would open the door to new friends and community, a healthy lifestyle, and my favorite way to spend my time. I am fortunate to attend SAMI which offered rock climbing as a new elective. I thought since this was my last year, it's now or never. In the beginning, I was heavily questioned by my friends because a small, multi-racial city girl who wears heels in the harshest weather conditions and enough jewelry to be heard jingling from a mile away isn’t what you may picture when you think of a rock climber.

Neveah climbing Exit 38.jpgNeveah climbing at Gritscone, Exit 38.

Regardless, I took the class and tied myself in. “Just get it over with,” I thought while trying not to feel too embarrassed and forget that I’m trusting someone who I’ve only seen once or twice with my life. I scaled the wall with ease. All the embarrassment I had just went away. The staff cheered us on which got all of us cheering each other on. This person who I’ve gone to school with for four years and yet never talked to cheered me on and reassured me. It didn’t matter who it was, if they were on the wall, we were encouraging them to keep going. I climbed almost every wall that day, and time was the only thing that stopped me.

At The Mountaineers, I was put into a group that ranged from those who had been climbing for years to those who had never even seen a harness before, like me. Now, climbing is my “me time.” When I’m on a challenging climb, my belayer and friends are right there to reassure me. They empower me to keep going and I am able to switch back into my peaceful headspace. I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to rock climb at a place like The Mountaineers where I can always learn new things, connect with my community, and challenge myself by choice.

This article originally appeared in our spring 2023 issue of Mountaineer magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, visit our magazine archive

This article originally appeared in our spring 2023 issue of Mountaineer magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, visit our magazine archive

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