Lonely Highs

Story by Ben Bacote
Photography by Joe Klementovich 


I have always considered myself something of an athlete, even as I turn 40 next month, and it’s just as important for me to keep active during the winter, as with any other season. During the New Hampshire winter, which stretches from November until mid-April, recreating outdoors is a necessary balm for me mentally. 

I’m usually chasing steeps for fun on my snowboard, an aging powder hound on the endless search for freshies. Despite rarely seeing people like me on the slopes, on the trails, or represented in the outdoor industry, I persist in championing bold and bright colors—the beautiful things that we can appreciate when we intentionally include more diverse images and voices in snow sports. 

So when my friend Joe, a photographer, asked if I’d try ice climbing with him a few weeks ago, I agreed. It was a warm-for-winter day before the Ides of March when we met in a parking lot in the Notch of New Hampshire’s White Mountains. The sun was translucent through the high stratus clouds. “Perfect for a first time out,” Joe observed. 


man ties into rope for ice climbing


Looking up at that face of ice, I sipped my steaming hot coffee as I listened to Joe talk with familiarity and confidence about each piece of equipment, each with its own unique purpose and distinct design.    

Wearing the gloves, snow pants, harness, and boots I borrowed, I quickly became familiar with the language, positions, and movements I would rely on for the rest of the day—and will in turn pass on to someone else one day.  


Ben at the base of an ice climb


“Am I on belay, Joe?” 

“Yes, you are on belay, Ben. You may climb now.” 

And so, I began my first approach. 

It’s funny how quickly things go quiet when you deeply focus. 

I listened to my breath. I listened to the thoink of the ice axe into the crevices that suggested a solid hold, and the chick or thwiink that meant a weak purchase that might refuse my weight. It was music—a symphony made by correctly positioned hands, wrists, arms, and hips. With each lap, with words of encouragement, and with guided examples from a patient friend, my trust and confidence grew.   


Ben ice climbing


When we took a break for lunch, I mentioned how it was sad that it was mainly our circumstances that made our outing a remarkable novelty. It was testament to the slogan “Gear for Good” that Joe—a vessel of knowledge—was freely dispensing it, and that Cotopaxi, with its bold and bright gear, was supporting our trip. 


Ben and Joe out ice climbing


Minorities, like me, aren't often represented in the outdoor recreation space. Whether that be lack of opportunities or financial barriers, access is also a hurdle for people of color to overcome. Joe and I are friends, who since meeting each other on a hike two years ago, have made it our goal to erase the limitations that race, gender, sexuality, and identification can present in the outdoor space. 


Ben putting on his crampon      

When we center the representation of minorities in winter sports, we radically alter by design the long-held expectations and stereotypes associated with the outdoor industry. Just like that day looking up at the ice cliff before the first lap, I simply must be bold, bright, and intentional in advocating for more minority representation in outdoor winter sports like ice climbing.  


Ben belaying


I believe that whenever we “freely give” as we were “freely given” knowledge, we can help take the harshness out of existence for another. It doesn’t matter who you are or which “bright color” you are. We all can join in the rehabilitation of the outdoor spaces where we recreate to tell richer outdoor stories with fuller representation. 

You don't have to be a savior to respect diversity, to appreciate difference—you can be like Joe. You don’t have to be a billion-dollar corporate brand to make a positive difference in a diverse world. You can be “bold” in expressing yourself. You can bring “bright colors,” and be “intentionally” beautiful, unafraid of what spectrums of light you reflect.      


Ben carrying a rope on his pack


Ben Bacote teaches humanities to high school students and is an activist working for social justice. Learn more about his organization at nhpanther.org and follow him @nhpanthers.

Inspired by the elements, Joe Klementovich tells visual stories about people finding their own inspiration in this remarkable world. Following along at www.klementovichphoto.com or @klementovich