Hip Hop in Climbing: Part II

This article also available as a podcast here.

Part II: The Birth of Climbing

   The hippie movement began in the 1960’s and found its peak in the Vietnam War in 1965. “The vast majority of hippies were young, white, middle-class men and women who felt alienated from mainstream middle-class society and resented the pressure to conform to the “normal” standards of appearance, employment or lifestyle. By wearing their hair long and growing beards (for the men), taking drugs and exploring spirituality outside of the confines of the Judeo-Christian tradition, hippies sought to find more meaning in life—or at least have a good time.”5 Hippies were most notably non-political with a loose philosophy of “politics of no politics.”6 Currently, that would be called out as complacency in the face of injustices happening around them at the time.

   Being made up mostly of white middle class men and women, basic human rights were afforded to them without question due to inherited US structural practices. Policies of the times included redlining, segregation, and even excused murder of Black, Indigeneous, and/or People of Color (BIPOC). While white hippies were trying to drop out of society, BIPOC, most notably Black, were trying to drop in with what is known as the Civil Rights Movement.

   Hone in for a moment to the famous valley of the Me-Wuk tribes in California. Some may know it as Yosemite Valley, CA. It’s the early 1970’s. The first white climbing group in mainstream documented history started the defining road to climbing. They made their shelter Camp 4 next to the historic site of the Wahhoga Village: a place where the local Indigeneous people were forcefully removed from only about 100 years ago.7 These climbers lived full time in the park; a right which had been denied to the Me-Wuk time and time again. This allowance of specific individuals to live long term on the property demonstrated that the parks were made and maintained with white, middle class people in mind.8

   Around 1973-1980 the valley saw a new group coming on the scene: the Stonemasters. They were a white group who developed free climbing and put a national spotlight on the sport of climbing. Fresh off the hippie movement, these climbers engaged freely in drugs, lived in Camp 4, and did not engage in mainstream society’s expectations of white citizens. This is the birthplace of dirtbagging. “I was about that far away from abject poverty.” John Long explains.9

   Although the climbers voluntarily denied themselves the material possessions of housing or convenient city living, they were very easily able to drop back into society with being awarded a job and housing with less obstacles than a person of color who never even left the city.

   The pressing issues for African Americans at the time were many. Nationally, civil activities from around 1960-1969 were in hearts and minds: sit ins across the country sparked by Woolworth’s in North Carolina, the bombing of the Birmingham 16th Street Baptist Church that killed four Black girls, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Stonewall Riots. Not every African American was an activist, however, the activities and news of these events probably caught the notice of almost everyone. It was obvious: from the schools attended, to the segregation policies of public and private spaces, to the jobs kept just out of reach. It was no different in California: the civil rights movement was a national movement. African Americans wanted access to good jobs, funding for schools, a fair chance at housing where they so choose, and freedom to express queerness.

   While the Stonemasters were care-free climbing in the Valley, African Americans were largely not making their way to the park. The 1964 Civil Rights Act was a huge step in desegregation and most notably for intended purposes: prohibited discrimination in federally funded programs (such as national parks). The Valley may not have been necessarily discriminatory in practice, but it was potentially an unsafe space for Black people due to policy.

   In attempting to follow segregated legislation before the Civil Rights Act, some national parks intentionally left ‘colored’ and ‘white’ facilities labeling off of park maps. “…if the parks were clearly marked then people would come to assume that they would be segregated into perpetuity, and he felt that by leaving it somewhat unclear and ambiguous that policy might be more readily rolled back.”10 A notable effort in trying to strike a balance between a policy that had to be implemented yet showing hope for the future.

   And yet, an unclear policy such as this only works in one party’s favor: the privileged white and white passing folk, who could go anywhere without repercussion. Being in a space could mean potential conflict due to being Black. Microaggressions, torture, violence, and even death could happen because of a misstep such as using the wrong campsite, restroom, parking lot, dining area, and shopping center. African Americans at the time relied on the Green Book to navigate to potentially safe spaces during travel to avoid such interactions. The Green Book had 4 hotels/lodges listed for the Valley in the 1957 edition, but no campsites.11

   To further alienate African Americans from the Valley, the 1970 Stoneman Meadow Riots created Law Enforcement Officers (or LEO) to guard and enforce in the park. This publicized clash between white protestors and law enforcement resulted in the creation of this entity. On top of the history of loose policy about where they were welcome, African Americans now were aware of the police carrying firearms present in the park. 1965 saw 1,635,400 total visitors and 1970 saw 2,277,200.12 Less than 1% of all visitors to the Valley were African American. With the elite nature of the climbing groups camped near Wahhoga Village, undoubtedly none were climbers.

   It took more than 35 years after 1970 for the first documented Black women to climb Too-tok-ah-noo-lah (El Cap): Emily Taylor13 and Chelsea Griffie14. With such a rise in interest of climbing in the United States, the historical exclusion of African Americans due to policy and acts of terrorism upon the community nationwide kept the number of climbers minimal. The lack of Black climbers in the climbing community meant a lack of cultural representation) in climbing all over. But this did not stop white climbers from using Hip Hop in their climbing videos.

17 Dec 2020

Author: Crystal Rose H.

Cited Sources:

1. “WATER (IF ONLY THEY KNEW) ft. Mahalia.” YouTube, uploaded by KOJEY RADICAL, 19 Jun 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i6CbtXl2JUM.

2.  Athena, Emma. “A ‘Pretty’ Strong Step.” Boulder Weekly, 9 Jan 2020, https://www.boulderweekly.com/adventure/a-pretty-strong-step/, 13 Oct 2020.

3. Karlo, Kathy. “Welcome to No Man’s Land.” http://nomanslandfilmfestival.org/ 19 Jun 2018

4. “Hip Hop GONE WILD.” YouTube, uploaded by Becca Droz, 23 Sep 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AAUZ3NBFx_w.

 5. Pruitt, Sara. “How the Vietnam War Empowered the Hippie Movement” The History Channel, 18 Mar 2018,https://www.history.com/news/vietnam-war-hippies-counter-culture, 19 Jun 2018.

6. Pruitt, Sara. “How the Vietnam War Empowered the Hippie Movement” The History Channel, 18 Mar 2018,https://www.history.com/news/vietnam-war-hippies-counter-culture, 19 Jun 2018.

7. Alexander, Kurtis. “How the Miwuk Tribe is Reclaiming Part of Yosemite Valley” SF Gate, 27 Apr 2018, https://www.sfgate.com/science/article/How-the-Miwuk-tribe-is-reclaiming-part-of-12866845.php, 1 July 2020.

8. Jacobs, Jeremy P. and Hotakainen, Rob. “Racist roots, lack of diversity haunt national parks” E&E News, 25 Jun 2020, https://www.eenews.net/stories/1063447583, 15 July 2020.

9. Valley Uprising. Directed by Peter Mortimer and Nick Rosen, 2014. 34:46

10. Repanshek, Kurt. “How The National Park Service Grappled With Segregation During The 20th Century” National Parks Traveler, 18 Aug 2019,

11. Johnson, Shelton. “The Green Book” National Parks Service, 5 Apr 2019, https://www.nps.gov/yose/blogs/the-green-book.htm, 7 Aug 2020.

12. “Stats Report Viewer” National Parks Service, https://irma.nps.gov/STATS/SSRSReports/Park%20Specific%20Reports/Annual%20Park%20Recreation%20Visitation%20(1904%20-%20Last%20Calendar%20Year)?Park=YOSE, 12 Aug 2020.

13. Sherman, Leonie. “Climbing Towards Justice” Adventure Sports Journal, 2 Aug 2019,https://adventuresportsjournal.com/climbing-towards-justice/, 12 Aug 2020.

14. Admin. “When You Stumble Upon Your Passion: How Chelsea Griffie found her calling to become a rock climber” Brown Girls Climb, 21 Mar 2018, https://www.browngirlsclimb.com/2018/03/21/stumble-upon-passion-chelsea-griffie-found-calling-become-rock-climber/, 12 Aug 2020.

2 thoughts on “Hip Hop in Climbing: Part II

  1. Once again, great use of researched foot notes and yes “Hippie Counter Culture “was a choice —-being Black, Indigenous or POC was your insurmountable obstacle in attempting to “fit in”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: