Redefining Access

Categories: Perspectives

An abridged version of the speech Shelma Jun gave at the Access Fund's 25th Anniversary Dinner on October 22, 2016, on the next 25 years of climbing advocacy.

Like many newer climbers, I learned to climb at a gym in the city with no idea or knowledge of the magical places that climbing could and would take me. I still remember how I felt the first time I climbed a route outside. The movement, the exposure, the fear and the inimitable communing with the rock itself… I was hooked.

Shelma Jun rock climbing at the Gunks
Shelma Jun at the Gunks | © Chris Vultaggio

I’m lucky to have found amazing mentors – experienced climbers willing to take the time to teach me not only about the technical side of climbing, but mentors who wanted to share the roots of climbing – the history, the ethics, the stories of the men and women who discovered and developed climbing areas, what drove them and how that was connected to me. As I progressed, I found equally stoked climbers, eager to explore, excel and push their mental and physical limits. We supported, challenged and inspired each other, learning from close calls, celebrating summits and commiserating failures over whiskey and dreams of new objectives. Damn, climbing is awesome!

Despite all of this, I still felt unsure whether the climbing community was my “home.” As an immigrant woman of color, I felt that the predominantly white male climbing community at the crag and as portrayed by climbing media did not represent me. I loved climbing but felt disconnected and began to seek something more.

I‘m fortunate to have met some amazing ladies in NYC. We all have our hustles as designers, community planners, artists, riggers, photographers and more but what brought us together was the bond of being women who love climbing. I started Flash Foxy as an instagram account with a simple goal – share photos of the girlcrew with the hope of spreading stoke and inspiring ladies to go out and get theirs.

2016 Women's Climbing Festival in Bishop, CA. February 2016 | © Colette McInerney

The initial couple of likes turned into thousands of followers. Emails, messages and comments followed – women looking for more female partners where they lived, women wanting to transition into the outdoors but unsure of how to take that first step, and well, women just searching for something more relatable to them within climbing. It was then that I realized that this search for a different space in the climbing community was not unique to me and it was this that ultimately led me to create the Women’s Climbing Festival.

Climbing is changing and growing at a rapid pace. 97 new climbing gyms were built in the past three years, with a total of 388 gyms at the end of 2015. A recent survey of over 1,500 climbers found 78.9% of respondents reporting that they’ve been climbing for less than five years. As a result, climbing is facing a mentorship gap – the ratio of available and relevant mentors to new climbers seeking mentors is now skewed strongly to the side of the latter. So how do we ensure that as new gym climbers transition into the outdoors, they are equipped with the technical knowledge and stewardship principles so important to keeping climbing areas safe and open?

As climbing grows and grows in urban areas, you’re also seeing more women, people of color and queer folks who love climbing… future lifers. Within New York City alone, there are groups for queer climbers, climbers of color, adaptive climbers and women climbers. We’re searching for a space within climbing that feels comfortable, supportive and relatable to us. How do we shift climbing media and culture to accurately reflect the changing demographic of climbing?

2016 Women's Climbing Festival in Bishop, CA. February 2016 | © Lizzie Meyer

So… what does this have to do with the Access Fund? When it comes to the idea of “access” and barriers to “access,” the Access Fund has historically recognized the barriers to be the physical gates closing off a climbing area.

As we look forward to the next 25 years of climbing advocacy, I’d like to challenge the Access Fund and our climbing community to consider expanding what we define as “barriers to access.” Could it include representation in climbing media and industry, the breakdown of our traditional mentorship model, high cost of gear, travel and free time or even a cultural disconnect from the outdoors? And if these are the true barriers that our climbing community now faces, does Access Fund need to grow or change as an organization to address those needs?

The climbing community is truly an amazing one filled with passionate, driven caring folks and I’m so happy to be a part of it. I’m confident our community is strong enough to look honestly and critically at ourselves and work towards making climbing as accessible as possible to anyone who loves climbing!

WCF_SashaTurrentineBy Shelma Jun
Shelma is the founder of Flash Foxy and creator of the Women's Climbing Festival. A California native currently based in Brooklyn, Shelma's writing has appeared in Climbing Magazine, Outside Online and other publications.

Blog Comments

Shelma's presentation at the Access Fund's 25th celebration was articulate, passionate, humorous and timely. It's only by recognizing the barriers that prevent people from joining the climbing community--color, race, disability, religion, sex and sexual orientation--that we can even begin to open doors to all.

As one of the founders of the Access Fund and a board member for 13 years, I worked tirelessly to keep the organization focused on keeping climbing areas open and to say no to other, distracting "opportunities". There's not enough money in the bank or time in the day to dilute the critical mission of protecting access to climbing areas.

Diversity should be adopted as a core value of the Access Fund, one of the legs of the stool upon which our mission sits, right along side conservation and stewardship, education, public policy, and support for local access organizations.

But many small non-profits have been killed by confusing a good thing with a mission-critical thing. Leave those good things to organizations like the American Alpine Club and Flash Foxy. Celebrate and support them in their efforts but keep your mission focused on what you do best: keeping climbing areas open.

With the utmost respect,


#accessfund #americanalpineclub #flashfoxy

Posted by: Malcolm Daly | October 31, 2016 at 09:10 AM

Malcom is SPOT ON.

I will add, the fewer people at outdoor crags, the better. It may be a tough pill to swallow, but there is just not enough to go around. All the local SoCal crags are getting trashed and the anchors are all getting top roped to shreds.

Let the gym climbers stay at the gym. The outdoor climbers have enough to worry about without babysitting.

Posted by: Outdoor Climbers | November 01, 2016 at 10:43 AM

I COMPELETLY disagree with Ms Jun's assertion that the Access Fund should expand its' cause into social activism!!! As mentioned in a former post TAF has limited resources and needs to be laser-focused on their primary goal of protecting physical access to outdoor climbing areas. As outdoor equipment manufactures continue to promote climbing for their bottom line profit, climbing areas around the country are becoming more and more impacted. With increased use comes increased distruction . . . large lines form at crags, routes become polished and insanely chalked up, trash increases, erosion increases, ambience is lost, etc, etc. I also take offense to her small-minded insinuation that since most climbers are white males that this is in some way a limit to others who don't climb but may be interested. These are your own prejudicial limits, please don't bring these silly notions into the climbing world and to The Access Fund. We are all climbers here, and distinguishing between race, gender, nationality, etc., only sets the stage for the proverbial "us vs them" battles that we already see too much of in the press!!! I will not donate money to TAF if it gets bullied into taking on naive and immature idealistic social projects.

Posted by: David | November 16, 2016 at 02:43 PM

I have to agree with Malcom, David, et. al. The AF is dedicated to opening and keep crags open to all climbers regardless of race, color, religious creed, national origin, ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, age, genetic information, military service, or disability.

By Ms Jun's own admission, she has been very successful at starting a website and organizing a climbing festival to further the cause of her social issues. I don't see a need for the AF to get on board and am concerned about the impact on the AF's already limited resources if it decides to start getting involved in social issues.

Posted by: Bruce | November 17, 2016 at 10:40 PM

Seriously!? An immigrant, a woman, and colored!? Wow, the horror! Please give us all a break and spare us from the self-pity identity politics. Augh! I have to ask; why did the AF waste it's time and my money inviting and listening to a person who obviously needs professional therapy (seriously) rather then our hard-earned money. There was nothing thoughtful, humorous, or timely about her speech. It was divisive and self-serving. I've been climbing all over the world for almost 20 years and have never felt excluded or not welcomed among climbers of any race or gender, anyplace . . . as a women. Come to the crags as a human being and a responsible person and you will be welcomed by all.

Posted by: Msxzzz | November 20, 2016 at 01:41 AM

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