Photo credit: James Lucas

In theory, public lands and the outdoors are supposed to be a great equalizer—a refuge for solitude, peace and recreation that is open to all people. But in practice, access to nature is unequally distributed along lines of race, class, and income. A report by the Center for American Progress found that people of color are much more likely than white people to live in an area that is “nature-deprived.” And that “nature gap” is amplified when you consider all the barriers to entry for enjoying the outdoors: gear and transportation can be prohibitively expensive, it can be difficult to safely learn to do activities like skiing or backpacking, and the culture of many of these spaces can be exclusive and unwelcoming to beginners—especially when they’re visibly white-dominated.

Menesha Mannaperuma is a Denver-based climber who is working to change that reality. As a founder of Cruxing in Color, she organizes support for other people of color to learn to climb in a welcoming, supportive space. Menesha shares more about how her passion for climbing fed her motivation to fight climate change, and why she gives to Conservation Colorado to protect the places she loves.

Conservation Colorado is committed to closing the nature gap and fighting for a future where every Coloradan has the opportunity to enjoy our beautiful outdoors, regardless of race or income. We are excited to see our work on the Colorado Outdoor Equity Grant come to fruition. This first-of-its-kind program will support organizations that improve access to environmental education and outdoor recreation for Colorado’s underserved youth. Thanks to a bill passed last year, $3 million annually will be directed to help low-income, LGBTQ+, and racially and ethnically diverse youth get outside.


I loved climbing from the first day I tried it. Right away, I started going to the climbing gym and found some mentors who taught me how to belay and lead climb. Pretty soon, I was climbing outside pretty much every weekend that I possibly could. I love that climbing offers a mental challenge—it’s like solving a puzzle. But it also involves pushing yourself physically, as well as just hanging out with friends and being outside in nature. For me, climbing is a great way to unwind from the stress of everyday life. 

Menesha climbing at Maxwell Falls

I lucked into a great group of diverse mentors, and I never felt like I had to change who I was to climb outside. But as I’ve gotten more experience, I’ve started to notice more of the microaggressions that happen constantly. For example, often when I climb with male partners, people automatically assume that my partner is the one who’s climbing the hard grade, or who knows their way around the crag. I’m very knowledgeable and experienced, but very rarely do people ask me questions when I’m climbing outside. Additionally, there can be a lot of gatekeeping within the climbing community around sharing knowledge and what it means to be a climber.

I have a strong climbing foundation and I try not to be dissuaded by these experiences. But I know that for many people of color, the climbing culture can be very exclusive and unwelcoming. I wanted to help make climbing accessible and create an environment that is more friendly to people of color. 

Menesha climbing on “Skipper D,” a boulder problem rated V8 for difficulty in Rocky Mountain National Park.

That’s how I ended up getting involved with Cruxing in Color. My friend Jalen Bazile had started Melanin Climbers of Color as a way for climbers of color in the Front Range of Colorado to get to know each other. When Shara Zaia and I took the reins and rebranded into Cruxing in Color, it grew from a small meetup group to an organization that is dedicated to dismantling some of the barriers for people of color to get into climbing: we still gather socially, but we also fund guided clinics to get people acquainted with climbing outside, provide free gear, and partner with brands and gyms to offer free or highly discounted memberships to people in our community, among other initiatives. 

When I first moved out here from California, it was really jarring to go to the climbing gym and find that I was the only person of color in the room. Now, our events routinely have over 100 climbers of color in attendance. Some of the people who came to our first events and received our gym membership scholarships have fallen in love with climbing, too. They now text me regular updates about their climbing progress, and are getting their friends to apply for our programs and join our events. Some of these people had been interested in climbing for a long time, but only got more into climbing once they discovered Cruxing in Color, which really shows how much representation matters. We’ve been able to see people connect and build friendships and create all these mini-communities within our wider one. It’s been so meaningful to create connections with a group of climbers of color and build that community here. 

A Cruxing in Color meetup on a smoky day in Golden in August 2021

But as much as I’m excited to see this sport I love opening to more people from diverse backgrounds, I’m also worried about the places where I love to climb. As someone who recreates outside every weekend, I can see and feel the threats to our public lands and the changes to our climate. Climbing is a really temperature-dependent sport, and the hot summer season lasts way longer than it used to. Sometimes extreme weather can even make going outside dangerous—I remember in the summer of 2020, a group of friends and I were climbing in Rocky Mountain National Park, and ash from the Cameron Peak Fire was raining down on us. Just last month, I was climbing in the Flatirons and had to evacuate when the NCAR Fire started within a mile of the boulder we were climbing on. I would never expect to end a climbing day early due to being so close to a forest fire, especially this early in the climbing season.

It’s easy to feel hopeless about the scale of the problem of climate change. But when I learned about Conservation Colorado, I was excited to find an organization right here in our state that is fighting climate change and making the outdoors more accessible. One of the best ways I can make an impact is by donating to organizations that are doing the work to change policy and cut climate-heating emissions. I donated to Conservation Colorado through my workplace’s matching program and was able to double my impact. I feel that we need change on all levels, from breaking barriers to the activities that allow us to enjoy the outdoors to protecting our most vulnerable communities from toxic pollution. Cruxing in Color has created a community for climbers of diverse backgrounds to enjoy the sport and the outdoors. As more people get exposure to climbing and see the need to protect the beautiful places we love to climb, I hope that more people will feel agency in the fight against climate change.