C L I M B I N G N C O L O R
Kenny is a Portland based climber and advocate for diversity in climbing. High balls are his favorite way to practice mindfulness and challenge himself physically and mentally! Watch this space for everything from epic climbing adventures to tales from your local crag.
Name: Kenny Hamlett
Occupation/Profession: Billing Analyst
Hometown: Tacoma, WA
I grew up in Washington state, went to the University of Idaho, transferred to Utah State then moved to Oregon. The PNW is definitely the best part of the US. It has the most: ocean, mountains, desert—whatever you want!
Adventure Sport: Climbing
How did you get into climbing? After I graduated I went back to Utah State to visit friends and they invited me to go climbing. I went and hated every second but I loved how scared I was. It was so demanding: both mentally and physically exhausting. I loved being able to push myself. I loved every second of it. After I got back to Portland I bought climbing shoes and joined a gym.
What type of climbing (sport, trad, bouldering)? My first experience was on ropes outside. I didn’t have any climbing friends yet because I had just moved to Portland. So I switched to bouldering at a gym until I met people. Right now I usually do a mix of lead sport and bouldering. Basically, any climbing I can get I’m going to do. My favorite is probably high ball boulders. The sketchiest version of climbing. Really heady. I feel more calm when I’m doing that. Even more than lead climbing. It’s more relaxing. I can get to a zen state of mind a lot faster.
What are your goals? Lately, the goals have been to keep pushing grades, get stronger, be a better climber. A lot of my focus has also been on outreach. I’ve always wanted to be a mentor for other black boys. I was hanging out with Chris [from Lost in Portland] and he was talking about his podcast and where he was going with it. I was looking for ways to do outreach. We talked about how we want there’s a lot of discussion surrounding diversity in the outdoors but there’s not a lot of outreach within the community. My goal is to develop a mentorship program and work with kids. I’m in the process of making my own non profit and building connections with other like-minded organizations.
What does climbing have to offer minority youth?
I can share what I’ve learned from the sport. Climbing has changed my life. I’ve learned to be able to push myself harder, physically and mentally. It allows for a space to really get to know yourself and test your limits. Through the sport, I’ve had adventures and seen new places and new things and really opened myself up to new experiences. If I didn’t have climbing I wouldn’t have gone to Smith State Park or ended up in Ireland. I climbed on the west coast of Ireland in Doolin. I literally climbed boulders that dropped away to ocean and white capped waves splashing up at me.
If I had never started climbing I wouldn’t have been open to those kind of adventures. Another great thing about the sport is community and friendship. My buddy and I were talking the other day. We both have friends we’ve know for the longest time and that’s one type of relationship. Then there are people you meet and climb with for one day and you can end up being so close to that individual because you’re putting your life in their hands. You get really close. The community is so welcome, it’s really amazing. So much about climbing is positive.
What do you enjoy most about the sport and community? The trust system is really big. It comes really quickly. Trust can be broken instantly and takes a while to get back but mostly it’s there. After all, you’re putting your life in someone else’s hands. You could easily take a gnarly fall. So it’s really important to build and maintain trust.
My favorite thing overall is the mental aspect: I’m the type of person who’s mind is constantly racing and running but when I climb I don’t think about anything. Just this move and that move. And this move and that move. You can really clear your mind.
What is it like being a Black Man in a sport that’s not incredibly diverse? How has that shaped your experience? Are your goals any different because of it? I think in the Pacific North West there’s not as much diversity as there should be or could be. It’s actually not really that diverse at all. I think I’ve kind of gotten used to it. I pay more attention now while I’m at the crag. I get a little excited whenever I see another Black climber out there. I will say I think its shaped me to be a stronger climber. To always push myself. I almost feel like there’s a little bit more to prove.
Van Life? Yeah or nay? Absolutely. My friend had an ambulance and that was amazing. But a short bus is the key to van life. Best kept secret. It’s a hidden gem.