Mikhail Martin and his buddies have scaled boulders and crags all over the eastern and southern United States. But they’d never climbed anything like the otherworldly boulders at New Mexico’s City of Rocks State Park. The ancient volcanic rocks appear out of nowhere on the high-desert plain in the southwestern part of the state, around 65 miles north of the Mexico border.
For Martin, 28, and his cohorts David Glace, Pieter Cooper, and Marc Balilo, founders of the Brooklyn-based climbing group Brothers of Climbing (BOC), the trip offered the perfect opportunity for them to try something new. To get there, the crew picked up a 40-foot RV in Albuquerque and headed south. Four hours later, they reached the remote park. “We pulled into a secluded campsite and just unwound,” Martin says. “Other campers there were a little surprised to see us out there, a bunch of guys from New York City, but there was something about our RV—people were friendly and neighborly.”
Experiences like this are what BOC is all about. As Martin explains, BOC started informally five years ago as a way to encourage climbers of different ethnicities to try the sport. “We were hooked on the sport, and we wondered why more people of color weren't. We found it came down to the expense of climbing at a gym, the established climbing culture, and a lack of outreach. We couldn't really do much about the costs,” he says. “But we could make a difference with the culture and outreach.”
They turned Friday nights into an informal BOC meet-up and welcomed anyone and everyone. Then they joined forces with other advocacy groups such as Brown Girls Climb to host events around the country. By 2017, BOC’s outreach culminated in an annual climbing festival in Alabama, which they cohost with Brown Girls Climb. “Last year, some 120 people from 20 different states showed up to climb,” Martin says.
All that gym time and experience with outdoor climbing didn't fully prepare them for the challenge City of Rocks' volcanic rock handed the group. After their day on the rocks, the guys were glad to head home to their RV, complete with a full kitchen, bathroom, eating area, and flat-screen TV. They baked a pizza and set up an impromptu podcast recording studio. Later that night, they passed the time with a rap battle.
The next day's hail and high winds cut short their stay at City of Rocks, so they just put the RV in drive and set off to explore central New Mexico. First stop: one of the famous green chile cheeseburgers from Sparky’s, in Hatch. (“If you’re anywhere near Hatch, you must eat there,” says Martin.) Then they headed north to check out the Very Large Array, the massive radio astronomy observatory made famous in the movie Contact, then cruised back to Albuquerque, where they stopped at a local climbing gym.
“The RV just allowed us to go where we wanted, when we wanted. We didn't have to worry about reservations, check-in times, or even where we were going to spend the night,” says Martin. “For something so big, the RV was surprisingly easy: easy to drive, easy to live in, and pretty easy to park. In the future, we might have to get our own so we can ditch the city and drive around the country to every climbing spot we could find. And of course invite all our friends to meet us along the way.”