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Roping up with Deanne Buck

The Camber Outdoors exec steps into American Alpine Club leadership role, fusing her two life missions.

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Even with a sneaker on one foot and a climbing shoe on the other, Deanne Buck ascended with grace up an overhung, 50-foot wall at Boulder’s Movement Climbing & Fitness on a recent Friday evening. In the empty gym, she and I made our way from route to route, and in evaluating each new climb, Buck would say, “Let’s do this one. Doesn’t it look fun?”

Deanne Buck climbing
Deanne Buck masters a 5.10c at Boulder’s Movement Climbing & Fitness gym.Amelia Arvesen

We loosened up our muscles on a vertical 5.9, then a 5.10a and eventually moved to some steeper routes, still taking it easy on top rope and chatting between tying into the ropes. Outside the gym, the temp began to cool after a warm afternoon for March in Boulder—ideal weather to climb in the canyon. But for 13 weeks, a tear to Buck’s plantar fascia during a day of bouldering has kept her from real rock and her other love: running.

Being forced to take time off was devastating to Buck—who’s fueled by the outdoors and whose energy is endless. But finally getting to take off the boot and climb was a huge relief since she needs a physical outlet for all that vigor.

Quick to say yes to an on-the-wall interview, her delight in maneuvering the problems dotted out in holds and foot chips, even plastic ones, was apparent. That infectious energy—along with her commitment to equity and access in the outdoors—made her the top candidate when the American Alpine Club (AAC) started mulling who to choose as the new board president.

Deanne Buck, right, lobbying with the American Alpine Club in an undated photo. Courtesy

Steeped in advocacy work

For just three months shy of six years, Buck has led Camber Outdoors as executive director. The organization, formerly Outdoor Industries Women’s Coalition, is dedicated to achieving equality for all women in the outdoors

Before diving into that role, Buck oversaw the Adopt-a-Crag program at the Access Fund from 2003 to 2007, and cultivated partnerships with land managers and climbing organizations to keep treasured areas open to climbers. During those years, she climbed like a maniac, traveling to a new climbing area every few weeks, such as Joshua Tree, Red Rocks, Chattanooga, where volunteers shared with her their favorite crags during days roping up. Despite leaving a decade ago, Buck continues to work with the Access Fund. As an example, one of the staffers was climbing at Movement the same afternoon and congratulated Buck on the new appointment.

In 2010, Buck joined the AAC’s Governance Committee. In those last eight years, Buck has proven herself as a dedicated member, devoted to the climbing organization’s vision of inclusion, says AAC CEO Phil Powers. While the board was excited to announce that Buck was the second female president following Alison Keith Osius, Powers had a different take.

“I think it’s much more important to lead with, we elected the right president regardless of background or gender,” Powers says.

As the head of Camber and the AAC board, Buck has a lot on her plate. But in talking with her last week, her passion for both roles smoothed over any anxiety she might have about being a double threat. She said the constituency base and mission of the two organizations are more blended than many realize.

“We’re both trying to lean into and understand the competencies that we need as organizations to be relevant to all women and all people,” Buck says. “What are the intersections of identity—race, sexual orientation and gender identity—and how does that affect opportunities that are presented to women in the workplace?”

As for the AAC specifically, Buck said, “The thing that we really talk about a lot is organization’s fabric of inclusion. We made a deliberate decision in the strategic process that diversity was not going to be a separate priority, it’s actually part of who we are as an organization and it needs to show up in every vital objective.”

Deanne Buck, Executive Director, OIWC
Deanne Buck enjoys all types of climbing, but prefers cracks where she can plug solid gear.Courtesy

Pushing access for all

If Buck hadn’t pulled on plastic holds for the first time on a 25-foot-high wood panel at the YMCA in Omaha, Nebraska, where she went to college, she admits her life would be different. “Climbing in that gym changed my life,” she said. It wasn’t until about six years later that she bought camelots, nuts and the other equipment needed for traditional “trad” climbing, placing gear rather than clipping into already-existing bolts. 

“I met my friend Isabel in Joshua Tree,” she says. “We made a pact that we would only climb what we could lead. We looked at a few 5.6s and neither of us could commit. So our first lead was a 5.0. That was my first real climb and probably the one that I am most proud of.”

My first lead also was a 5.0, in Clear Creek Canyon just west of Denver, at my boyfriend’s urging. We talked about how women tend to fall into this trap of allowing their male partners to lead, rather than taking the initiative and having the confidence in themselves to face those fears and go for it.

Buck told me she isn’t partial to any one type of climbing—she appreciates it all—but she gets the most out of it when her partner is around the same level and in it for the fun. When she ventures outside for a day at the crag, she favors Eldorado Canyon, world-class towers just south of her home in Boulder, or wherever she can plug gear.

“To all women who are passionate about climbing, you should lead early and lead often,” she says. “Integrate leading into your climbing as early as possible.”

Her advice to anyone who considers themselves a climber, beginner to big wall? Feed that passion, consider yourself an ambassador of the community, be welcoming to new-comers, give back, and join the AAC and Access Fund.

“As we’re looking at policy and education at the AAC, which is so important as the complexion of climbing changes and people are introduced to it in gyms, we really want to understand the role that the Club plays in getting people involved,” Buck says. “We want to make sure that when we go to Washington to fight for access to these treasured places, that we have an army of climbers behind us, supporting us.”