A group of local rock climbers used a system of pulleys and ropes — and a canoe — to fly a Black Lives Matter flag and a rainbow flag high above New Hampshire’s Mount Washington Valley over the weekend, a jaw-dropping demonstration they said was done in solidarity and support of inclusivity within the outdoors community.
Freddie Wilkinson, who helped organize the event with around two dozen other people, said the group arrived at Cathedral Ledge — considered by many to be a mecca for both rock climbing and its panoramic views — around 5 a.m. Saturday to get things underway.
Using their collective climbing expertise, the group rigged a series of lines across the large gap in the popular cliff to display the two flags. Later, they used a large canoe that was affixed to their secure setup to ferry themselves between the two points of the mountainside, and make sure that the flags remained prominently displayed some 350 feet above the ground.
“It seemed like an opportunity to make a statement and start some conversations,” said Wilkinson, 40, of why they decided to carry out the demonstration at that particular spot in the mountains. “It was a sign of support and inclusion, and a way of welcoming folks to our local outdoors."
Wilkinson said using a canoe suspended in the air was a throwback to a similar Tyrolean traverse — the type of rope setup across the ledge — done by climbers in the 1980s.
“It’s an inside climbing joke,” he said, adding that around 18 people sat in the canoe throughout the day. “The climbing community tends to embrace a lot of shenanigans.”
But as the day went on, the canoe ended up serving a more practical purpose: It allowed the group to tend to the flags when they got wrapped up on the line due to updraft winds, he said.
A series of photographs of the flags flying in the breeze were posted to Facebook Saturday by Josh Laskin, another one of the group’s participants.
A few of the pictures showed two people wearing life vests while sitting in the canoe, seemingly floating in the air above a carpet of green forest. A third picture featured the sun shining from behind a distant ridge line, casting rays of light onto the flags.
Laskin said on Facebook that the outdoor spectacle grabbed the attention of hundreds of people Saturday, sparking conversations about what looked like a death-defying stunt as well as the group’s intentions for flying the flags.
“Hundreds of tourists in New Hampshire’s Mount Washington Valley gazed up in awe as a group of hooligan climbers paddled a canoe hundreds of feet in the air, proudly flying flags in support of equality,” Laskin wrote on Facebook Saturday. “And hopefully, just one of those people I spoke with today will spend tonight thinking about the message behind today’s display.”
It also grabbed the attention of people online. By Wednesday, the stunning images of the demonstration had been shared roughly 2,200 times, and racked up more than 1,000 comments. While some of the responses to Laskin’s post criticized the group for using the outdoor space to display the flags, people were largely supportive of the action.
“This is an outstanding display of humanity and solidarity,” one person wrote. “Thank you so much for creating this beautiful moment in a troubled world.”
Wilkinson said the criticism, however, should be part of the conversation.
“It’s clear that those flags draw intense reactions across the spectrum. I think everybody should just be talking about that — why do people think those flags are a political statement?” he said. “Personally, I don’t see them as a political statement, I see them as a civil rights statement.”
The flags stayed up for roughly 12 hours Saturday. Organizers said they had a brief interaction with a law enforcement officer while they were up, but the conversation “was super professional and the outcome positive,” said Wilkinson. The climbers packed up all of their belongings at day’s end, and left no trace behind — besides the pictures online.
Kelsey Rex, a 27-year-old New Hampshire resident and climber who was also involved with the demonstration, said while the display has created dialogue within the community, there’s more that needs to be done to advance conversations about inclusivity and supporting marginalized groups.
“Moving forward, our small mountain valley needs to work to . . . amplify voices of people of color and really work on creating a safe and inviting and welcoming community,” she said. “We have a lot of work left to do, and it’s really critical that these are everyday conversations.”