The queer climber championing diversity and dialogue in the mountains

The queer climber championing diversity and dialogue in the mountains

In partnership with BerghausBerghaus
A new film from Berghaus explores climber and photographer Hamish Frost’s experiences as a queer person in the outdoors.

Hamish Frost spent much of his life hiding an important facet of his identity from the world. From an early age, Hamish nurtured a deep appreciation for the outdoors. The mountains became not just a focus for his work as a professional mountain sports photographer but also a place of solace. Hamish came out as queer while at university, yet, for years, his anxieties around societal expectations led him to continue hiding his sexuality in the mountains.

Eventually, keeping such an integral part of his identity secret became too much to bear and, with trepidation, he decided to come out to the outdoors community. After receiving such a positive reaction, his previous reservations seemed misplaced. Now, Hamish is keen to encourage conversations around LGBTQ+ experiences and promote visible diversity within the climbing community.

Produced by Coldhouse Collective and directed by Emma Crome and Matt Pycroft, this new film from Berghaus details Hamish’s story and how the outdoors world is in fact a welcoming space for people to be who they are. Huck sat down with Hamish to discuss his adventures in the mountains, his photographic practice and the importance of representation.

What drew you to climbing, of all the outdoor sports?

Initially, what drew me to the outdoors was skiing. I’d learned to ski from a young age and I’d done a little bit of climbing as a kid. But I was actually scared of heights and didn’t enjoy it very much. It terrified me! I gradually drifted into doing more climbing as I’d done a lot of the stuff I wanted to do in Scotland on skis. Climbing was this new thing that every time I was going out, I was getting this tangible progression of improving. The climbing in Scotland is pretty world-class. People travel from all over to climb in Scotland. So, living here, the quality of the climbing and feeling that I’m learning something new each time is something that really excites me.

Climbing requires a lot of focus on the present moment and you capture a real sense of danger in your photography. How do you balance keeping safe with focusing on photography?

When I’m taking photos, my concentration is split 50/50. Half of my brain is thinking about the safety side of things and the other half is thinking about the photography and creativity: where I want to position myself; looking at the action that’s going on; trying to pre-empt what might come up next and putting myself in the best place to capture that. Naturally, I’m not a risk taker. I spend enough time in these environments and enough time hanging off a rope taking photos that I can’t afford to take risks here and there.

In the film, you mention having to come out again in the outdoor world. What was it about this environment that felt hostile to queer people?

I didn’t feel like the outdoor world was hostile at all. If anything, I thought it would be a really welcoming space. The reason I hid my sexuality amongst people I climb with is more down to a broader societal thing. It's generally a common experience that LGBTQ+ people have where you grow up in school and ‘gay’ is still used as a negative word. You’re led to believe from a young age that you’re sort of lesser in some way and you feel you have to go above and beyond to prove yourself. This leads to traits among LGBTQ+ people which are quite common: things like perfectionism or an unhealthy work ethic.

Another reason I put it off in the climbing world is because there’s not really an obvious opportunity to bring it up. Quite often, your mental focus is on the climb itself. That’s a big and scary prospect as it is, so finding the extra mental energy to bring it up and go into a big conversation like that is not straightforward.

How can the climbing community make what’s seen as a heterosexual, male-dominated space more welcoming for people who might also be grappling with their sexuality?

The outdoor world is kind of lacking in visible diversity at the moment, which makes it a harder space to come out in. But I don’t think you can force an increase in that. You can’t make people come out. What you can do is show that the outdoor space is a welcoming place for LGBTQ+ people. Things like the [Berghaus] film help and having more visibly queer people within the community. Also, things like the Climb Out queer climbing festival, which gives a nice safe space for more queer people to be introduced to the sport.

I spent a lot of time not talking about my sexuality or my personal life to people I climb with when really, I did want to. It’s also healthy to talk about my experiences of being queer but I didn’t because I wasn’t out. So in terms of a more micro level, people can be inquisitive and ask queer people questions about their experiences to get them comfortable talking about it. That’s something I would have really appreciated.

If you could go back and give any advice to your younger self, what would you say?

Just get on and do it earlier! Because you'll end up being a happier person as a result. You’ll not have the exhaustion of hiding that part of yourself. I knew in my head it was going to be fine but it's just something I put off. So I would have said just be braver and have the mental courage to have those conversations and you'll be happier sooner.

Follow photographers Hamish Frost and Adam Raja on Instagram.

The Outsiders Project is dedicated to diversifying the outdoors. Follow us on Instagram, read more stories or find out more about partnering with us here.