Braving New Heights with Steffen Jean-Pierre

For Steffen Jean-Pierre, introducing more Black people to the outdoors has been something of a lifelong goal. As a member and self-proclaimed "guru" at Camp Yoshi (a collective that aims to create a space for Black folks and allies to unplug in the outdoors), he is able to connect with others who also share the same commitment to reclaiming space in nature. An avid-climber himself, he gives us an inside look at the physically (+ mentally) challenging sport and simultaneously sparks the motivation to pick up gear of our own and experience it first-hand.

What type of landscape did you grow up in and how did that influence your relationship to the outdoors?

  • I actually grew up in Brooklyn far away from the green mountainous landscapes where I currently seek to spend a lot of my time. Despite growing up in the concrete jungle some of my fondest memories as a child are of the times I spent either vacationing or visiting family in states like Virginia or Florida, we would spend a lot of time hiking through the woods, fishing in the lake, swimming in the ocean. Looking back I think the reason we would do these activities is because it is not only a great way to spend time with your family but also because these activities were free. Whatever my parents' motivation, I loved those experiences and I was constantly looking forward to the next one.

How has your Haitian identity and culture intersected with your love for the outdoors?

  • I am a second-generation Haitian; both my parents were born there. I grew up with my parents' stories about growing up in Haiti. They were constantly sharing stories about climbing mango trees and going down to the river for water. Even though my childhood in Brooklyn was very different from theirs, their stories helped me see myself in those spaces. 

    Haiti is a beautiful Island that has gone through terrible economic and environmental hardship. There is a strength that exists within the Haitian people to be able to persevere despite those challenges. I imagine that I access that strength when I climb.

What first inspired or motivated you to join camp yoshi? What are some of the most memorable lessons from your time with camp yoshi so far?

  • I've known the founder of Camp Yoshi for a few years; he reached out to me when he was starting Camp Yoshi because he knew of my experience in and love for the outdoors. He was looking for people with experience in the outdoors with a background in hospitality. I immediately told him I was on board; introducing more Black people to the outdoors has been my goal for a long time, and Camp Yoshi was a way for me to take action on that goal.


    Being a part of Camp Yoshi has shown me that it is vital for Black people to take up space in these environments that we may not always feel welcomed in. Camping and exploring beautiful locations with Camp Yoshi is something that every person should be able to experience.

If you could climb any landscape in the world, where would you want to go and why?

  • I've got a goal to do some big wall climbing in Yosemite. The views that you get in Yosemite are breathtaking. It is the area where some of the world's most elite climbers choose to climb. And as you can imagine, very few people of color take part in the big wall climbing in that area. So I would love to change that narrative and, in doing so, get more people of color to do the same.

Climbing seems like such a therapeutic sport. What most draws you to this outdoor activity? 

  • I love climbing because it is both a physically and mentally challenging sport. The physical side of climbing is apparent, but people sometimes don't see that climbing is a problem-solving activity. To be a good climber, you need to be in tune with your body, efficient with your movements, and you need to be able to look at a climb and know what series of moves will allow you to get to the top. Each climb is a puzzle that you must solve. This makes climbing a very gratifying sport for me.

What is your favorite/most rewarding climbing achievement?

  • One of the best parts about climbing is that you are constantly being challenged.

    I have predominantly been a boulderer; you don't use ropes when climbing inside or outside in bouldering. The climbs usually consist of a series of challenging moves, and you send (complete the climb) when you get to the top. With this type of climbing, ropes or gear isn't really necessary because the climbs don't usually go higher than 25 feet. 

    Recently I have been trying sport climbing (with ropes and gear). On my first-time sport climbing, I onsited (climbed on my first attempt) a climb with a grade of 5.10a. I was proud of this achievement because I was trying something new, and even though I was afraid of the height, I was able to push myself to do something I had never done before.

I know that one of your other passions and skills is carpentry and woodworking. Has your relationship to nature impacted your relationship to carpentry? If so, in what ways?

  • I took up woodworking because I found the process therapeutic, and it serves as a great creative outlet for me. It is something that I really enjoy, and fortunately, I have been able to start a business around it.

    I find myself looking to nature for inspiration; for example, I built a large shelving unit for a customer. When creating the door, I intentionally wanted it to retain the natural look of a tree.

    Given my love of the outdoors, it is natural that I want to protect these spaces that I frequent. And the way I have found to do that is by looking for ways to reduce the environmental impact of my work. One of these ways is to use reclaimed wood. I am currently building furniture for a new Patagonia store opening in Brooklyn, and for this project, we used 100% reclaimed wood. 

We first became friends when you used to bartend at Ode to Babel. What is your go to drink these days?

  • After years of working at Ode to Babel I gained an affinity for Mezcal drinks. One of my favorite drinks no matter the season is a Mezcal Paloma. It's a great cocktail - if you're in Brooklyn head to Ode to Babel for one.

What are your favorite places to escape to nature in NYC/ your neighborhood?

  • Fortunately, I live across the street from a lovely park in Brooklyn called Owl's Head Park. Taking walks around the park with my partner Janelly and our pup is a great way for us to escape from the hustle and bustle of our lives. 

    One of our favorite activities is to hop on our skateboards and skate around the park while our puppy O'keeffe is chasing us.

What is your idea of time well spent?

  • For me, time well spent Is when I'm doing something that inspires, touches, or moves me or when I'm able to do that for someone else. I also try to make time to try new things, this is how I found both climbing and woodworking.