All-black team will climb Mount Everest for the first time

Phil Henderson sees the outdoor industry as a cruise ship. It took a long time for the largely white industry to embrace people of color.

But the ship turned. Almost every sector of the industry is focused on building a diverse population of outdoor enthusiasts.

“We just need more propulsion. We need more power, ”says mountaineer Cortez, who helps train guides and expedition planners to the top of the world’s highest peaks. “It’s our help. We prime this engine.

Henderson’s plan to lead America’s first-ever all-black expedition to the summit of Mount Everest will fuel the growing diversity movement in the outdoor industry.

The first American expedition reached the top of the world in 1963, the same year that Dr. Martin Luther King gave his groundbreaking “I Have a Dream” speech. The nine-person Full Circle Everest Expedition aims to be the first all-black American team to climb the highest mountain on the planet next year.

Mountaineers climb the Hillary Stairs to the summit of Mount Everest on May 31, 2021.Sherpa Lakpa / AFP via Getty Images

Henderson has participated in several rock climbing expeditions in Nepal and South America. He taught at the National Outdoor Leadership School. He led an all-African-American team atop Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. For decades, he has been a quiet force in extending the reach of the outdoor industry to neglected communities.

As he kicks off this expedition – starting with the grueling and seemingly endless search for financial sponsors – he has become a much more vocal force for change.

“It’s a little touching for me too,” he says. “I realize and live these things that I have always said are so important and how so vital it is for all of us to be connected to the natural environment.”

A black American has never reached the top of Everest. Eddie Taylor, an accomplished climber and mountaineer, claims that only eight blacks have ever stood atop Mount Everest. The Full Circle team are hoping their expedition, along with a high-level training plan and advertising campaign, will encourage people of color to not only dream big, but just get out there.

“From gardening to bird watching to climbing Everest, the sky is really the limit when it comes to getting out and really understanding the benefits of spending time in nature,” said Henderson.

Taylor is part of the expedition. The chemistry teacher and head coach at Centaurus High School in Lafayette began venturing into the outdoors as a young boy, camping and skiing with his family. He was lucky, he said.

“These are not traditionally things that families of color do,” he said.

A friend invited him to rock climbing when he was a star student of the track at the University of Colorado. Since then, he has been climbing. And for many years now, he has been accompanying his friends and children in the open air. These invitations are “really important,” he says, “but there are only a limited number of people of color who can invite other people of color out. “

With a proposal for a book and film describing the actual expedition to Everest and all the training and work before the team leaves for Nepal next year, Taylor hopes the mission can be an invitation for more. hundreds, if not thousands of children who may never have been invited to participate in outdoor activities.

“It’s the hope, that we give visibility and normalize this experience for black people,” Taylor said.

If all goes well for the expedition and the nine climbers climb Everest, the number of black athletes reaching the highest point on Earth will more than double. But the expedition’s success could resonate beyond the summit.

“We really hope this has a lasting impact on our community,” says Taylor, who, like many black climbers, notices the scarcity of people of color on its local rocky boulders and remote mountain trails. “Maybe this expedition can help change that.”

‘Normalize our place outside’

Misha Charles, an avid mountaineer who has helped bring new faces to outdoor spaces through her work at Outdoor Afro, the American Alpine Club, and soon to be Vail Resorts, considers the Full Circle Everest Expedition to be helping expand acceptance of blacks in outdoor activities. places.

She’s been climbing Colorado’s 14th birthday for years, but she still gets comments from people on the mountain asking if this is her first time. A friendly couple in the Rocky Mountain National Park asked her and her friends if they were on a basketball team. While hiking outside of Boulder, someone asked her what African language she spoke with her friends.

“Overall, people are welcoming and happy to see us there, but at the same time, people are always a little surprised to see us there,” says Charles. “I see this expedition as normalizing our place in the open air. “

Charles considers Henderson to be his “mountain mentor”. He helped her organize her own expedition to Mount Kilimanjaro, even inviting her to his home in Cortez for training hikes and preparing for big mountain climbs.

“He accepted the responsibility of being a mentor, guide and role model for a whole generation of people of color and certainly Black Outdoors,” Charles said. “He is very aware of the fact that he takes us all to the top of Everest and that means a lot to this community and to many of us personally and individually.”

Everest expeditions come with mountains of pressure. There’s not only the physical training required to spend months aloft preparing for a grueling final push to the 29,032-foot summit of Everest, but there’s also the mental aspect of getting through that. time away from family, friends and work. There is also the struggle to gain the support of brands and sponsors.

Henderson and his team have the added burden of fighting for a community traditionally absent from top mountaineering and mountaineering.

“We’re used to this weight,” says Henderson. “It’s like we always have something to prove.”

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