Group of climbers aim to be the first all-black team to climb Mount Everest

Members of the Full Circle Everest team pose for a photo on Mount Rainier earlier this year. Next year, the group members hope to become the first all-black team to reach the top of Mount Everest. Image: Philip Henderson

Only 10 blacks made it to the top of Mount Everest.

Now, a team called Full Circle Everest is hoping to become the first all-black group to climb the world’s tallest mountain – and in doing so, inspire more blacks to spend more time outdoors.

Full Circle Everest is a crew of nine climbers. One of them is Philip Henderson, 58, an outdoor enthusiast and mountaineer with over 30 years of experience.

After an injury prevented him from playing traditional sports, Henderson said, “I realized that, you know, life is short. You should do whatever you want to do with a living.”

The idea of ​​attempting such a feat arose organically during a conversation between Henderson and other black climbers, he explained in an interview with NPR. The team eventually grew to seven men and two women, aged 25 to 60.

Next year, the team will be attempting what a few thousand people have achieved: reaching the top of Everest.

It is 29,032 feet tall and climbing is not a task to be taken lightly; hundreds of people is dead on the mountain and sometimes even their bodies do not return home.

But the Full Circle Everest team is very experienced. During their individual climbing careers, they have all reached heights of over 20,000 feet and are well versed in high altitude climbing. Some have climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua, and Mount Denali, the tallest mountain in North America.

For this group, Everest was “a good next stop,” said Henderson. So intimidating.

“I’m nervous, but it’s not really nerves. It’s just a daunting task,” Henderson told NPR. “I tell people all the time that climbing Everest is a slow process, but the process doesn’t start when you get to the mountain. We’re doing it now… the preparation you have, l ‘training, team building. “

The Full Circle Everest team is spread across the country, from New York to Florida to Colorado, where Henderson lives. They meet every week on Zoom, to connect as a team, and they train alone while waiting.

But how do you prepare to climb the highest mountain in the world?

The best thing you can do is get used to carrying weight and doing it at altitude, Henderson explained. But it’s hard to recreate; The Everest base camps – sites at the base of the mountain where climbers can stop for refueling and rest – themselves stand at around 17,000 feet.

“[You do] as much as you can. It’s about spending long days standing, in the cold, with weight on your back and at altitude if you can, in any way to simulate that, ”said Henderson. “But there is also the mental training. There’s also strength training, core training. ”

“I really believe in cross training and a lot of different things, but there’s no substitute for just going to the mountains and hiking,” he said.

Philip Henderson (right) and Ryan Hudson on a Denali climb in 2013.

Philip Henderson (right) and Ryan Hudson on a 2013 Denali climb. Image: Phil Henderson / Philip Henderson

Full Circle Everest aims to inspire

The Full Circle Everest team is hoping to make history next year, but it’s not just about the climb itself. Once the group set their sights on reaching the top of Mount Everest, another secondary aspiration began to take shape that each of them could relate to: to inspire other black people to explore the outdoors. .

“We are all black… there is a lack of representation of blacks in mountaineering and high altitude mountaineering,” said Henderson.

“There are so few of us at this level that it is our duty, in a way, to bring this to our communities, to our young people and to talk about the benefits of being outside and connecting with the community. nature and to have a healthy lifestyle throughout their lives, ”he said.

Statistically, there is a huge racial gap between the people who most often enjoy outdoor spaces and participate in outdoor activities. Nearly 70% of visitors to national parks, forests and wildlife sanctuaries are white and black people visit these sites the least among all groups, according to one National Health Foundation report.

But the reasons are far from simple. Racism is a factor: Due to segregation, black people have historically had to feel unwelcome and even unsafe in many public spaces, such as one of the report underline.

Blacks are also less likely to have access to quality parks. Parks serving “non-white” populations are statistically smaller and more crowded than those serving white communities, according to one. report 2020 issued by the Trust for Public Land.

But access to parks and nature is particularly important for children. Some experts have speculated that if a person doesn’t have a lot of experience with nature as a child, this trend should continue into adulthood, according to the Resources report.

But communing with nature doesn’t have to start with mountaineering. Getting outside can mean bird watching, taking a simple walk in the park, or hiking, Henderson explained. He advises trying different things to see what you like.

For those looking for a community, there are a number of groups for blacks interested in exploring the outdoors. Afro outdoors helps black outdoor men and women connect and date across the country. Black outside aims to “diversify [the] outside. “And Black Girls Trekkin ‘ inspires thousands of black girls and women to get out and connect with nature, and with each other, every year.

The climbing group’s goal of inspiring their community is exemplified in the name Full Circle Everest. Like his website explains, the first American group reached the summit of Everest in 1963, the same year that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have A Dream” speech. Reaching the top would be a complete time for them, and they hope it is the one that inspires other black people to achieve their goals, whatever they may be.

“It really represents people who take what they’ve learned, their experiences and their skills and pass it on to people who have a passion to do some of those same things,” said Henderson. “So you can really fit this whole circle concept into almost anything.”

The group will travel to Everest next year, during the main climbing season in April and May, for a grueling 60-day effort. In the meantime, they are raise funds to support their efforts and document their journey through Instagram and Facebook.

Once they’re done, the outdoors will be a more inclusive place, according to their GoFundMe page.

As their statement says, “Everest is not the end goal, it’s just the start.”

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