Now that April has arrived, the mountaineering world is once again turning its attention to the Himalaya. In the Nepali capital of Kathmandu, climbers are now arriving in droves and are preparing for the epic challenges that now lie ahead. Amongst them, is an ambitious group of African-American climbers who make up the first all-Black Everest team. But their goals go well beyond just setting foot on that iconic mountain.
Coming Full Circle
The team calls itself the Full Circle Everest Expedition and is led by veteran adventurer and mountaineer Phil Henderson. His travels have taken him on mountaineering expeditions all over the planet, including the Himalaya. Over the course of his career in the outdoor industry, Henderson has been an advocate for more inclusion in climbing, hiking, and other outdoor sports. In 2013 he was part of an all-Black team to Denali and in 2018 he led another squad consisting of all Africa-Americans to the top of Kilimanjaro.
The Full Circle team hopes to find similar success on Everest. As the expedition’s website points out, the first summit of Everest took place in 1953 and the first successful American expedition took place a decade later. It would be 40 more years before the first Black man reached the top. That was accomplished in 2003 when South African Sibusiso Vilane completed the climb. He went on to repeat that feat in 2005 as part of an effort to complete the Seven Summits. Since then, only nine other Black climbers have followed in his footsteps.
The other members of the Full Circle squad include Abby Dione from Florida, James Kagambi from Kenya, Manoah Ainuu from Montana, Fred Campbell and Rosemary Sall from Seattle, Demond Mullins of New York, and Edie Taylor and Thomas Moore from Colorado. Each is passionate about the outdoor and hopes to use the expedition as a way to inspire others to adopt an active outdoor lifestyle.
High Altitude Ambitions
While none of the team members has an 8000-meter peak on their resume, they are all experienced climbers and mountaineers. All of them have climbed above 20,000 feet (6096 meters), with summits of Kilimanjaro, Denali, and Aconcagua on their resumes. Some have been to the Khumbu Valley in Nepal before, making the trek to Everest Base Camp. A journey they’ll all be making soon.
To train for the expedition, the team has been putting in a lot of hard work lifting weights and pushing their cardio fitness. They’ve also been preparing by carrying heavy packs to help condition themselves to the loads they’ll be carrying on the mountain. Recently, several of them gathered in Colorado to climb the 14,271-foot (4349 meters) Quandary Peak in windy and snow conditions. That proved to be a good test run in terms of fitness and trying out their gear as they prepare for their departure to Nepal.
Like many climbers, the team is now in the final stages of their preparation, which means organizing their gear, making last-minute plans, and spending time with friends and family. Soon, they’ll catch a flight to Kathmandu, where they’ll all gather together in the same physical place for the first time. After spending a few days preparing there, they’ll fly to Lukla to being the trek. Once they reach EBC, the real work will begin.
A Season of Promise
The past few years have been difficult ones for the climbing community in Nepal. COVID-19 closed the mountain in 2020 and in 2021 Base Camp became a super spreader event with the virus impacting numerous teams. With COVID cases more under control this year, things look much more promising. So much so, that it could be a record-setting season in terms of the number of climbers and summits. We won’t know for sure until things start to ramp up, but the Nepali tourism industry is poised to get a much-needed boost.
On the North Side of Everest in Tibet, things are much different. Recent COVID outbreaks in China have caused the country to close that side of the mountain once again. There may be a few small teams consisting of only Chinese alpinists, but it will likely remain very quiet there once again.
As always, we’ll be keeping a close eye on the 2022 Himalayan climbing season as it unfolds. That includes following the all-Black Everest team and their efforts to make history. Check out their website and Facebook page for more information and for updates on their progress.
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