Can you guess how many people have successfully summited Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak? About 4,000 people. That’s it.
Now, can you guess how many of those people have been Black? Eight.
Well, that was true up until a month ago when the seven members of the Full Circle Everest Team successfully summited Mount Everest on May 12, becoming the first all-Black climbing team to summit the world’s highest peak.
With their success, they nearly double the number of Black climbers who have successfully summited the mountain in world history.
The members of the team include Manoah Ainuu, Eddie Taylor, Rosemary Saal, Demond “Dom” Mullins, Thomas Moore, James “KG” Kagami, and Evan Green.
But their main intention was to not just make history.
“For this expedition, that was not the main goal, it was a bonus,” said Saal. “The main goal was to be here as a team of Black climbers and increase the representation in mountaineering because there is a huge disparity in the people who participate in outdoor activities.”
There is a stigma in the climbing community that Black people do not know how to climb. So you would imagine this large circle of Black folk might’ve been a shock to other climbers who were at the Nepal/Tibet border.
“Us being there and all of the other clients and climbers seeing us, they know we’re strong as fuck,” said Ainuu.
Full Circle wants to represent a zenith in generational perseverance and showcase the tenacity and strength of these climbers, and highlight the barriers that continue to exist for Black communities in accessing the outdoors, according to their website.
Although the expedition to Mount Everest for this particular group of climbers may have just ended, they hope their journey will inspire future generations of outdoor enthusiasts, educators, leaders, and mountaineers of color to continue chasing their “personal summits.”
Their journey can be proof that any “summit” can be chased, no matter how difficult it may be.
But it took preparation. Phil Henderson, the founder of Full Circle, did not wake up one day and just decide that he wanted to make history. Everyone on the team had been preparing for this journey every time they explored an outdoor activity, whether that’s mountain biking, skiing, or mountaineering.
For someone like you and me who can’t comprehend a mountain that is 29,000 feet tall, there were challenges these climbers had to face despite their experience. Just being at that altitude can cause people to lose up to 20 pounds. Some may assume that with a mountain that tall you have to finish it as quickly as possible, but these climbers had to pace themselves. It can take up to two months just to finish the expedition.
But while this trip was a physical experience they may never forget, just going to Nepal was a cultural experience that will stay with them forever.
“It was a good next step for all of the team members to try and summit Mount Everest,” said Henderson. “But it was an even better step taking them to Nepal and having them learn about the culture and environment and taking it back here and letting other people know, this is well within your reach.”
For many of the members, the relationships they formed with locals were the most fulfilling part of their trip.
“That was one of the most magical things about the whole experience,” said Adina Scott, one of the members of Full Circle. “You will not meet better people and hospitality in that region of Nepal. If you show up and you’re real and you talk with people, you’ll make friends, get invited to people’s houses and stay in touch with people.”
A trip as monumental and historical as this one is sure to have a profound impact on the Black community and Black climbers in the future.
But in Phil Henderson’s words, “The impact that we want is already happening. It was happening before we left to go on this expedition and it’s been happening ever since. We have school children who know the names of all of the team members and draw photos of us on how they want to be climbers. So the impact is already there.”
As Black climbers in the public eye, Full Circle will continue to have an impact and you’ll see many more Black climbers take on the summit of Mount Everest in the years to come.