First All-Black Expedition Summits Everest
Seven climbers from the Full Circle Everest team reached the peak on Thursday
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On Thursday morning, seven climbers and eight Nepali guides from the Full Circle Everest expedition celebrated on the summit of Mount Everest. Their successful climb pens a new chapter into the 60-year history of the world’s highest peak. Full Circle is the first expedition comprised completely of Black climbers.
Expedition operator Jiban Ghmire of Shangri-La Nepal Treks, the outfitter managing the expedition, confirmed the successful climb with the Himalayan Times.
“The Full Circle Everest team led by Philip Henderson from California has made history as the first all-Black team to stand atop the summit, the highest mountain on earth,” he said.
Among the summit party were Manoah Ainuu of Bozeman, Montana; Kenyan climber James Kagambi; Rosemary Saal of Seattle; Desmond “Dom” Mullins of New York City; Abby Dione of Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Eddie Taylor of Boulder, Colorado; and Thomas Moore of Denver.
Henderson, who lives in Cortez, Colorado, did not climb, and instead directed the ascent from Base Camp. The team’s ninth member, Fred Campbell, from Seattle, Washington, turned back before reaching the top. The team was still descending the peak on Thursday as of press time.
Henderson, a 30-year veteran of the outdoor industry and a former National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) instructor, spoke to Outside prior to the climb about the importance of the expedition. He said the group formulated the idea to ascend Everest before the pandemic shuttered the mountain in 2020.
“We’re climbers—we’re people who like to be outside, and we just happen to be Black,” Henderson said. “We also know that we represent our communities.”
Henderson attempted to scale the peak in 2012 but turned back after falling ill. He also spent several months in Nepal training guides for expeditions on the mountain. Prior to their 2012 expedition, he brought this team to the Khumbu Valley in January to meet their supporting Sherpa guides.
Henderson told the team: “I want you to meet the people you’re working with, and to see their homes and villages, so that you have a connection with the people you’re asking to put themselves at risk so that you can say you climbed a mountain.”
According to the group’s website, this year’s climb was inspired in part by the racial makeup of Everest mountaineers. After approximately 6,000 successful summits since the first ascent in 1953, just ten Black climbers have stood atop the peak prior to the Full Circle expedition.
That disparity is echoed in lopsided demographic statistics for outdoor activities, including visits to U.S. national parks, cycling, and rock climbing.
The group’s goal was to shed light on the barriers that still exist for Black communities to access the outdoors. According to its website, Full Circle Everest also wants to “inspire the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts, educators, leaders, and mountaineers of color to continue chasing their personal summits.”
Despite well-publicized efforts to increase inclusion and diversity, Henderson says progress has been slow.
“When I started working at NOLS in 1994, I was the first Black American person to work there,” said Henderson. “In my job now, I’m the only Black person that works there, 30 years later—that’s the type of burden that I carry.”