Of the 10,271 people who put the straps in triumphal shoes over the highest point on Earth, fewer than 10 were black. Next spring, 10 climbers plan to change that: A group of mountaineers from across the US and Kenya have teamed up to become the first lions Mountain climbing expedition to reach the top Mount Everest Since the 29,032-foot-tall Himalayan giant was first scaled in 1953.
Says Philip Henderson, Commander Full Circle 2022 Expedition. “The other part – we can climb other mountains in the Himalayas – it’s a test. It’s a piece of experience in someone’s mountaineering career. It’s about the Sherpas and working with them. She shares that connection with other American climbers who haven’t been to the Himalayas.”
For the Everest climb, Henderson, 58, from California, who now lives in Colorado, will accompany Abe Dion (Florida), Manoah Aino (MT), Eddie Tyler (Colorado), Thomas More (CO), Fred Campbell (Washington). Demon (Dom) Mullins (New York), Rosemary Sall (Washington), and James Kagambi (Kenya). Their 70-day trek beginning in March 2022 will follow the standard path of the mountain (southwest ridge), as they advance from base camp at 17,598 feet and ascend 11,434 vertical feet to reach the summit, using bottled oxygen from Camp 3 and what above.
In 2012 Henderson attempted Everest and made it to Camp 3 only to get back up again due to bronchitis. If successful, this next trip will see him reach the summit and, for the first time, be accompanied by other black and brown climbers.
“I enjoy every step I take in the mountains,” Henderson says. “Wherever he takes me, he takes me. I have been to East Africa (Kenya and Tanzania), Nepal and Chile. I will be working outdoors after 30 years next summer.”
Henderson might never have chosen his adventurous path had it not been for a football accident that left him temporarily paralyzed during his early twenties. For three long minutes he felt nothing under his neck, long enough that he was afraid he would never walk again. At first, just getting it out his door was all he could muster. Then it branched out further – first over the slopes of nearby hills, then the peaks.
Henderson came up with the idea of returning to Everest during the annual Ouray Ice Festival in Colorado, where he was studying at a clinic. “I ran into Fred Campbell and someone started talking about Everest, then Manoah Ainu approached the corner. There were three of us. I had never climbed with three blacks before, especially in the outback.”
The trip grew from there, turning into the Full Circle 2022 trip with the goal of “permanently changing the future of mountaineering on a global scale,” according to them. GoFundMe. It will “display the perseverance and strength of these climbers and highlight the barriers that remain for underrepresented communities in accessing the outdoors.”
According to the American Alpine Club, only one percent of climbers are black. That’s the annual percentage of Yosemite National Park visitors who are black, says Shelton Johnson, one of three (ever) black rangers in the park.
“It’s a sense of apartheid because there is a legacy of apartheid in our country,” Johnson says. “When someone asks me why people of color don’t visit national parks, you have to remember something. We came out of a history of exclusion, rather than inclusion, and segregation rather than inclusion.”
In May 2022, Henderson and Full Circle Expedition’s Everest Show will mark an important step in the other direction and a new chapter in the legendary mountain’s history.
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