These Climbers Are Making History As the First All-Black American Team to Summit Mount Everest
Climbing Mount Everest is not for the faint of heart... or lungs or any body part, for that matter. More than 300 people have died on the journey and about 6,000 have fully scaled the mountain, according to Reuters. Of those successful climbers, only eight of them were Black.
But if Phil Henderson and his group of eight other Black American athletes are triumphant in their upcoming climb, they'll more than double that number. They'll also be the first all-Black expedition group to successfully summit the tallest mountain in the world.
Their mission is all part of a new project, called the Full Circle Everest Expedition, which was announced at the Outdoor Retailer Summer show in Denver this August.
"I believe this project is important to the development of our team members in their growth in the mountaineering space," Henderson told the Outside Business Journal. "It is bringing forward a greater conversation about Black and brown people in the outdoors and what that means: past, present, and future. Being that our entire team is made up of Black people, it is an important display of leadership, commitment, and teamwork to our community as well as the greater climbing world."
Beyond being the first all-Black American group to climb Everest, the Full Circle team will make history by bringing the first Black American man to the famous Himalayan peak.
According to Outside Business Journal, the team includes North Face-sponsored athletes Manoah Ainuu and Frederick Campbell; Eddie Taylor, a high school teacher; Demond "Dom" Mullins, a combat veteran of the Iraq War; Abby Dione, owner of Coral Cliffs Climbing Gym; James "KG" Kagambi, a National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) instructor with successful climbs of mountains in Africa and Europe; Thomas Moore, a Denver-based entrepreneur; and Rosemary Saal, a NOLS instructor who led the first all-Black American team to the summit of Kilimanjaro in 2018.
"For us as a group, that camaraderie really makes a difference," Henderson, a former instructor at NOLS, told Travel + Leisure. "We're trying to make a point [about representation in the outdoors], but we also have the opportunity as a team to support each other and have that camaraderie on Everest. For most people, especially for Black people, that doesn't happen."
Henderson, who has climbed Everest in the past without summiting, will lead the group of passionate climbers, but this won't be his first time serving as a guide; he previously led an all-Black American group to Mount Kilimanjaro's summit in Tanzania.
The Full Circle Everest Expedition group meets periodically at destinations around the U.S. for both training and team building. They've conquered mountaintops in Montana and Washington, but they're expected to take on their biggest challenge — summiting Mount Everest — in spring 2022.
"Success for us is summiting [Everest], yes, but it's also about bringing that camaraderie back with us," said Henderson, who emphasized the importance of representation and encouraging other people, especially Black people, to push beyond negative stereotypes and try outdoor activities.
"We want other folks to know that they're welcome here [in the outdoor community], too…Try it. You never know what you're going to pick up on or what you'll like until you try," he added.
Jessica Poitevien is a Travel + Leisure contributor currently based in South Florida, but always on the lookout for the next adventure. Besides traveling, she loves baking, talking to strangers, and taking long walks on the beach. Follow her adventures on Instagram.