Only Eight Black People Have Climbed Mount Everest. That Number’s About to Double.

A climbing outfit called Full Circle is about to make Himalayan history

Full Circle is an all-Black climbing team about to scale Mt. Everest
The all-Black team is referring to Everest by its Tibetan name, Chomolungma.
LAKPA SHERPA/AFP via Getty Images

A climbing troupe under the name Full Circle is about to make Mount Everest history.

The group is comprised of nine Black members, and if they all successfully complete their ascent, they would more than double the number of Black people who have summited the world’s tallest mountain. That number currently stands at just eight, out of 4,000 individuals.

Led by founder Phil Henderson, and including Abby Dione, one of the only two Black women in America to own a climbing gym, Full Circle appears acutely aware of the impact their mission could have for Black youth, and the relationship (sometimes nonexistent, often contentions), Black people can have with the great outdoors.

As one member, Rosemary Saal, who is biracial, told CNN: “When I was young, I took my first rock climbing courses, mountaineering courses, whatever. I would tell family members or friends or just different people in my life about what I was doing. And immediately it’s like, ‘Oh, Black people don’t do that. That’s the White side of you. Black people don’t go skiing. Black people don’t go climbing.’”

In recent years, though, Black men and women have steadily worked to dismantle these misconceptions, assuring people of color that public lands, adventure sports and the simple act of a Sunday morning hike all belong to them, too, no matter how many times they’ve been instructed to think otherwise. The work of Faith E. Briggs, a conservationist who ran from New Mexico to Oregon (and made an award-winning documentary about it), or Hakim Tafari, a yogi who leads retreats throughout the American West, both come to mind.

Full Circle has emphasized that their ascent will also try to honor the plight of marginalized people in the Himalayas — for one, they’re referring to Everest by its actual Tibetan name, which is Chomolungma. (“Everest” was the invention of Andrew Waugh, a 19th-century Surveror General of India. He named it after Sir George Everest, his predecessor.) They also plan to pay local sherpas more money than they’re accustomed to making. Entire families are supported by helping foreigners up the mountain, so it’s no small gesture.

As for how the outfit is managing the cost of the expedition, which has long been one of climbing’s most prohibitive barriers, they’ve picked up a variety of sponsors. The North Face, Summit Coffee, Smartwool and Mountain Safety Research are all chipping in. Keep in mind: you can’t climb Everest on the cheap. That’s a tremendous risk. Some try to scale the mountain on $25,000 or less, but in order to do it properly (aka “survive”) you’re looking at closer to $100,000 a head.

Stay tuned for news from the summit. Full Circle arrived in Nepal earlier this month to acclimate to the altitude and will begin the mission soon. In the meantime, you can follow the troupe on Instagram here.

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