Meet the group that’s on a mission to make climbing — and the outdoors overall — more inclusive as they take on the world’s highest peak in April.
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full circle everest black mountain climbing group
Credit: Full Circle Everest/The North Face

For most climbing pros and enthusiasts, ascending to the top of Mount Everest quite literally represents the pinnacle of their climbing career. Standing tall at 29,032 feet, the highest summit in the world is located in the Himalayas, between Tibet and Nepal. Some 6,000 climbers have ever reached its summit, according to respected Everest chronicler Alan Arnette, but the lack of diversity among them is striking: Only eight Black people have been among the exclusive group, ever. But one team is on a mission to grow that number by at least 11 this April 2022.

Full Circle Everest is a group of experienced Black climbers and outdoor aficionados, many of whom have dreamt of summiting the famous mountain for years. In early April 2022, they will become the first all-Black team to take on Mount Everest. The group aims to highlight the barriers that still very much exist for Black people in accessing outdoor activities such as mountain climbing. They want to increase "the representation of who is active in the outdoors, contributing to changing the narrative of who can climb Mount Everest, who can learn mountaineering skills, who can find peace and joy and challenge in outdoor spaces," says Full Circle Everest member Rosemary Saal. (BTW, L.A.-based group Hike Clerb has a similar mission focused on making hiking more accessible for BIPOC.)

Considering the costs associated with transportation, equipment, and Sherpa support (which involves preparing the route for the arrival of expeditions and guidance throughout the journey, helping ensure a safer climb), raising the funds needed for an expedition like this one represents a huge barrier in itself. The average price of the adventure costs at least, $40,000 to $50,000 per person, although some folks might pay up to $160,000, according to Arnette's website. Through GoFundMe, Full Circle Everest has raised over $170,000 as of publication, and obtained hundreds of thousands more in extra funding from community donations and sponsors, including The North Face, according to CNBC.

Although cost and safety are huge considerations for anyone wanting to climb Mount Everest, the narrative surrounding what Black people can and can't do is insidious enough to prevent many people from trying out certain activities, says Saal, who repeatedly hears sentences such as, "​​Black people don't swim," "Black people don't ski," or "Black people don't go camping," whether from within Black communities or not.

For Saal, this attitude stems from a number of factors, including the history of alpinism; mountaineering grew in popularity when Black people still weren't considered full citizens in the United States and "there were more clear barriers written into law that were holding Black people back from being able to engage in outdoor spaces," she says. And while some progress has happened since then, representation within the outdoors isn't there yet. Saal cites the covers of mountaineering magazines or ads for outdoor equipment, for example, which feature almost exclusively white climbers. "It can be so subtle, and it can be so influential on how people view these spaces and these sports," she says. (Related: The Outdoors Still Has a Major Diversity Problem)

full circle everest black mountain climbing group
Credit: Full Circle Everest/The North Face

Since Philip Henderson first began forming the group around 2018, its members have been able to get together for several expeditions, including one to Mount Rainier, Washington and one to Nepal to familiarize themselves with the landscape. Individual members — 10 of whom live throughout the U.S. and one of whom is based in Kenya — have also been preparing, in Saal's words, "physically, mentally, and emotionally" however they can in their local environments, increasing their fitness and endurance to take on the challenge.

Climbing Mount Everest is, of course, a dangerous undertaking, but Saal says she feels as ready as she can be. "On one hand, I'm almost wondering if there will always be a part of me that feels a bit unready…but I'm feeling real good on an individual level, as a team, [with] where preparation is at and all the work that we're putting in to be ready," she shares. (Related: How Rock Climbing Taught Me to Trust Myself)

"Yes, it's cool that it has been dubbed 'the first Black expedition to make an attempt [at summiting] Everest,'" she says. "And it's not only about being the first anything, it's not only about the mountain itself, it's so deeply rooted in community — whether it's the community of this team, [or] our guides, our porters, the indigenous Nepalis and Sherpa people that we will be spending time with." 

And of course, the hope is for this project to be much bigger than just this one expedition; it's about "having an impact on the Black community at large, the outdoor community at large — and alongside that, just joy and adventure are core foundational aspects of this project," says Saal. "We're not here to prove anything. We are just a group of Black people who enjoy and find joy in the challenge of these environments and want to increase the representation, and therefore the access to those places."

You can find out more about how to support Full Circle Everest on the group's website, and you can donate to the project directly on there or via GoFundMe. But if you ask Saal, sharing the group's mission through social media or simply by talking about it with your friends and family can also go a long way because that's what this project is really about: community.