About a year ago, I was part of a team that made history: we were the first all-Black team to climb Mount Everest. Seven members of the Full Circle Everest team successfully made it to the highest point in the world on May 12, 2022. In doing so, we nearly doubled the number of Black climbers who have summited the famous peak, bringing the total to 15 out of about 11,000 total successful climbers.
The goal of the expedition, which was organized by Phil Henderson, an experienced expedition leader and educator, was to demonstrate that everyone has a place in the outdoors and to encourage all people to get outside and find their summit. As an avid climber, being a part of the expedition was an experience I’ll never forget. But what I really took away from the experience was the power of saying “yes.” That’s the message I like to share with others.
The whole Everest trip started with a yes. It was 2021, and I was ice-climbing in Western Colorado—my home state—when I saw something I’d never seen before: another Black ice climber. Turns out it was Henderson, I learned later that like me Henderson was one of the few African Americans to summit Denali and in addition he had led an all-African-American ascent of Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2018. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, only 9% of outdoor recreationalist identify as black and when you specify climbers that number gets very small. If you’re Black or Latino and you search the term “climbing” online, you’re going to see lots of people who don’t look like you, and that can make outdoor endeavors feel unapproachable. Since the success on Everest Henderson has founded the non-profit Full Circle Expeditions, an organization that encourages everyone to see themselves in nature. That’s an important mission.
Me, I’m a high school chemistry teacher and track and field coach, so I love helping kids find success, and I always encourage them to try things outside their comfort zone. The opportunity to be a part of an experienced climbing team making its mark in the Himalayas was too good to pass up, so I said yes. For about a year and a half, our team planned and trained, and raised the funds (and snacks!) needed to make the expedition a reality—Hershey was a sponsor. Then, in April of 2022, we flew to Nepal, and the adventure began.
Supported by a team of Sherpas, we made our way up to base camp, which, itself, is a feat: we hiked 32 miles, gaining about 10,000 feet of elevation. From there, we traversed parts of the mountain that were incredibly cold, like the Khumbu Icefall, where you can actually hear the ice moving and crackling all around you. Then we went through the Western Cwm, a glacial basin that’s actually quite hot. On the day we summited, the air was so thin it was hard to breathe. All of this took place over a month and a half. At times, it was grueling. But what got me through was putting on my pack every day and putting one foot in front of the other.
<Insert photo 1 here>
Now that I’m home, I’ve stayed connected to Henderson, our Sherpa friends in Nepal and the Full Circle crew. I’m fully on board with encouraging people of all backgrounds to try new things. The experience has made me feel grateful that I had these opportunities myself, as a kid. When I was little, my mom got a job on a Navajo reservation in the Southwest. She packed up my sister and me, and we moved from the Midwest to a whole new world. There, my mom’s coworker invited us camping, and that was our introduction to the outdoors. As a family, we started traveling around to national parks and learned to feel at home in nature.
Not everyone has those opportunities. I was reminded of that recently, when Henderson planned a trip for some folks from Oakland, California, to travel to Ouray, Colorado, where we held an ice-climbing clinic. As I was tieing in one of my students, who’s also Black and began lowering him down to start his climb, he said something to me that I’ll never forget: “Just seeing you, and knowing you climbed Everest, I know you got me.”
Eddie Taylor is a chemistry teacher at Centaurus High School in Lafayette, Colorado. An avid climber, you can find him on the rocks before and after work most days.
<Insert photo 2 here>
Sign up for our Newsletter.