Since Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay conquered Mount Everest in 1953, more than 5,000 other people have made it to the top of the world's highest peak—but only around 10 of them were black and just one was a Black American. A group of US climbers is planning to change that this spring. The Full Circle Everest Team, consisting of nine Black climbers, all but one of them American, is heading to Nepal in April in a bid to make mountaineering history and challenge some stereotypes. Manoah Ainuu, a North Face team climber from Spokane, tells People that he grew up skiing and climbing, but he was often the only Black person around and it wasn't unusual for older white people to question his knowledge and experience.
"I think for a lot of us at Full Circle, our place in the outdoors is usually defined as like, 'Oh yeah, the Black climber, Black skier,'" Ainuu says. "But one of the good things about social media, it connected a lot of us." He will be climbing with six Black men and two Black women, including outdoor educator Rosemary Saal, who grew up in Seattle and currently lives in Tucson. "I hear 'Black people don’t do that,' all the time when I talk about my climbing," the 28-year-old told the Washington Post last month. "That only perpetuates the stereotypes. It’s important to change the narrative." In 2006, Sophia Danenberg became the first Black woman, and so far, the only African American, to summit Everest.
The group has mostly trained individually, but they visited Nepal together last month. The oldest team member is the only non-American, 60-year-old Kenyan mountaineer James Kagambi. Team leader Philip Henderson, 58, chose and mentored the group of experienced climbers, which includes members with PhDs in environmental and science fields. "Each team member has the experience to say that Everest is a challenge, but they all have the skills," he says. Another team member, Colorado high school teacher Eddie Taylor, says interest in the effort—and support from mountaineering brands—has picked up significantly in recent months. (Read more Mount Everest stories.)