Full Circle Everest ~The Journey Continues

Full Circle Everest ~The Journey Continues

Early this month the Joy Trip Project Reported that seven members of the Full Circle Everest Team successfully summited the highest mountain in the world. On Thursday, May 12, the group including Manoah Ainuu, Eddie Taylor, Rosemary Saal, Demond “Dom” Mullins, Thomas Moore, James “KG” Kagambi, and Evan Green made it to the top of Mount Everest and in doing so their achievement stands to redefine the cultural landscape of outdoor recreation and the environmental conservation movement of decades to come.

The team, led by outdoor educator Philip Henderson, was made up of 9 climbers from across the United States and Kagambi, who became the first Black native of Kenya to reach the summit. The remaining members of the team include Fred Campbell and Abby Dione. Though they didn’t climb past the higher elevation camps they deserve a lot of credit for their part in assuring the safe ascent and return of the team as a whole. Logistical support at basecamp was provided by Adina Scott. The expedition in its entirety was made possible only with the support of the local Sherpa community that included dozens of porters who carried heavy loads of equipment along the narrow trails of the Khumbu Valley for more than 30 miles over 10 days from the town of Lukla all the way to Everest BaseCamp. Every year, Sherpa climbing guides help hundreds of mountaineers up Everest.

The Full Circle Everest team was supported by the following Sherpa and could not have made this historic climb without their guidance: Pasang Nima Sherpa, Lhakpa Sonam Sherpa, Phurtemba Sherpa, Dawa Chhiri Sherpa, Sonam Gaylje Sherpa, Nima Nuru Sherpa, Chopal Sherpa, Chawang Lhendup Sherpa, Tasha Gyalje Sherpa and Amrit Ale. Video and still images of the climb were captured by Pemba Sherpa and Nawang Tenji Sherpa. The story of this historic climb will be presented in a feature documentary film by Rolake Bamgbose and Justice Whitaker.

“It is an honor to co-direct this film. The Full Circle Expedition represents the next step in our lifetime of cinematic work focused on increasing visibility for Black stories and we are thrilled to be producing along with Westbrook and REI Co-op Studios on this groundbreaking and historic project,” said Bamgbose and Whitaker in a joint statement. “This has been an incredible journey, and the relationships that we have with individual members of the team are the bonds that makes this type of project possible. Much like the expedition itself, we are bringing a fresh vision to the world of climbing and outdoor films.”

(Back Row L-R) Demond Mullins, Phil Henderson, Manoah Aniuu, (Front Row L-R) Eddie Taylor, James Kagambi, Adina Scott, Abby Dione, Rosemary Saal, Thomas Moore and Fred Campbell photo by Evan Green

It is critically important to acknowledge that the Full Circle Everest Expedition was achieved through the collective efforts of a vast community of supporters and participants. Funds were raised throughout the outdoor recreation industry from both corporate and nonprofit partners. Plus, as you might imagine, many companies donated some of the best climbing gear, camping equipment, clothing and footwear money can buy. And ordinary people through direct donations and the purchase of logo-ed swag items including stickers and patches (there are a few left) provided the resources necessary to elevate this team of Black climbers to the mountain top. But let’s not kid ourselves. There’s still a lot of work to do as we strive to achieve diversity, equity and inclusion in the outdoors.

“That’s terrific news!” Wrote outdoor industry veteran Kenji Haroutunian on Facebook when he heard that the team had reached the summit. “You’re half-way done!” In mountaineering, a truly successful summit is achieved only when everyone returns home safely to their families and friends. The journey down from the mountain can be just as hazardous and fraught with danger as the climb up. But once you reach the summit and see the view from the top, you realize that there before you is a world of possibilities on the horizon. “I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop,” said Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on April 3, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. “I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.

The following day on April 4th, King was assassinated. The tragedy of his death then as it must now reminds us that despite our fear of hardship or the risk of loss we can draw upon our faith in the promise of a brighter future to continue the journey forward. “With this faith,” King said in his “I Have A Dream Speech” at the March On Washington on August 28, 1963, “we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.”

The in the years that lie ahead we must now continue with the inspiration of this great achievement. The Full Circle Everest Expedition follows in the legacy of King to realize the literal interpretation of his mountain metaphor. Dr. Noelle Trent, the director of interpretation, collections, and education at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis at the Lorraine Motel were King was murdered, believes that this story is another step along the path toward freedom and dignity for Black Americans.

“This moment should be celebrated. These climbers should be respected and hailed as cultural icons for this phenomenal thing that they did and the kind of the space that they’re creating to allow people to reconceptualize how they relate to the outdoor environment,” Dr. Trent says. “But it is in no way a symbol that we’re done. A group of Black people needed to summit Mount Everest to remind us that there are still mountains to climb, to remind us that we can still achieve what seems impossible. But it’s not the end of the journey.”

(Look for for the rest of this story in pages of the Outdoor Retailer Daily Magazine in the Day 3 issue on June 11th)

As we head into the summer season this Memorial Day weekend we can begin to envision other ways that we can make the outdoor more accessible to a broader cross-section of the American public. May 25, 2022 marks the second anniversary of the murder of George Floyd and the beginning of an expanded national dialog on the importance of social justice. The deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others in 2020 helped to spur many uncomfortable conversations within the outdoor industry that likely prompted the wellspring of support for the Full Circle Everest Expedition. And to capitalize on this successful achievement we can turn our attention to many other programs and initiatives a little closer to hope.

Black Folks Camp Too is an organization started by outdoor equity advocate Earl Hunter that encourages all people, especially those who identify as Black, Indigenous or people of color (BIPOC), to spend time on overnight excursions in state and national parks. A recent post on YouTube is making the rounds on social media features Oliver “Buddy” Pough, head football coach of South Carolina State University. The local sports icon encourage families with children to camp in the public recreation areas. A comical video titled “Coach Pough Knows South Carolina Parks” creates positive images of the BIPOC community to enjoy activities ranging from hiking to fishing. The online campaign explains the principal message of the program’s logo that Hunter calls the Unity Blaze. “It means you treat everyone, everywhere equally,” says Coach Pough.

Programs that directly engage the BIPOC community create safe recreational spaces where participants can be made to feel welcome in the outdoors and encouraged to thrive. In April of this year the National Park Foundation awarded a series of Park Ventures grants to Black People Who Hike, based in St. Louis, Missouri. These funds will allow the organization to lead a series tours this summer through parks sites at Yosemite, Yellowstone, Great Sand Dunes, Hawaii Volcanoes, and Acadia.

“We are so excited to take Black People Who Hike across the nation,” said founder Debbie Njai. “This national park tour will be a catalyst to our long-term vision – generational health through the outdoors. It is about restorative healing, connection back to the land and changing the narrative.”

Many public and private partnerships are being created to bring more people of color into the outdoors. These organizations realize that the way forward requires the building of relationships that can remove a few of the cultural and economic barriers that limit the ability of communities on the margins our society to freely access natural spaces at federally manage recreation areas.

“The National Park Foundation recognizes that many factors can hinder people from connecting with and being inspired by national parks,” said Will Shafroth, president and CEO of the National Park Foundation. “Through our new Park Ventures program, the National Park Foundation is investing in leaders and organizations that are removing barriers and bringing people together for joy-filled and meaningful experiences outdoors.”

Among those who venture into our national parks and public for the enjoyment nature will become the next generation of environmental stewards. They will discover that these places that they come to love are worth fighting for, worth protecting well into the future. The first all-Black expedition to reach the summit of Mount Everest has been a long time coming. But the successful ascent of the Full Circle Team is certainly not the final chapter in this ongoing story of diversity, equity and inclusion in the outdoors. Now, however, with a clearer view from the mountain top we can better see the many possibilities that lie ahead.