SheFly Amplify: The First All-Black Everest Summit Attempt

SheFly Amplify: The First All-Black Everest Summit Attempt

At SheFly, our platform is not just a way to bring you high-performing products. We also see it as an opportunity (as well as a responsibility) to share, educate, and connect our community with other people, brands, and organizations that are doing important work surrounding  inclusivity, representation, and accessibility in the outdoors. This piece is the first in our SheFly Amplify series, a monthly feature celebrating a story, voice, or initiative that we support (and hope you will, too!).

The Full Circle Everest Expedition is the first all-Black team to pursue the summit of the highest mountain on Earth. The Full Circle team, composed of seven men and two women–Manoah Ainuu, Fred Campbell, Abby Dione, Phil Henderson, KG Kagambi, Thomas Moore, Dom Mullens, Rosemary Saal and Eddie Taylor–are challenging the single-narrative often associated with mountaineering. While the covers of magazines and featured stories of winter climbing are often blanketed with pictures of white men, this group of people is changing that. Through this technically advanced and highly symbolic journey, these incredible athletes hope to “inspire the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts, educators, leaders, and mountaineers of color to continue chasing their personal summits” (Full Circle Everest). The Full Circle team will depart for the Himalayas in Spring 2022. 

SheFly Co-Founders Georgia Grace Edwards and Charlotte Massey met with Full Circle team leader Phil Henderson at this year’s Outdoor Retailer Snow Show and were really inspired by the conversation they shared with him.

Why Full Circle?

During Black History Month, it is common to recognize past trailblazers and milestones, but it is also important to celebrate Black Futures, as well. The history of outdoor recreation in the United States is filled with racial discrimination, ignorance, and a lack of recognition of Black and Brown Americans that affects access and equity in the outdoors today. The Black athletes of Full Circle Everest are making mountaineering history, while also defining the sport’s future. 

James Edward Mills, a mountaineer and member of the Full Circle media team, is the founder of the Joy Trip Project and author of The Adventure Gap, a work of nonfiction about the all-African-American expedition up Mount Denali. The book calls out an important reality in the history of outdoor adventure, which is that while many Black Americans have completed extraordinary expeditions, their participation was erased in the shadow of white people’s accomplishments. For example, an enslaved man named York was part of the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1804, but did not receive credit for his contribution or role in the historic outdoor exploration. In another instance, Commander Robert Peary, a white man, was credited with leading the first successful expedition to the North Pole in 1909. In reality, Peary was only the co-leader; his partner Matthew Henson, a Black man, was actually the first person to lay footprints on the North Pole. It took 30 years for Henson to receive the same recognition for the expedition. A more in-depth understanding of these historic experiences can be found in The Adventure Gap: Changing the Face of the Outdoors.

Full Circle Everest’s climb is monumental in large part because so few have come before them. Of the 5,788 individuals who have reached the summit of Mount Everest to date, only eight identified as Black people. In 1963, ten years after Edmund Hillary (New Zealand) and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay (Nepal) summited, the first American expedition reached the peak of Mount Everest. That same year, Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his historic “I Have A Dream'' speech. Forty years later, in 2003, Sibusiso Vilane became the first Black man to summit the tallest mountain on Earth. As a nod to these feats, the Full Circle Expedition considers their path a “full circle” moment for Black History; with a successful summit, the team would immediately double the number of Black climbers who have reached the top of Mount Everest. 

With a lack of visual representation, people within the BIPOC community often have a hard time picturing themselves in the spaces that have historically been dominated by white people. The members of the Full Circle Everest Expedition are looking to change that narrative. Team Leader Phil Hendersen says, "I think it’s very important for us to be visible. If we’re not visible, then younger people don’t even see it as an option to do some of the things that we do, and that could mean going for a hike in the park or climbing Mount Everest and everything in between that." 
In addition to taking on one of the most challenging endeavors in mountaineering, the team is also doing the full-time job of fundraising, promoting diversity and inclusivity, sharing their stories, getting press, and breaking barriers in their personal lives. Learn more about each member of the team and their individual journeys that have brought them to the Full Circle Everest Expedition.

Actionable Amplifying – Funding 

The Full Circle Everest Expedition is fundraising through a GoFundMe campaign, where they  have currently raised $172,000 of their $200,000 goal, some of which covers the necessary permits. Taking on an expedition as grand at Mount Everest comes with immense financial strains. As the individuals train mentally and physically for summiting, the cost continues to rise. 

The team says their crowdsourcing is not just about raising the money; “We care about protecting access to nature, connecting to each other for support and uplifting our voices collectively. Every step of this process matters as much as the end goal and we’d love your help in seeing it fully realized! Now, more than ever, is a time to build bridges and center joy and resilience” (GoFundMe). Creating a sense of community and meaning can come from participating in the success of an expedition and supporting from afar. As a bootstrapped brand built on the successful launch of a crowdfunding campaign in 2019, SheFly understands the importance of community support and storytelling, and is honored to be able to play a small part in Full Circle’s big plans.

How can you support?

While the practical focus of the Full Circle Everest Expedition is on climbing and being in the mountains, Rosemary Saal adds that it is also “about building community, global community. And it's about changing the narrative for the Black community, particularly in the United States and how we interact with outdoor spaces." All across the industry, there are initiatives celebrating Black athletes as mountaineers, hikers, skiers, climbers and bikers. Emerging opportunities for Black leadership is making the outdoors a more inclusive and accessible space for all. Let’s continue to amplify those stories, companies, and projects, starting with Full Circle Everest!

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